If you didn’t make it to the 22nd National Exhibition & Convention this month in Fredericksburg, TX, you missed a lot. It was better than ever. But don’t despair, just begin planning and saving for next year!
Events like these are reminders of who we are and who we want to be. This year, I met so many top artists for the first time — artists I had interviewed and written stories about but never met or whose artwork I had not seen in person. While you can read all the books, magazines or surf the net from dawn to dusk — each helpful and invigorating in their own ways — to be face-to-face with the art and the artist is like drawing a Royal Flush in a Vegas poker game!
The exhibition itself was superb, presenting an amazing array of talent, subject matter, and style. At any other show, we might expect to see a handful of paintings that knock our socks off, blow our hair back or electrify our senses—but the exhibition at Insight Gallery this year hit all those categories and more. Painting after painting revealed craftsmanship any professional artist would be proud to call their own; paintings that exemplified what can be achieved with hard work and dedication. Underscoring the impression the show made on me were the many red dots that caught my eye and told me that art lovers felt the same.
Once the reception was over, the crowd gathered for another exciting awards ceremony—replete with surprises, awards and well-earned nods for the winners from their peers. It was time to celebrate and acknowledge the culmination of months of preparation by many of the finest artists in America. We wish every one of you who participated could have been there too.
By Sunday morning, Insight gallery owner Meredith Plesko told me that 40 paintings had already been sold. Checking in with her this past week, she informed me that the count is now well over 50 and has amassed nearly $200,000 in sales. Plesko was still awaiting several clients who had their sights on larger pieces, which leads her to believe that totals will undoubtedly rise even higher. The gallery loved hosting the OPA and, speaking on behalf of those who attended, all had a fantastic time!
Southwest Art magazine again put on their first-class opening event, the “Pampered Paint Out,” this year and Kimberly Moore whipped up an unforgettable day, including a continental breakfast, lunch and a wine and cheese send-off to help revive tired artists who painted the hours away.
When Friday night rolled around, it was time to relax and enjoy a beautiful evening during American Art Collector magazine’s “Party Under the Stars, Texas Style.” Dining outside under a glorious old oak tree at the historic Pat’s Dance Hall, guests spent the night sampling some of the best barbeque in Texas and listening to one of Austin’s hottest up-and-coming country bands, “The Lonesome Heroes Band.” It was a perfect end to a perfect day. Thanks to Joshua Rose, Amy Gause and Alex McKee for putting together such a memorable event for OPA members!
However, competing and sharing with colleagues, as well as the wonderful opportunity to network and party with vendors and new friends, is only a part of the convention’s value. There were demos by such masters as Sherrie McGraw (this year’s judge of awards), Kenn Backhaus, Scott Burdick, John Michael Carter, John Cosby, and Elizabeth Robbins. We all learn from watching those who wield a skillful brush and, this year more than ever, we came away inspired. I think what impressed me most about the demonstrations were how generous and kind each artist was as they shared their insights and answered questions. There were no showboats, no posturing—only stars within our tribe bent on helping us all move forward. They appeared so at ease. They were in their natural element and among friends.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday each brought presentations touching on various aspects of a professional artists’ life. Each speaker contributed insights to our understanding of all that this crazy business requires.Starting things off with a bang, Joe Paquet took the stage and hammered home the importance of being authentic in our work and in our lives. He described how to discover our unique, personal vision and develop it to its highest intent. His final point? EVERYTHING matters! John Cosby shared his real world experiences with the business of art—what you do when you lay down the brush and interact with galleries, collectors, writers, museums and framers—and how to manage and build your pricing structure. Cosby was followed by Montana art law attorney Bill Frazier, who covered topics such as copyright, trademarks, Internet piracy and contract analysis. Professional artists today must develop a working knowledge of these topics and, perhaps most importantly, know where to turn when the waters get choppy. All of this and it was only Friday! When Saturday rolled around, there were even more presentations to enjoy. Following an extraordinary demo by Sherrie McGraw, art publisher and entrepreneur Eric Rhoads took the stage to teach us how to build our “brand.” If you know Eric, you know he can be persuasive! His talk was filled with helpful marketing advice, but the tip that stands out for me as a strong takeaway is “repetition, repetition, repetition”—that is, repeatedly using tried-and-true methods as well as fresh new ones to help us build name recognition over time. Whether through advertising, networking, exhibitions, social media or a combination of all of these, we must step out of our studios and mix-and-mingle! Scott Burdick shared an ironic and entertaining survey of modernism and traditional art, one that has stirred a bit of controversy in some circles (visit his website at http://www.scottburdick.com and click on his one-hour video titled “The Banishment of Beauty.” We have only to look at Burdick’s luminous paintings to be persuaded that beauty is best!
One of my favorite presentation events was Southwest Art’s editor-in-chief Kristin Hoerth’s interview with Sherrie McGraw on Sunday morning. Hoerth delved into McGraw’s life and influences, and the artist responded with warmth and wit and practical advice. To achieve what McGraw has achieved and to see the quality of her craftsmanship reminds us all that hard work and determination pay off. Now and then we see an artist attain a flash of popularity only to fade from view shortly thereafter. But the real masters lay down a solid foundation and then add to it brick by brick, year by year, challenging themselves, extending a hand to others, and remaining open to life and art. Sherrie is truly one of those.The last day of the convention was wrapped up beautifully by Kenn Backhaus’s discussion of conceptual thinking and how to find your own unique place in the art world. Being “literal” may not be enough. Literalism means adhering to a strict representation of “what is there.” That in itself takes skill, but to rise above that level means mastering a new language, seeing more in the scene before you—extracting patterns, designs, physical elements, and atmosphere, and manipulating them in a way that is all your own.
As we prepared to say our goodbyes, we had a last reminder of the practical side of art as a profession. Bill Bush, owner of Frederickburg Artists’ School and a certified public accountant, shared his thirty years of experience dealing with such issues as taxes, insurance, agent relationships, gallery representation, and the finer points of “doing business.” We left fully charged!
This was a long post, but for those who couldn’t be with us in Fredericksburg, I wanted to share how rich the national exhibition and convention experience can be. I wanted to urge you now to begin planning for next year’s so you can take it all in for yourself. You won’t be sorry.
For those who were there, you each did your part. You painted Fred RED—and they won’t soon forget you!