I got involved with the project because I am documenting restoration of a large sculpture the artist did of his friend, William Saroyan. I knew he was a prolific artist. I knew he did some large sculpture. I was not prepared for what I saw as we opened several rental storage units. From top to bottom, front to back the paintings were crammed, pushed tight against each other like so many frightened refugees in a boxcar. Holding the whole mess up were bronze busts of Saroyan and other famous countrymen, huge plaster figures on horseback, life–size headless angels, vivid abstract sculptures all piled in the center of the storage units. One was so packed with 8‘ x 10‘ paintings there was only a few inches at the top of air space left. Dusty, ragged edges, bent corners.
I was both overwhelmed at the production and appalled at the condition of it.
I went inside two of the units to take a few photos of what could be seen. One thing I found was a plaster replica of one of Varaz’s works in Courthouse Park in Fresno.
With so large a body of work in a confined area it was more than what one encounters at a gallery show. Yet something of the spirit of a gallery show was there. Not the presentation, certainly, but the aura of the artist.
It was quite wonderful.
I paint a lot. Many of my friends paint many more canvasses than I do for I spent much of my time in the digital world. My sculptor friends have many of their unsold pieces on pedestals around their homes and studios, with other pieces on shelves in the loft.
Still we produce.
Then I thought of how many, many artists there are, and, of course many, many won’t become that well collected. So their works will be one day stored also. One sculptor friend commented as he began yet another bronze, “Does the world really need another Object?”
It is who we are. Without this production we would not be who we are. An artist is not an artist without making art. A writer is not a writer who does not write.
I have no solution to the real world of materials. Some people I know make very large art. Things that literally take a crane truck to move. But, you know, the thought of making only small stuff because it is easy to store never once crossed their minds.
Those of us with alternate media can also accumulate so many things – files so abundant that they are unmanageable and nearly impossible to find where we have stored them sometimes. So we clean house and delete files. What we save can be stored on a CD. A lifetime of work can be carried in one hand.
This weekend one of the things on my to-do list is re-arrange the paintings on my walls again. There is an advantage to have them up around me as I sit here on the computer. I can look at them, absorb them, let them speak to me. In return I know where my work is heading next. And that is really what this is all about. We don’t stop. We keep painting or drawing or sculpting. One thought leads to another, to another. We don’t worry about what will happen one day to the things we just made. They are past, and what is the current project or the future project is where we are in our minds. That is what art has been through the centuries – one work contributing to the development of the next – the seed one artist plants turned and churned into the work of the next generation.
In the end, our hope is that somehow, we will have made a small contribution to the progress and growth of contemporary art.
Perhaps it is best put in the words of Varaz Samuelian himself. I found this wooden plaque in that storage unit:
A couple antecdotes about Bill Saroyan:
Bill was also a prolific artist. After his death a colleague had the opportunity to inventory the Saroyan paintings. There were so many an entire room was filled with the large paintings. All were signed in very large letters “Saroyan“. When asked once about why he signed his paintings in such a manner, Saroyan’s comment was, “Because I want people to know the minute they walk into the room who the artist is. I want them to comment, ‘Say, isn’t that a Saroyan?’ “