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Solo Exhibitions

Raymond J. Steiner
ART TIMES May 2006

AS ANY ARTIST knows, having a public exhibition — no matter how small or in whatever out-of-the-way venue — can be a trying thing. Whatever initial pleasure or pride experienced at first finding out that some gallery has chosen you for a solo show is quickly extinguished when faced with the actual happening. Anticipation slowly dissolves into terror when the fact sinks in that it is your work that will now be exposed to public response. Having just survived (barely) my second solo show, I had actually believed that the second time around would be easier. Ha! Bad enough that you are hanging naked on the walls without having to worry about what impression you might or might not be having on your guests. How artists can put up with this particular kind of torture time and again is beyond me. I guess I just don’t have the stamina for it. Or the thick skin or sense of humor that one must have in order to render it all harmless.  Painter Jack Levine once told me at one of his openings that having a show at least gave him the opportunity of seeing all his mistakes at a single glance. I know what he meant. All I could see was how each and every painting I had in the show might have been improved upon — if not in fact better off left back at the studio! Nor does it seem to matter one whit that visitors are telling you how much they like your work. “What do they know,” you mutter under your breath. And, when it’s another artist telling you that they like your “stuff”, you know in your heart they’re only being polite or hedging their bets for the next time they have to be on the spot. Hopefully you’ll be as kind in return. All this may sound a bit paranoid to the non-artist — but what are artists if not paranoid? Why do you think they spend all their spare time hiding away in studios creating their own worlds? Worlds in which they fit? Worlds less hostile to themselves? Scratch an artist and the paranoia oozes out before a drop of blood is shed.  I keep asking myself how is this different from writing? Don’t I put out stuff every month for people to react to — either for or against? I’ve no illusions that everything I write is wholeheartedly accepted by all my readers — far from it, in fact, judging by the letters we print. But there’s something all right about my “being out there” when it comes to writing. Somehow it seems natural. Perhaps it all boils down to the fact that, at heart, I am not indeed an artist — and least of all a painter. Sure, I make pictures, but mostly they’re for me. I paint landscapes because I enjoy doing it and because doing so somehow makes be feel good — even, in a strange way, complete me. Unlike my writing, they are private musings, meant for my own ears and not for other’s eyes. I don’t even mind sharing them with others — as long as I don’t have to be there while they’re looking. Still, I have to believe that some of those who came to my show actually did find something that they liked. That they came at all, says something, I guess. And lest those that showed up think that I am unappreciative, please be assured that — confusion and consternation aside — I was literally overwhelmed with the turnout — many coming from considerable distances. A great many slipped in and out before I had a chance to say hello and to thank them for coming. Please accept that I was simply too pole-axed to say anything intelligent. And, in my mumbling, fumbling way, I’m saying it now — thanks to all who made the evening a festive (if nerve-wracking) evening.

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