About a month ago I approached an amazing space in the southern part of the city right across from the main gates of the art school. The minute I saw this gallery I knew it was the right place to show my work. I went inside and met the owner's parents who gave me their son's cell phone. They said call back in about 10 days as they were all leaving the next day on a Spring Festival trip down to sunny Yunnan Province.
The bed. Probably 1950's. Fir. Elaborately decorated front panel and "lion feet" legs.
I called and then sent a link to my website. The next day this 20 year old kid called saying that he was very interested in my work and wanted to talk about giving me a show. On the phone he said that they usually charged 3000 RMB a week for use of the space but that he could drop this charge as he liked my work so much.
Mr. Tian, the owner of the used furniture store and I trying to remove a leg.
He came over to our place a few days later, looked over most of my work, talked about some of the shows they had had before and we shared ideas about how my show might go. He said that he was still going to waive the fee, but would like two paintings instead. I said that would be fine, but I would have to ok which two he walked away with.
This is the front panel, elaborately decorated with floral designs and stained with a carmine red color. Originally it must have had some gold leafing as well. Once the legs were removed this piece dropped out.
A week later I went by to see the space again and talk about some details. I went alone as it seemed like we had covered all the basics in the first visit. Almost immediately he asked me if I would be willing to have this show go to some other cities. A little later he said that I would have to pay the 3000 for "the first show only". Plus I would need to pay for the food and beverages served during the opening. And I would need to pay for the announcements which had somehow gone from 1 Jiao each to 5-6 jiao each. When I asked about him taking 2 paintings instead of the 3000 he said that wouldn't work. They needed to cover "marketing expenses". When I pressed the issue he said he could take 3 paintings, but of his choosing. When I said that wasn't possible, he said that he could take the money from the first 2 that sold.
Once the leg was removed it revealed one of the most complex joints I've ever seen.
I asked how much a bed like this would have cost to make and nobody knew. They said labor would have been cheap. Also they said that there would have been a number of workers each making a specific part of the bed. Very methodical, almost production line style.
I imagine that a boss somewhere made a nice profit. Things don't change.
When I got home I sent him an email saying that it was off. He sent one back repeating all of his lame reasoning. It seemed apparent to me that he had no faith in the market though he bragged repeatedly about how many sales they'd had of late. Later I found out through a friend that in fact nobody attends these openings, nobody buys work and paying for such an event would be a complete waste of time.
We took the bed timbers down to the local lumber yard and had them cut up into various sizes of board. After planing the boards they revealed what I had hoped--smooth, brittle, yellowish hardwood with knots here and there in contrast with the original wine colored laquer still present on some sides of each piece.
In all of my excitement I did come up with some great frame designs which I am carrying through with despite having no place to show my work. Oh well. Perhaps it's around the bend somewhere.
Was it a waste of a perfectly good antique bed? I don't think so. Two of the legs had significant rotting at least 4 cm up from the base. The original canopy of carved framework that went along with this base was long gone. We salvaged the piece of decorative carving and the two legs that were still in good shape. And we're turning one piece of furniture into a couple dozen very beautiful frames.
The only thing that I did different with these, is to spray the initial charcoal drawing with clear varnish so that I could then smear my paint without getting the charcoal mixed in the color. True, the drawing nearly disappeared under the color, but I was able to let some remain and then work on top again with charcoal building one medium on top of the other.
Now most of these blooms have already fallen.