At the time I was maintaining Sykesgallery, North Adams, Mass., I was convinced that I was doing the work that would establish my reputation: the Angel Series. The internet and the storefront installation would be the venues to recognition.
That expectation imploded. Not that there was no feedback at all. There was the woman who stuck her head in the door at Eagle Street while I was changing the sculpture on the 2/3 rpm motor drive bases and asked if I was Mr Sykes, No, I'm Bennett Sykes Blackburn....."Oh. Well, thank you." And there was the day that Eagle Street was filled with sand and turned into a beach party and I watched from my beach chair while a young man walked away from the window and stopped, shook his head and said "Damn, I really liked that! I'm going to look again." and he turned around and did so. And there was the still small voice that said quietly in my mind's ear, "Thank you for the Angels." I have also had kind e-mails from students and accomplished wood carvers: maybe a dozen people took the time to write.
So what happened? The equation of time and money. This work is labor and time intensive almost beyond imagining. I have never asked for a price that translated into a hourly wage that was more than a check-out person at the grocery store earns. I understand that time is not a factor in the Art World valuation of a piece, but when I must earn a dayjob wage to buy my time to create, it makes little sense to sell the work and not be able to afford the time to replace it. Bottom line: a career without patronage doesn't exist. It's a ship dead in the water.
My last three business transactions have helped point me in a different direction. The person who commissioned an Elmwood plaque for the local Town Hall, ended our relationship with the words "An artist cannot expect to be well paid for his work because he enjoys it." A collector of wood carvings likewise gave me the gift of a concluding sentence of three clauses, "I love your work, but you're not an investment, and you cost too much." Another dealer-collector has never tired of telling me that everything else in his collection has established resale value, but my work is a consumable. Thanks guys for the insight.
Something in the universe has been pushing me toward another form of sculptural expression, collaborating with my wife and having fun. A ship dead in the water has transmogrified into a carbon fiber stealth craft that flies where it will, undetected by collectors, galleries, museums or the public. Is anybody reading this?