Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gold Star to Gardega for Selling Himself!

He sighed loudly as he sat down, again, on the bar stool next to me at Union Square Coffee Shop. He'd been sitting there for a while, the sigher. I'd noticed him only sidelong.

I looked up from my computer screen.

"Sorry," he said, though clearly he wasn't, not at all. "I had a really long day."

I smiled, recognizing a fellow chatterer when I saw one, and turned toward him on my stool. "Sorry," I apologized, knowing myself what one can feel like after a long day.

"No," he said, shaking his head, "it was a good long day...really productive."

I laughed. "Then I take back my sorry, and offer up congratulations instead."

He motioned at my computer, at the W. Somerset Maugham novel, The Painted Veil, open beside it. I hadn't been able to decide whether to read or write as I ate my amazing Sesame Chicken Salad, maybe my favorite meal in all of New York.

"Are you writing a book?" he asked.

I laughed. "Trying..."

He shook his head vehemently. "There is no trying, only doing..."

Ha. He had no idea what he was walking into with that line. I reached over and took out my stars.

"Well," I said, "it just so happens I reward people, just for trying." I handed him a gold star, not even knowing what he'd worked long and hard on all day, but knowing that, like me, like all of us, he was trying.

He took it happily, with a big smile and great enthusiasm. Turns out, he has been trying, very hard, and doing well, as an artist. Not an easy task, not at all. He has actually made it, he told me, onto Page Six. We talked about the idea of the successful artist, of how one seems a turncoat, a prostitute of sorts, just by making money at what one does, just by being rewarded monetarily. He was reconciling himself to the idea, though, since, he offered up, "Normally, I couldn't even afford a taco..."

What is wrong with selling one's art? With making money for one's passion projects? Why does it seem we have to feel ourselves "whores" for trying to make a living doing what we love? If prostitutes love what they do, all power to them.

It is a big subject recently, the artist as hustler. I have actually seen not one but TWO documentaries on the subject in the last year. The first, Con Artist, by filmmaker Michael Sladek, came out last year to tell the story of artist Mark Kostabi, an '80s Andy Warhol-like sensation, a real, talented artist who took his talent for determining what art collectors wanted as far as possible to great fame and fortune for a time.

Strangely enough, last Saturday night, as we sat waiting at Sunshine Cinemas for the start of Exit Through the Gift Shop, a documentary about street artist Banksy that also explores the great "con" of modern art, who should walk in but Mr. Kostabi himself? He sat on the other side of the theater and we didn't bother him, but it was an interesting case of serendipity.

So too was my sitting next to this fine artist, Alex Gardega (, himself struggling with the ascendance of his star, reconciling what's real. Certainly his daily toiling on beautiful, haunting images, in oils, in watercolor, in glass, is real, and is really worth something, worth a lot. Whether or not he ever makes it on to Page Six again...

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