BY JULIE CUNHA
Dec. 6, 2013
While I was a student at Everett community college, I took a job as the front desk receptionist at a local art gallery. I thought it was a natural fit for me since I already had an insatiable appetite for art. It might have been my child-like sense of wonder; or the manic enthusiasm that I displayed that quickly endeared me to the gallery director, because it did not take long before I landed the position as the “unofficial” gallery assistant. Believe me when I say there was some serious talent that walked through those gallery doors.
Ironically, I found myself surrounded by all this fantastic artwork, but I could not afford a single piece. The truth of the matter was, I had developed the taste for champagne, but I subsisted on a Budweiser budget. Life can be cruel at times.
Meanwhile, I had met an art student in my social studies class that talked non-stop about how fabulous her art professor was. It was mid-way through the semester when I finally broke down and promised her a studio visit, if she would just SHUT UP.
Ten minutes with professor Sandra Lepper was all it took, before I had signed myself up in every class she had to offer (with the exception of oils, because I could not afford to buy them!!).
Not only was she fabulous, but she turned out to be one of the best teachers that I ever had. One class in particular was to become the catalyst in my experience as a young artist. She told us one day in class that art is for everyone. It was not just for the wealthy, but for anyone interested in collecting it. Then she went on to say that “no matter how bad it is, one should try to have artwork made by an artist, instead of settling for prints.” As if by cue, one student asked how to go about it, when even mid-range art was out of their reach? Professor Lepper smiled and, with the fluid motion of a “Price is Right” TV model, she gestured toward the walls of her class and said, “You can start by making your own!” It took several nano seconds before it all started to sink in. I looked around the classroom and saw something truly amazing … only weeks before, she had us reproduce any artist of our choice using any medium, and the results were no less then stunning.
On the walls, were respectable replicas of da Vinci, Van Gogh, Cornell, Cassatt and Leger, to name a few. Every single piece had been done by her students, and most (including me) had never taken a drawing class before.
Inevitably, one student suggested that going to the thrift store was a good place to start. Believe it or not, their comment raised a few eyebrows and a few students even laughed. As for me, well, I had already “left” the classroom … I was busy thinking of the ways that I could steal away from the gallery where I worked, to run across the street to the thrift store! I suddenly realized that I had worked at the gallery for months, and had not made a single visit to that store.
Sometimes the most obvious thing can be the most overlooked.
The next day, I arrived a half hour early before I started work so that I could make a quick trip to the thrift store. If I had not lifted my head up in the last second, I would have collided into the wall of bodies that were lined up shoulder by shoulder to serve as an effective barrier to the front entrance of the store.
No one was getting out and there certainly was no chance in hell that anyone was getting in either.
If it weren’t for the copy of “ The Art of War” that I kept as a reliable fallback, when nothing else was interesting to read in my bathroom, I would have waved the white flag a long time ago.
One can enter “the ultimate impenetrable fortress if you do not fight your opponent, but instead infiltrate them.”
In other words, if you can’t fight ‘em, JOIN them!
The next day, I returned with a renewed sense determination, arriving an hour early and wheeling a walker onto the front lines.
It worked, at least for a little while. Sadly, it was only a matter time before the veteran shoppers had figured out that I was a total fraud. The next time I pulled this stunt, they responded by forming a defensive formation, which drove me directly into the circular clothes racks, where I somehow managed to flip over and land on my back. It was there among the scarves and purses where my mangled body lay motionless like a helpless sea-turtle only to get finished off by a hungry seagull.
Eventually, I figured it out and after a few months or so, I earned myself a position somewhere in the back of the line.
Oh, I did manage to find a few good pieces of artwork. Over the next couple of years, my collection of art quickly grew. In addition, to buying REAL art, I started to make my own by adopting my step-father’s technique of using pressed-board prints with the frame still intact and gessoing over it. I’ve been doing this continually for more than 17 years.
Just for the record, I am aware that this technique has existed for a while now. How long? Who knows? Who cares? Moreover, this style is often referred to as “outsider” art or faux art. The term I prefer to use and the most popular way to describe this method is to call it “altered art.”
Occasionally, I’ll find a nice piece, but for obvious reasons those days are (mostly) a thing of the past. Now, I spend my time in the dusty corridors of the aisles somewhere between forgotten items and dust bunnies the size of small children. I am looking for spectacular frames with horrific images of “’things” conjured up by whomever was responsible for creating it in the first place. If by chance it’s a painting, I’ve been known to conduct thorough research BEFORE altering the piece. Most of the time, out of respect for the artist, I won’t alter it.
My most recent acquisition is a rather unusual find, because the frame has an odd combination of Art Deco and geometric motif that was popular in the 1960’s. The print (33×26) is of a young woman gazing upward, while her transparent gown floats around her body in a ghostly wisp-like apparition. No doubt the artist painstakingly performed this amazing procedure so that the viewer’s eyes would go directly to her breasts. In short, most people would find this perfectly grotesque, myself included.
I haven’t made any plans at the moment for this find. However, I just found out a week ago that my husband’s parents are coming up for the holidays. I suddenly feel compelled to allocate a space for this picture by the front door.
With regards to collecting artwork, whether it’s good or not is purely subjective. I happen have both “real” art and “reproduced” art in my home. In my opinion, when we mix both the “high and low” this increases the potential for a discourse between the subject matter and the viewer.
I also happen to believe that this is an essential ingredient to any great design and story.
Here are a few examples:
Here is a mid-century print by unknown artist (36×13) turned into a Fernando Leger inspired altered-art piece (20×16) with acrylic and paper.
Here’s where I placed a piece using the inside sleeves of vinyl records. (Collage and acrylic by Julie Cunha.)
Julie Cunha Interiors, specializes in expertly edited restyled vintage and modern interiors. She lives and works on Whidbey island. To inquire, or make an appointment contact by cell (360) 969-9921 or by emailing at JulieCunha5@gmail.com.