Friday, March 25, 2011

ArtTraveler: Could artist´s collectives become engines for survival and creative incubation and growth?

Vincent van Gogh, self-portrait
Vincent van Gogh probably severed his ear and mailed it to Paul Gauguin, his estranged Provence roommate, not because the great post-impressionist languished in chronic depression.

He was in truth and fact very angry at Gauguin, according to Tate Modern.

The Tate´s curator of last year´s Gauguin retrospective, which I thoroughly enjoyed, opined on her vocal guided tour that Vincent self-mutilated to send a message to Gauguin.

Paul Gauguin, self-portrait

For the hapless Van Gogh, his dreams of an artist´s cooperative to compete against the Paris Salon disappeared along with his ear.

´Don´t wait around for dealers´

Yet, Van Gogh, like Chelsea, New York professional artist, Gregory Amenoff, firmly propounded what Amnenoff called “…the fraternity and sorority of artists supporting each other.”  (Emphasis mine.)
Gregory Amenoff, monotype, 25 x 24 in. (2008)

In his 2006 interview with New York artist-author, Joe Fig (“Inside the Painter´s Studio), Amenoff said the artist´s collective is “time tested,” the road to follow for young artists. 

He added:

“Create opportunities for each other. Form collectives. Rent spaces. Have shows. Don´t wait around for the dealers and the curators to come to you. Create opportunity that brings them to you. Stay away from art fairs. Hang out at museums and look at old art.”
This way, you can make what North Haven, Long Island professional artist, Eric Fischl, another featured painter in Fig´s book, dubbed--"Heat and noise. Heat and noise create attention.”

Fischl also advocates finding artist peer groups. “Density is important.”
"Corrida in Ronda No. 1," Eric Fischl (2008)

Likewise, fellow Long Island professional painter, Mary Heilmann, told Fig in so many words, artists need the energy, the synergy they give each other, the feedback, those fresh eyes you respect and need.

The exchange of information, skills and approaches.

The ´Selby-Dayton Commune´
I draw on my experience in the crazy and turbulent 60´s in the United States.

In 1969, as a night law student working days as the only unarmed, non-uniformed bailiff in Minnesota´s largest court system, my anti-war boss and I were making our own quiet statement about peace and violence.

I worked as law clerk-bailiff for a Hennepin County District judge in Minneapolis.

I led at least three lives.

The third, as an anti-Vietnam war and civil rights activist.

A mate and I decided we would buy a run-down but huge old circa 1911 house on the corner of Selby and Dayton Avenues in what was then known as St. Paul, Minnesota´s black ghetto.

We were mostly white middle-class leftists, well educated and very idealistic.
About 20 of us moved into this huge 10-bedroom home we called the “Selby-Dayton Commune,” creating our own kind of density.

We could have packed as many artists in there comfortably with easels, canvases and kits.

A cavernous attic-group studio might have been in another life.
(The Selby-Dayton commune has long been razed in favor of gentrification, and I cannot zap back to 1969 like Dr. Who.)
Our collective energy levels working together in the commune soared but not without conflict. Overall, the “vibes” were positive.

We knew we were stronger and more effective together.

We managed to operate various guerrilla operations against draft boards and organize St. Paul´s largest anti-war peace march out of the Selby-Dayton commune.

We also joined black militants in he ghetto, staging a two-day peaceful sit-in: One at time, each of us sliding into a long, gaping,10 x 7-meter trench, waiting to be dragged out by police, who faced a 45-degree climb to the top with our dead weight.

Our protest stopped work by the all-white construction crew.

My father saw me spread-eagled being cuffed and frisked against a cop car in a three-piece suit on the evening 10 o´clock news. Good fun.

We all did a few hours in jail and became registered criminal defendants, enduring such rituals as fingerprinting, mugging for driver´s license-like photos.

The unlawful assembly criminal case got tossed on constitutional grounds and we brought affirmative action to St. Paul within a few months of our protest.

We again created heat and noise.

That was then, this is now.

Let the art force be with you

Artists need to unite, become activists, much like our urban artist’s brothers and sisters, who transform entire neighborhoods with iconic and socially relevant visuals.

Tomorrow (25 March), these mad hatter, urban muralists, a select group of maestros from six European countries, begin attacking Amsterdam´s available urban spaces. See, ArtTraveler´s Dutch Digest.

Why not artist´s collectives as centers for heat and noise?

Swedish Vedic artist, Phillipine von Krusentierna, who lives and works as a painter and sculptor in Canillas, told me about her sensation of being infused with some kind of weird but powerful energy field (I´ll call it, the art force.) as she painted silently with 12 other equally focused Vedic painters, all in the same atelier.

Phillipine von Krusentierna (2011)
An acrylic on canvas work in progress.

That´s allot different from sharing the same kitchen and other common areas even in a large home.

Our reality, of course, is that not all children play well together, and so it goes. But with the right crew, it works.

The economies of scale positives for economic survival in such a communal setting are obvious.

It also affords the artist more time and psychic energy to create and grow, assuming you have a part-time job.

There´s little if any trickle-down benefits readily apparent for most of us from elitist art fairs and auctions or posh galleries, other than to better understand dynamic fine art investment strategies and trends.

And perhaps marvel at posthumous potential prices for your works, money you along with Van Gogh will never see or spend.

But for artists as a whole, this could be the worst of times and the best of times.

Rock on and practice peace and love.

Stefan, the ArtTraveler ™

Come to Andalusia for a walking holiday or week-long sculpture or mosaics workshop. See: and

"Green Field Wave," photograph by Stefan van Drake (2009)

You may reach me at or by calling (34) 951 067 703, or if from the UK at BT landline rates, 0844 774 8349.

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ArtTraveler video: Take a 3:25 slice of life in Canillas de Albaida, Spain during the annual fiesta of San Anton, patron saint and protector of animals.


  1. hii Stefan
    this is the main reason i founded the current art group to have this artists worldwide sharing as a powerful tool for artistic growth depending on artists not on museums and galleries. in May 2009 i was invited by Mappy Wereka, a current art member, to Guadalajara Mexico to deliver a workshop about my multi layered tar technique and exhibit my deep space paintings, in June 2010 i invited Mappy and 6 other Mexican painters to exhibit their paintings in my gallery in Israel, next month this exhibition titeled homage to Frida Kahlo will be exhibited in the Water gallery in Israel. there are now about 3000 current art members in facebook and 400 members in linkedin when we will be 10000 no artistic institute could ignore us
    have magic in your life
    Ted Barr

  2. We have formed our own art collective as well called Latchkey Studios. While this seems to be an accepted path for fine artists there is almost nothing out there for commercial artists. Those who make movies, comic book, etc. need a place to go too. I agree with all of this post.

    Keep the concept alive.