Basic Instincts: A Nude In a Bordello

The other day a David Hockney painting went for $92 million, a record price for a living artist. Hey, I’m a living artist, though at times perhaps sedentary The highest for a Willard oil topped out at $2,500.

But no, before you ask, I’m not at all jealous of Hockney, merely envious, and there is a difference. The former is what my long dead grandmother would call pettiness while envy lights a flame.

My own commercial high water mark was a rather colorful nude. Picasso had a blue period and a rose period. Mine sort of mixes it together in a Dolly Parton “coat of many colors” period.

One day I expect to see this particular piece featured in a Nevada bordello, not that such a venue would interest this old gent. I simply would like to make sure it has a good and loving cathouse home.

I’m not complaining about my lack of art success. The money I’ve made from selling my oils is about 10 times that of my literary ventures at, maybe — being generous here — a farthing a word.

Which makes apt the phrase i hear most often — “Hey, Willie, don’t give up your day job.”

I’m comfortable on the sidelines lampooning that which succeeds so fabulously one would think it a con; and, in my view, generally is basic bunko. Because — unless one is hallucinating — a lot of what passes for art is of the same flimflam as Prof. Harold Hill in “The Music Man.”

I’m writing about long dead folk like the Russian Kazimir Malevich who felt those crazy cubists didn’t take abstraction far enough. Thus Malevich created an iconic “Black Square” which draws crowds to Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery.

People stand in front of it, eyes-wide, and intone, “Wow, deep man.” I am reminded of Bob Denver’s portrayal of Maynard Krebs, the beatnik character in the very old TV series, “Dobie Gillis.”

However, I am not a piker at art voyeurism.

I have gazed upon Picasso’s “Guernica” at Reina Sofia in Madrid. Have marveled at a Chagall in the Pushkin in Moscow. Have stalked London’s national gallery, marveling at its Monet collection, and visited the great one’s gardens in Giverny, outside Paris.

Yes, I have found myself totally unworthy in the presence of a Van Gogh collection in Amsterdam. All this doesn’t make me an artist, merely a well-travelled and practiced name dropper.

But let’s face it, much of modern art is not my cup of Kool-aid. To me the fellow Malevich was a carny without the boater, string tie and cane. If it is artistic sophistication, it is at nose blood heights.

I confess, though, I like twangy country music and a gourmet lunch is cheese flavored popcorn at the nearest movie emporium. So, my tastes should be considered suspect.

Hockney, however, is a hero of mine, His works dazzle, and I learn mightily from him. So was Lucian Freud. In my view, no figure artist could approach Lucian’s genius, including Di Vinci, a declaration I realize is sacrilegious. His work was almost supernatural.

As for me, I’m a journeyman art guy. I took up the craft at age 49, and painted like a madman thereafter. I never took a formal lesson, and it probably showed. However, toss in Henri Matisse and Toulouse-Lautrec and they were all zteachers from the beyond.

When I stopped for breath two decades later, I had 400 canvasses scattered in my apartment, a garage of an ex, my sister-in-law’s abode and at my in-laws dacha outside a small Ukrainian village near Zhovti Vody. A few were in homes from Houston to Budapest to Buenos Aries.

I joke with both mirth and misty eyes that somebody is going to be fabulously wealthy when these works of art go on sale at Sotheby’s a century hence. Some Saudi prince named Abdullah, I am sure, will purchase Willard’s long-forgotten collection.

It was four years ago I put down my brushes. It was no longer the manic compulsion it had been when I first drew wimpy pastels while living on my boat on the Potomac and sketching my way through DC.

There were books I wanted to write. My 1976 Martin guitar was calling me, and song-writing was an alternate passion.

Why the suspended animation on something I dearly love to do? Glad you asked. As John Lennon once said: “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”

Mine had to do with multiple day jobs, being an older American, having youngsters still in college, being a hustler of sorts — but most importantly, a life-long instinct for economic survival.

Maybe that’s a cop-out? I often, particularly on Sunday afternoons, hear those colors drawing me to the studio.

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