In Praise of Patrons

There is a Romantic idea of the Patron. The struggling artist is sustained independently of having to generate means through satisfying established commercial opportunities and is allowed the freedom of unfettered creative development. The end result is, of course, the production of works of Genius which otherwise would have been smothered by day-to-day fiduciary concerns.

There is a corollary to this which creates the paradigm. The Patron is a person of perception and discernment, and who’s relationship to the artistic process is vicarious. The relationship to the artist is not contractual in an economic sense, and there is no expectation of reward beyond being connected to, and even perhaps seen as collaborative to the development of the work of Genius.

There is something of the Classical Era, or the time of the Medici in this visualization. And it avoids the idea that the artist had to spend time drudgingly satisfying the whims of a wealthy patron.  It speaks of consistency, luxury and security in place of the fickle and undiscerning marketplace.

Today the definition of patronage can be found in the collector, the single purchase client, and even crowdfunding sponsorship. But in spite of how important and sometimes personal these relationships can be, it it doesn’t quite hit the definition for me because there is always an implicit need for a balanced exchange of product or service for money.

As a Romantic and a dreamer I am continually being pulled into the past. I still crave the romance of travel, of foreign lands, of being thrown into the unknown. Just last night I started watching the tragicomic movie, “Midnight in Paris”, by Woody Allen. Although there is truth in the film’s premise that romance is illusion, my romantic bubble was challenged by this protorealist treatment. But the thing that saves us artists is that how we feel is what we live.

When I sit in my sunporch as I am now, writing this, I always feel like I am in Maine, USA. To understand that you would have to have spent time traveling through country in which white pines give off that rich scent of sap, in the summer heat, or spent time at lakes where you hear the call of a loon in the night. Think of the paintings of Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World, and the Olsen farmhouse. And then travel through the art history of Maine, of Marsden Hartley, Rockwell Kent, Fairfield Porter. I feel those things because of the colour of the wooden frames on my windows, and the way they frame the tall white pine trees just across the road.

porch

Almost everything of value has come to me in it’s own time and of it’s own volition. Synchronicity can only be defined as an awareness of a right “fit” between how one feels and thinks and situations and events which are external. My experience with a Patron happened in 2003, and lasted for a period of two years or so. A phone call came and a connection was made between an acquaintance and his friend, who owned a large company in Germany, who was interested in Art, and who enjoyed the idea of sharing some of his Privilege with an artist by inviting him/her to stay in Berlin for an indefinite amount of time. There were no conditions. There was no mention of costs. There was an open invitation to explore what to this day is seen as a focal point of creative culture, and a place which satisfied my hunger for history, travel and unique experience.

To this day I relive the emotions I felt during the time I lived in Berlin, it was exhilarating. But in keeping with the current account the narrative connected to my art is as follows ~ When I arrived I was loaded with an expectation to come away changed; to have broken new ground in a demonstrable way. As time passed I began to feel as if what I was doing was not any different from the way I worked at home, in fact I felt I was unable to escape my provincial mindset. But I kept working, the New Brunswick Painter in a Foreign Land. What was different was the content with which I had to work. My Romantic side existed still, but self-reference in my paintings was exchanged for the living history and the social and cultural melieu which surrounded me. And every once in a while my Patron would offer some new experience, or opportunity to see something I would not have otherwise have seen. I made new friends which provided new doors. And the painting continued.

It was not until the following year when I was finishing up material that I had gathered in preparation for an exhibition that I read Christopher Isherwood’s book “Goodbye to Berlin”. Isherwood’s writing during his stay in the late 30’s captured in poetic descriptions subtle but powerful essences of the zeitgeist. I was startled to find similar and identifiable visual references in my paintings. Take for example this quotation:

“But the real heart of Berlin is a small damp black wood- the Tiergarten. At this time of the year, the cold begins to drive the peasant boys out of their tiny unprotected villages into the city, to look for food, and work. But the city, which glowed so brightly and invitingly in the night sky above the plains, is cold and cruel and dead. Its warmth is an illusion, a mirage of the winter desert. It will not receive these boys. It has nothing to give. The cold drives them out of its streets, into the wood which is its cruel heart. And there they cower on benches, to starve and freeze, and dream of their far-away cottage stoves.”

tiergarten 38 X 44

or

“…there had been a big Nazi meeting at the Sportpalast, and groups of men and boys were just coming away from it, in their brown or black uniforms. Walking along the pavement ahead of me were three S.A. men, they all carried Nazi banners on their shoulders, like rifles, rolled tight around the staves- the banner-staves had sharp metal points, shaped into arrow-heads.”

demonstrators 12 X 15

or

“From my window, the deep solemn massive street. Cellar-shops where the lamps burn all day, under the shadow of top-heavy balconied facades, dirty plaster frontages embossed with scroll-work and heraldic devices. The whole district is like this: street leading into street of houses like shabby monumental safes crammed with the tarnished valuables and second-hand furniture of a bankrupt middle class.”

windows 8 X 10 SOLD

It was a revelation to me to find that although the Romantic Artist had not altered his approach in a fundamental way, his technical and expressive vocabulary had grown to accommodate a narrative of history and place outside of his origins. I feel it remains some of my strongest work.

It was just at this point that my Patron friend Erich died. His death was untimely, and it shook me. In the catalogue for the exhibition I was planning I wrote the following:

“When people hear of my friend Erich’s untimely death often the response is to question how I will go to Germany now. What I will miss is the opportunity of the sharing with a truly rare individual of ideas, feelings and experiences across cultures and ages. One of the dynamics of Erich’s generosity I think lay in the fact that he was aware of my own ethics and abilities, and his gifts were spontaneous and not monetary, but were gifts of opportunity for experience. He loved travel, history and uniqueness, and he liked to share this with others. At the point I met him, I think Erich was openly enjoying life to the full; living for experience and experiencing living. His charisma was evident in the expression of an active, but solid and untroubled core. He was a hard working businessman who was successful in part because of his ability to read, I think, the core of a person’s nature, and to establish working relationships with similar-minded, honest and motivated people. As his enthusiasm for art was a developing aspect of his life, I feel fortunate to be among those who’s experience he invited to share with him. I feel fortunate in not only being given an opportunity to experience what I have briefly outlined above, but also in being a person whom Erich believed appreciated and could benefit from this gift.”

 

The outcome of my experience was that I recognized the difficulty in making about-changes, and realized that change for the sake of change was not a solid heuristic. But I did see a shift in expressive goals. In that instance the romantic (idealistic) naturalist had been given a philosophical challenge. I had to trade my phenomenology of expressive discovery through the revelations of the quotidian and familiar for the new. I was faced with the task of having to work through real (but remembered, when I was working away from Berlin at home in the studio) sensation and impressions. I had to find a balance in representation of these impressions of the Berlin Myth with my own set of aesthetic values and operative goals. What I accomplished was not a travel journal, and it was another step away from real(ism). The images cycled away from more obvious examinations of things and places to constructions based partly on imagination. There was a feeling of figures moving like characters on a stage. All was projective identification, like in a play and all imagining.

The following is an excerpt of the review of the exhibition “Works After Berlin” at Gallery 78, Fredericton, by Robert Barriault.

“As it turns out, Scott’s new paintings stand as eloquent metaphors for that zeitgeist in a tension found between evolving surface elements and reliance on well established structural strategies used by Scott in the compositions themselves. In particular, Scott’s handling of urban landscapes express the impact of finding himself in a new environment and speaks with uncharacteristic emotion not to say expression, in contrast to his reliance on the control he has over the execution of figures. He relies less on his surgeon’s knife and moves the paint around with expressive brushstrokes not often found in his work. Stephen Scott’s new work adds visible emotion in his usually precise, cerebral, calculated painting; it is a constructed balance.”

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