Thursday, November 11, 2010


Sometimes I have a clear notion of what a blog post is about and at other times, such as now, I'm kind of at a loss. I've decided to mix and match by continuing to show some of my early work and intersperse the images with contemporary comments instead of narrating my life history. That way you get a little past with a little present. Stir, and you've got me.

Self portrait ca. 1987 looking a lot more dramatic than the real one because I darkened it in Photoshop. I think I actually look more like this today than I did then except that I have more of a wattle now. This makes me look like I was already wearing the glasses that have become my face decoration in the past couple of years. Perhaps it was a vision of the future. The hair is certainly as white now as was indicated then.

What's On My Mind Today
Tonight, as I drove the four miles home from my Wednesday job in Northampton, I listened to NPR as usual. After a few minutes I noticed that even over the radio I could hear a noise coming from the car motor. This is the car that I "affectionately" call the Roachmobile. It looks like the car that the roach drives in the Orkin commercials. It's a 1994 Dodge Intrepid, dark brown with rusted out holes under the doors. It has 112,000+ miles on it. A couple of weeks ago I had to replace the catalytic converter to the tune of $446. This car actually has three, count 'em, three catalytic converters. The mechanic said he would only replace what he had to and he got away with just one.

The noise I heard tonight grew in decibels to the point that I thought the motor was going to explode by the time I got home. When Bonnie and I later drove to the mechanic's in our separate cars so I could drop off the Roachmobile, the noise was gone. I parked and shut off the engine at the mechanic's. Then I started it up because I couldn't believe that there was no noise. The second time the noise roared back.

This car has to last me through the winter and I can't afford a new one right now. Can I just say that I hate effin poverty? It's probably time to ditch this car and start over - you know the saying about pouring good money in after bad. Chances of me being able to do that? Slim to none.

BULLETIN - Update Thursday afternoon

Thanks to the wonderful mechanics at Easthampton Tire, I paid only $35 to get my car fixed! Can you imagine, an honest mechanic who doesn't rip you off and take advantage of your auto ignorance! Based on the decibel level, I thought the car was a goner, but it seems it was only some air conditioning clutch that froze up. (Who knows what that means?) They said that my air conditioning wouldn't work now, but it wasn't working anyway, so who cares!!! What a relief! When you're this close to the edge, the least thing can send you over the side into the great abyss. I'm saved!  And now onto the next thing to worry about...

Another self portrait from 1988. This is closer to the way I feel today.

The Only Salable Artist is a Dead Artist
The news via Lindsay Pollock's Art Market Views today is all about the sales at Sotheby's contemporary auction yesterday which made $222.5 million in sales, largest since May 2008, and far exceeding last year's contemporary sale that brought in only a mere $134 million. If you were a painting by Warhol, you could name your price since the market's appetite for you knows no bounds, according to Lindsay's article. And even a 1955 Rothko, sold by architect Graham Gund, who had owned it since 1969, brought $22.5 million from an Asian buyer. (When I think of how Rothko struggled to make a living from his work during the 1950s, it brings tears to my eyes - but I guess I'm just in that mood. You can read here from my previous post on Rothko that he was not able to make a living from his work until 1957 when he was 53 years old, and then he was only making about $20,000 a year.)

Other dead artists whose work was included in the sale were Roy Lichtenstein ($14.1 million), Louise Bourgeois ($3.5 million for a spider - after all she was a woman so prices are that much lower), Francis Bacon ($14 million), Willem DeKooning ($9.9 million), Ashile Gorky ($3.6 million) and Larry Rivers ($1.1 million. Of course there were more dead artists and even a couple of live ones, especially Gerhard Richter, two of whose works sold for $13.2 million and $11.2 million.

Model in studio, ca. 1988. This model was actually also a student at MassArt and quite a character. She looks pretty pissed off at having to take this job sitting for painting students.

Apples and Oranges
So I'm not a contemporary art star and I'm still alive, but this is a pretty weird game that we artists play. We want nothing more than to be in the studio churning out this stuff. Either it all ends up in the dumpster after we die, or by some lucky spin of the wheel, we make a living at it - enough to keep doing it, that is. Some of us even become art stars after death. Very few make it while still alive and there's a price to pay for that. You could get trapped in a style and be expected to make only the one thing - over and over again, like manufacturing widgets.

Yellow Apron, about 1986, a still life I set up when a student of Geoge Nick at MassArt. He hated it. We had a mutual disaffection society. (The white patch at the bottom is the sheen off the shiny oil surface. Guess I didn't use a polarizing lens.)

And Another Thing
Now that the Republicans (or Repugnicans as JM calls them) have taken back so much power, they've decided that they're going to start whittling down the deficit by cutting back Social Security and Medicare. Now you may know that Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit because it's separately funded and not included in the budget. Secondly, what they really want is to privatize it and drive that money to Wall Street. Wouldn't that be a coup for some pol! A billionaire investment banker named Peter G. Peterson (son of truly imaginative parents) launched a $10 million PR campaign called "Owe No" designed to convince us poor slobs that we should give over our meager S.S.$ to the likes of this fat cat and his pals. In response, the Strengthen Social Security coalition (a progressive response movement) has begun "Owe No You Don't" to stop this crap and make the truth about this highway robbery known. Wouldn't I like to see the marches and protests like they had in France fill the streets of  the U S of A over this! Oh, yeah. That will happen.

Isn't it enough that the top 1 or 2% have more money than the rest of us can even imagine? Do they have to wring the pitiful remnants out of us geezers? Hands off our Social Security! I'll be working until they heave me into the ground, but the little bit from S.S. lets me get into the studio a couple of days a week. If you want me to become a dead art star, you rich mothers, you better let the S.S. continue untouched! (I guess I'm getting a little riled up about this.)

Dream House, acrylic and mixed media with collage, 1990

The American Dream
I don't know why, but I never really bought the American Dream. It sounded to me more like what Mad Men portrays - the insufferable life in the suburbs, conformity, monotony, grinding day to day sameness, divorce, drunkenness, bad behavior - you know, Life.  Those 2.3 kids with husband and the little home on the cul-de-sac just never materialized for me - thank you, Great Whatevers. This painting is as close as I ever came and you see what a muddle it is.

Are We Dead Yet?, acrylic with collage and mixed media, 40"H x 44"W, 1989

But Wait, There's More
Even though I said I wasn't going to talk about the work pictured here, I've already broken my intention so I'm going to continue...This painting just above was a breakthrough for me and I would have to number it among the best of my career. It's not that the painting per se is so great but it's what it signifies for me. It's the first time that I was able to combine some kind of pattern making with a central image that portrayed - something? A visitor from Germany really wanted to buy this piece for what was then a fairly substantial amount and I turned him down because I knew it was a turning point. And where is this magnificent and important painting today? you might ask. Damned if I know, is my answer.


Wendy Rodrigue Magnus said...

Well, what a post - raw and vulnerable and honest. To comment appropriately to all of the issues you raise and all of the ways they resonate for me (and I'm sure for many others) would take a lengthy post of my own.

Instead, as I spend 6 hours on the road today, presenting with my husband lectures for students and art educators and raising funds for art supplies for schools (trying to combat the recent $80 million budget cut to the arts in our state), I'll toss all of this --- the images and words --- around in my head, letting it influence me as it will. I will think of you when I speak today, and my approach will be better for it. Thank you for that.

You are quite brave, Nancy, in both your art and life (or perhaps it's the same). I hope you know it-

Pamela Farrell said...

NN: if wealth could be measured by the quality of one's integrity, artistic self-expression, and ability to blog about universal issues with humor and in a personal style, you'd be a very rich person.

I love reading your blog! And if I had a nice shiny new car with one catalytic converter, I'd give it to you.

Anonymous said...


Love the post, your retro online, and so sorry about your car. I once had a Toyota that I had to use a bungee cord to keep it in gear. Ouch.

Good luck. Love the semi rant.

Binnie said...

No denying how you feel! Somebody should give you a brand new car! with awd and room to haul art around! I'd march against the repugs! Your rant is a great way to start the day!

Gwendolyn Plunkett said...

You made my day with this post. Sorry though about your car. I know that feeling very well. I second what Wendy said and love your posts for that..."raw and vulnerable and honest." And I'm with Pam too..."rich" indeed.

joannemattera said...

You are in rare form with this post Nancy. You had me crying with you at the thought of a 53-year-old Rothko making $20,000 a year, and you had me laughing AND pissed off at the same time with Peter G. Peterson and Social Security comment.

I feel your pain with the car. Glad you got it fixed for $35. Back in the day I had a VW van that needed to be hotwired to start. Stalling out was a nightmare because I had to pop the clutch. The worse was popping the clutch in reverse at night on an icy hill in the middle of winter in Saratoga Springs. But I was 22; poverty was romantic.

The whole column is worthy of an Op Ed in the Times. Or maybe a guest monolog on the Rachel Maddow Show. I'm serious. (My word verification? I'm not kidding: Suradat? As in sure a dat.)

Nancy Natale said...

Thank you for your comments, Wendy, Pam, Lynette, Binnie, Gwen and Joanne. Being able to write this stuff and have someone read it means a lot to me. I appreciate your support more than you know. You are real friends and that's the most important part of life - no matter what else goes on.

Deborah Barlow said...

A post that shoots from every barrel, and all of us who have chosen this very hard path (best advice to a young person who wants to do art is, only if you absolutely positively can't NOT) know of what you speak.

The stories of artists' studios being dumpstered when they die is a terrifying reality. One aging artist friend has started giving away everything she has in her inventory to anyone who would give it a home. The Craig's list free strategy...Also not a pleasant outcome.

So mental fortitude is essential, the willingness to give whatever work you are doing right now your complete attention. That's the best thing I can do, or offer.