Thursday, March 7, 2013

coming clean

I imagine, probably falsely, that most of you know me and know my story.  But, I've been wondering if that's actually true.

So, whether you know it or not, here is my story :

The subject I want to tell is about the last year and a half of my art life, but there's no way to avoid starting at the beginning and giving you some background.

I was born in Hays, Kansas, in July of 1965.  My father, was a professor of art at the local university.  My mother, an art grad, spent most of the 60's and 70's raising me and my three siblings.  I had what I often refer to as a golden extended childhood.  My parents defended for us, that we discover who we were and they defended us (mostly to ourselves) to be ourselves.  I spent hours and hours playing even past the age when you should.

I was an odd child.  I never felt like I fit in anywhere.  Looking back, I realize that the deck was stacked against me.   I had a rocky start.  I was the next child born after my oldest brother died from complications of a strep infection at the age of 18 months.  My birth was the conscious act of my parents to go on.  My middle name is Martin.  His name was Martin.

That is a whole other story... not for here, not for now, but you can imagine.

So, somehow I was given a special place and was crippled at the same time by the simple act of being born.

I was always the artist, in my family, at school, in my head.  I always thought I wanted to be a writer and would grow-up to write books, but even at an early age, teachers were amazed by my ability to deftly use a pair of scissors.  With artistic parents, I wasn't necessarily encouraged to do art, but I wasn't scolded for it either as most children are.  Art just "was" for me.  It came to me easily, seemed obvious and self evident.  So much so, that it didn't seem like something I could or should do seriously.  It was too easy a part of me for me to consider making a career of it.  Work was supposed to be work.

I got involved in music and singing as an adolescent, and wanted to be on stage.  It was my passion.

Again, another longer story, but briefly, when I was a senior in High School after being heavily involved and dedicated to the school musicals (I was in the cast a year before I was in High School), I tried out for the lead and not only did I not get it, but I only landed a walk-on one line speaking part.  I was devastated, especially since people who had been in the room for the try-outs had told me privately later that I had done very well and deserved to have gotten the lead.

didn't really matter, my dream was crushed and my self-confidence with it.  I pretty much gave-up on music at that point.  If I couldn't be on stage, then a career with music people, with whom I didn't feel a particularly affinity, didn't make sense to me.  So, facing college, and with my natural ease with art, I decided to go into fine arts.  I was good enough to get a scholarship based on the creative work that I had done in my High School art classes.

So, I started learning academic art.  I got my Bachelors of Fine Arts at the small but very good art department in the university in my hometown and then looked for graduate schools.  My two criteria where that it be the best school I could get into and that it be far away from the mid-west where I grew-up.  Long story short, I chose the University of Arizona in Tucson.  Chose it sight unseen.  They gave me a graduate teaching assistantship.  The other top choice and probably a better school was the University of Iowa, but when I drove out of my home-town and drove into Iowa City to visit it, I felt like I had driven back into my hometown.  So, Arizona it was.

Arizona yet another long story, suffice it to say, that I fell in love with the dessert and I ended-up spending ten years there.  I taught art at a local community college and at the Tucson Museum of Art and did my own sculptures (nothing like what I did in school) and had a nice little reputation building.

Then I accidentally found myself in Paris in May of 1993.  Very long story, very short, I ended-up moving there in 1997.  I felt something true inside me, hard to defend or explain, but I knew I needed to move there.

And if I was going to make such a big move, I decided that I would go for it.  All of it.  I would move to Paris and make it as an artist.  Why do it it half-assed?  Why do something daring and only do it safely?  I went for it, all of it.

I've been living here for over 15 years now and the first five years were not only extremely difficult financially but psychologically.  I learned what having roots and a place are by completely cutting myself off from them and having to grow them from scratch.  It was a painful process, but it was also the fire that burned away the unnecessary, the parts of me that weren't me, and forged the steal of the real me that the whole process helped me to discover.  I learned the hard way, just who I was, who I wasn't and of what I was really capable.

In school, I was a sculptor in clay, but that proved technically difficult to continue in Paris.  So, I started experimenting in different media.  I went to the Louvre once a week and drew 19th Century sculptures.  I couldn't really draw before and in the two years I spent in this exercise, I taught myself how to draw in an academic sense.  I could render on paper what was before my eyes.

I tried painting, because it was the one art form I could do in my studio apartment and I discovered a love of photography, when I started taking photos for use as studies for my paintings.  I ended-up giving-up painting.  I didn't feel I was really good at it, even though my works were show in the Salon d'Automne and in several local exhibits.  I still love and do photography.

Then as most good things in life do, something totally unrelated to art gave me the inspiration that has become the work I do today.

My friends had a fashion label, and I would help them do the decor in their showroom.  We had a shared interest in working with on-hand materials and using them in interesting creative ways to transform them and the showroom into surprising space.  String was a plenty and the idea was probably inevitable.

I remembered loving doing nail and string drawings on boards when I was a Boy Scout and wanted to see what doing that kind of thing in a three dimensional space would be like.  I did it, and it looked pretty much like nail and string art in a three dimensional space.  But the next idea came after doing a few of the sculptures, each time they were more complex, that I wanted to see if I could create a object/shape made of string floating in the space suspended only by strings.  The idea was born and I have been doing variations of the idea ever since.

Exhibits for my work seemed to spring up out of nowhere and I even got expensive commissions to do my work.

I still wasn't making a living at it, but it had a momentum of its own.  I spent the next few years doing what I could when I could and paying the rent and keeping myself solvent by working at the clothing company and teaching art.  I always felt pulled in two opposing directions.  The desire to make my art, the reality that I wasn't making a living at it even though it was selling for more and more money.  I still had to work and working kept me from having enough time to concentrate on my art so it could get enough critical mass to take-off.  Burning the candle from both ends, I both pursued my art and kept a job (or several).

My break came when I received an important grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation for 2011.  It was enough money that I could allow myself not to work for a year and give a 100% to my art work for the first time in my life.  I hired a PR person, who doubled as an agent.  He got me several great articles in international publications and a few exhibits, including one at a contemporary art gallery in Berlin for October.

Opportunity's window opened and I dove through it with all that I had.  My grant money had already run out, but I took the time to do the exhibit and spend what I needed to to make the most of it.

The installation I did was the best ever.  But, it nearly killed me to do it.  Nothing went right, yet, I navigated it and finished the fucker.  Lost my PR agent in the process, but the work was complete and that was an achievement in itself.  Even more so, considering all the difficulty I had to overcome to get it completed.

Again another long story and one that I'm not at liberty to talk about freely in a public space.

So, it was complete.  I just had to wait a month to go back to the gallery for the art opening, where there would be over 2000 people and I could start on the art career that had long escaped me.

The whole thing fell apart.  The exhibit and the art opening were canceled.  My PR agent quit.

Not only had my money run out, but I had spent what was needed to get the show finished, didn't work making money elsewhere while I was doing it, and now, there was no exhibit, no opening, no sales, no articles, nothing that could help me get to the next level, to finally break through, to finally "make it" in the art world.  The future that had so long eluded me and that I had worked so hard to achieve and sacrificed so much to achieve suddenly vanished.

I'm leaving most of the detail out.  You'll just have to read between the lines, but it was a difficult, exhausting, and painful experience.  and at the end of the day, I had nothing to show for it.  There would be no future opportunities like that one.  I had no more grant, so I had to go back to work full-time and pay back the debts I incurred while I was thinking that they were necessary sacrifices and investments in the future I was hoping to build.

There would be no further free time to devote to my art and I realized a long time ago, that doing art part time would never give it enough energy to have it take-off.  I had my chance and for reasons beyond my control and some in my control, I missed it.  I couldn't go back to trying to both do art and working full-time.  It took me half the year to get back to even financially.  I was tired of living a bohemian life and just wanted to be able to know that I could pay the rent every month and maybe have some kind of security.

I dreamed of taking a day a week from work and going to my studio and cutting paper or drawing with crayons or pencils... what ever I wanted, and to never again try to make big amazing installations that would make me famous, or that would at least earn me enough money so that I could live solely from them.  That world seems like a bottomless pit, where bigger and better was never bigger or better enough.  I wasn't sure for whom I was doing my art for or why.

I crashed into reality.

I realized that I didn't even get any pleasure from doing art anymore.  It had become some sort of monster that was running me and eating all the good that came from my work.  There was always the next one that had to be bigger and better and price exacted from me kept getting higher and higher.

People loved my work.  I know they did because they told me so, but I could barely hear their comments.  It all got absorbed in the fact that no matter what I did, who much it cost me, it was never enough.  I haven't been able to art since, haven't been willing to.

(and just to add to the pity party, my 7 year relationship, my epic love story came to an end in July).

I always blogged my exhibits on facebook and on my website and I was always pleased and amazed how many people followed it daily and stayed involved in the process.  And somewhere when the exhibit really started going bad, I realized that there was a chasm opening between what people thought my life was like and what it was really like.  For legal and ethical reasons, I couldn't tell the truth of what was really happening.  My friends, family, and supporters all saw me as someone who was achieving the success that so many dream of but few achieve.  The American from Kansas, making it in the big art world of Europe.  I wanted to be that person.  I even enjoyed sharing it with others would wanted to live vicariously through me, taking them along with me was part of the joy.  How could I let them know that it wasn't at all like they thought?  It wasn't at all like I wanted it to be.  I felt like a fraud.  I was pretending to be something that I wasn't allowed to be.  Something that I could only pretend to be, but never could actually attain.

When Whitney Houston died, I felt I understood something about what it must be like.  Everyone wants fame, success, and money and thinks that if you have it, your life is better than those who don't.  The problem is that on the inside of it, it doesn't look like that at all.  It's rotten and fake and requires you not only to give more of yourself than should ever be required of anyone, but you have to put up with all the shit that goes along with it and if you talk about the shit, then you reveal that you haven't really made it, so you have to keep your mouth shut about it.  The egg will be on your face if you do.  Suddenly, you have everything that everyone else dreams of and you realize that the reality of it sucks.  You are faced with pretending that it is the way everyone wishes it was and you can keep it, or you can be honest about it and you will not be allowed to stay there.  You risk losing your integrity because you cannot be true to both things, yourself and the image of what it appears to be.  You are a failure.  You fail either way.  The money and the celebrity just make it harder to try to get out.

I feel lucky that I got burned early on, before I was too entwined in it to be able to get out.

But without the illusion that that what life was for, what was there?  Nothing.

Why say all this?  what's the point?  I'm not sure I know.  But it feels like coming clean.  It feels like being human and being honest.  If feels like what needs to be said.

What ever the reason, it is what happened.  I understand what happened, most of it, but don't understand what it means.  It happened.  I'm still alive.  But what does one do with their life, when they know they are an artist, yet living as an artist isn't worth it for all the shit and loss of integrity one has to put up with and not being able to make money at art means that one will never have enough time to do it properly?  I don't want to kill myself doing art.  I want to make art and I want to enjoy my life too.  Slaving for art is romantic, but who is the sacrifice for?  As good as my art is, I don't think destroying myself to do it, or giving up living in order to do it is worth it.  Nothing is worth that.

So, if you have followed my art, or just discovered it, I ask you "What does it give to you?" "What does it mean to you?" "What do you like about it?" "Was it worth it to you?" "Why?"

If it means something to you, what would or could you give me to show it?

I have made some awesomely beautiful things with my creativity.  Why should I bother trying to do more?  Can you tell me?  What is it worth to you?

If it meant that I could do more, would you contribute to it?  If I passed a hat would you drop a coin in it?

I tried to do it by myself and failed.

Objectively, it seems such a shame to have something to give and to be thwarted in giving it, or the personal price of giving it is so high that it becomes unbearable.  Am I weak and therefore not a real artist?  Can't I give what I have to give without it costing me security and wellness?

What do you think?  I would like to know.


  1. Sean, you know I love you and always have and I wished you would have let us know sooner what was happening. Not that i am great or anything but my gift aside from music is psychology and I might have been able to help you help yourself. All that aside...Have you ever looked at Kick Starter? You really should. I know a clothing line and a performance artist who were able to make there dreams happen. People like me and other friends and strangers give you money for your project whatever you choose that to be. I urge you to give it a look. I have always been proud of you as a person. You just need to find balance and peace. The universe is kind and i should know. Good feelings and peace to you my brother in spirit.

    1. Chris, I couldn't figure out either from your post or your profile, who you are... I'm sorry and embarrassed.... we obviously know each other... but I'm not enough of a detective to figure it out... HELP!! :)

    2. okay, just after I posted it came to me : Christie!
      I did check out Kick Starter. It looks great! thanks for the tip.
      what you say about you wish I had said something sooner... I think is what i realized and was the reason I wanted to write now... must say, though, that it took me a long time to figure out exactly what happened, to separate the youthful desire for recognition from the actual deception. The frustration of having something to share, a gift, and nothing seems to conspire or to help in making it happen. It always feels like starting from scratch and the effort isn't just the work, which is enormous in itself, but always seems to be against all odds, like the universe conspires to make it harder than it already is.

      And I want to be clear, I don't feel like there is some kind of entitlement... Like anyone owes me for what I'm doing, but there just seems to be something out of line with the amount of good people seem to get from it. Why isn't there some kind of break through?

      I never intended to do my artwork to be famous, I just reasoned that if I had a reputation and a good gallery and enough notoriety, then I might stand a chance of selling enough of it to make money doing it, so that it was self sustaining, instead of always having to be dredged out of nothing, no resources, no time (I can't say no help, because countless people have helped me and contributed to my work existing). Starting from zero each time took a beating on me and not that I'm getting younger, it couldn't keep just getting harder and harder to do.

  2. Oh my goodness... O just lost a long comment from my heart to your heart...typing pn my phone for almost an hour with one finger by hitting the wrong button. I will have to retype it tomorrow. Just know I believe in you no matter what you decide to do. If you pass a hat or sell stock in yourself I will pitch in.
    Let me try to rewrite what I wrote.
    Cousin Nancy Thompson (Wassinger)

    1. please, when you have a keyboard, I would love to hear what you wrote. Can't tell you how many times that has happened to me... written something and then lost it.

  3. I hear you, I feel you, and have experienced some, not all of what you speak about myself. A few things right off the bat. I was also thinking of writing a kind of "coming clean" thing the other day (but this is about you).
    I am in no position to offer you a show or money right now either. However: What I love about your work (and I haven't even seen it in person since I helped you (assisting) win the Prix de Coeur about ten years ago in a group installation--and had so much fun with you doing that--is....I love the sense of lightness, tautness, suspension, color, 3-4D qualities, stretching space, creating form and function, it's like your heartstrings, or a harp-strings, but more galactic in scope...I'm just riffing, really because I haven't seen your work in a long time, except online, but I KNOW it always makes a deep impression on me, and I KNOW how impt it is to your soul to make it. You should be supported to make it. I should be supported to make my work too. I wonder how it would be different for you if you were not in Europe, but I don't even want to suggest that it might be better, artworldwise--it could be worse! But a gallery might represent you, for example here, in New York, or in LA. Even if you keep living there. I don't know how to get a gallery, though I did go to Bard and should know from my friends who are mostly visual artists. I could ask them. Anyway, please don't stop making art. Keep playing with your scales and your scale and your spaces and your time. Make it like an accordion. Ebbs, flows, contracts,...could you make a diaphramatic string sculpture? There are so many channels....also coming from, tables, chairs, dresses, skirts, can Casey Videlenc incorporate your work into their garments? A string theory jacket? Again, just riffing....but your work is important. Again the sense of suspension is strong, of overcoming space, time continuum, of lightness in the heaviness of gravity, of stretching the mind into a chosen shape, morphing, possibiity...etc.....Love.

  4. Sean this is Bobbi. I only have this to tell are an incredible person with talent beyond words, I used to wish that I would be a successful singer someday but realized that wasn't my place and that God had a better plan so I trusted him and have come to a place where I know the talent that I have will be put to good use even if it's not what I wanted. I'll always sing and you'll always create and maybe now isn't the right time for either of us but that day WILL come when you least expect it. You are in a position to teach and educate others what you know and feel and maybe that's your place for now. All of your hardwork hasn't been for nothing, you're just one of the lucky ones that gets to take the long way around. So take it, embrace it, learn from it and put it to work. I have always believed in you. So here's to your first million dollar art piece and my first record deal...up,up,and away. Love you, Bobbi

  5. In response to a friend's private message... I wrote : I don't think I'm sad, well not about art. I don't feel like my art was a failure either, just that I failed at making it work. Just a statement of fact, if you will. I wrote in stream of conscious pretty much, so I didn't stop to think how it was coming out... I just got it out... I'm somewhat surprised that what I wrote seemed sad. I mostly feel frustrated. I feel beaten too. But writing, and people's reaction to it were a step I needed to take to deal with it and go beyond it. the whole thing has just stopped me for over a year now. I'm ready to go on.

    Fraud may not be the right word. There was just so much distance between who I really was and what really happened and what I imagined people thought. I felt dishonest. That is where the idea fraud comes from.

  6. Sean, I firmly believe everything happens for a reason, but as simple human beings, we often take a lot of time figuring out what the reason is. You are a good, talented person. You will figure it out.
    I am always amazed at the art that you do, and I found the string sculptures absolutely incredible, especially the man. Such power and movement! I hope you find a way to be true to yourself, do art, make a living, and achieve balance and happiness. Your blog may be the first step.

  7. Dear Sean,
    Regardless of life circumstances, I admire you, love you, and am grateful to you for inspiration. I am the girl with the rose-colored glasses who always sees the glass half-full; doesn't mean that life hasn't thrown me some curves, and some of them I didn't like at all. But, the teacher in me, and the eternal optimist, always thinks about what I learned that will help me in the future. I have been reflecting on my own life choices and how to reach my goals. I don't have any regrets about the disappointments and heartache because I think they have helped make me stronger. I am, by no means, perfect, and I am sure my parents are in heaven saying, "When will you learn?" But, life is full of trial and error, and failure is the only way to reach success.
    So, how does this apply to you? You always manage to brighten the world of others with your gifts, your talents, your personality, your viewpoint, your eye for color and design, your perspective on the world. I cannot imagine not knowing you, and I am truly blessed for knowing you. You are a ray of sunshine and a breath of fresh air. Reading your words, viewing your work, having a conversation with you is a gift. I am blessed, and so is everyone who knows you and is touched by your giving spirit.
    When I read your words, I thought immediately how gifted you also are as a writer and how your words touched my heart. It's not just because I am an English/reading teacher. Any human being can see your light.
    Truthfully, I admire you for sharing your thoughts. As painful as it may be, and I can attest to that kind of heartache personally, I have faith in your talent, ability, and the inspiration to take what you perceive as challenge/struggle and turn it into something worthwhile and satisfying. Whether you realize it or not, you are a beacon of hope in a world overshadowed by disappointment. I am proud of you, and even though we live thousands of miles apart, I believe in you, what you stand for, what you seek, and what you will continue to accomplish in your life.
    Because I have been pondering my own personal journey, sometimes the unexpected pain is a Godsend and a blessing. The other night I was tutoring at the library, got there early, and had to sit at another table in another part of the library where I don't usually go. I was waiting for my client and browsed through a stack of books left by someone previously doing research. The top book was THE SEVEN SPIRITUAL LAWS OF SUCCESS by Deepak Chopra. I am a big fan of Deepak Chopra and felt like that book was placed there for me. The timing was incredible because I have been praying every day for guidance and good decision making. I don't want to lose sight of my goals, and I'm still wondering when I'm supposed to "grow up." I read the book on Friday night, and it was life-changing. I want to re-read it because I truly feel the message of the book was written for me--ok, Deepak wrote it for the world. But, it's amazing how his words touched my soul. I know you are an avid reader/researcher, and maybe it will be enlightening for you as well. : )
    Love you and know I am one of your biggest fans. . .as a friend, cousin, and hometown girl who learned so much living in Dallas. You have been, are now, and will continue to be a light for me. God gave you incredible gifts to share with the world--use them all. This is a little Kelly wisdom to remember (and I say it all the time), "You could live to be 100, and this is just a drop in the bucket."
    Love you and thank you for sharing your story. Grateful. : )
    Kelly O'Brien Koerner