This is the fourth installment of the Visiting Artist column. Paul Hopkin is an artist and founder of Slow, a gallery in his home in Pilsen.
Before I ever took studio art classes, I met a painter, became interested in his practice and purchased work from him. I still have it hanging in my apartment. Living with art has taught me plenty about how to see.
We tend to visit culture rather than live with it. Art is in a museum. Sure, we hang things to adorn our walls—to decorate—but we expect that people with “real art” are wealthier than us. Is it strange that students who dedicate their education and lives to studying and producing art have often never lived with any? Do we expect someone else to support the arts?
Just as I can eat a healthy diet—not junk food—on a limited budget, I can afford to live surrounded by brilliant ways of seeing. I can have a richer life without ever owning work by someone famous, can find immense variety inside of modesty. For every famous artist there are literally thousands of brilliant points of view that will remain unknown, unless we seek them out and bring them home.
We need to live with art to get to the better parts of it. True, some art is made to be experienced in a gallery. Jeff Koons’ “Puppy” is a thrilling artwork to experience away from home, just as in upscale restaurants we certainly eat decadent, exotic ingredients. In both cases we are better for not having to live with such indulgence. With art, we don’t always need to own something so over-the-top to find satisfaction.
Unfortunately, we have relegated art to a decadent experience away from regular life. Bringing art home is a transition from torrid affair to living with your lover. When we develop relationships, when we spend time together, we’re more likely to get to nuance, to meta-narrative.
I run an art venue that is attached to my apartment. I pass through it every time I come or go. By the end of a show’s run, I have different thoughts about the work, and my judgment often shifts about what is the stronger work. Art finds its way into my field of vision when I am not paying attention. It facilitates new seeing.
The run of an exhibition is something akin to serious dating. But things really change when I live with them. We can’t always describe why we have impulses to pursue one person or one work of art, and abandon another. We’re much more likely to like the outcome when we trust deep intuition. With enough time, character wins, and looks fade. Technique has so much to do with initial chemistry—whether a work of art is hot or not. But deep connection to motivation keeps the flames alive for the long haul.
About thirteen years ago I went to a show at a gallery in the West Loop, a show called “Dimensions Variable” at NFA Space. There is where I first saw the work of Katy Fischer. One particular drawing that she did on the wall of the gallery really stood out. Just out of school myself and low on cash, I commissioned her to do a similar drawing on panel. The image is grass inside a curb, a bit of landscape that buffers. The image rethinks a contemporary relationship between nature and artifice. In the years with this image, that idea has not faded; my focus has shifted. When my gaze stumbles on the fresh green of that manicured lawn I feel refreshed. More so when it is grey or cold outside. The beauty of the drawing outstrips its conceits and reminds me that green space soothes my aching postmodern soul. The committed relationship to the work trusts the idea, and trusts the soothing. My commission helped shift her career. After, she produced many drawings on panels; they sell in a higher price range than her works on paper.
If you have interest in living with work, set a budget and look for ways to find something you love. Attend a local arts organization fundraising auction. Go to an open-studio night at a local university. Graduating art students often have to move studios; many would rather find a home for their work than pay for storage or moving expenses. Some artists might even be willing to let you select a work if you offer to buy their supplies. Art is within reach.