A Marriage of Art
Carl Wright first contacted me in early September 2007. He was getting ready for a two-person exhibition with his wife Jody at Ed Chasen’s Gallery (www.edchasenfineart.com) in the historic Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC (December 15, 2007 - January 5, 2008).
I wanted to interview Carl on the nuances of working together with one’s spouse, especially when each partner has such diverse artistic interests; Carl is a sculptor and Jody is a painter. The couple had to turn down my request at the time, because they were concentrating on getting publicity for their show. They wanted to get the maximum amount of people in to the exhibit to talk about and buy art. It had been a very hectic preparation period for them between creating new art, doing news interviews, and shooting a TV spot.
We connected again at the beginning of the New Year. I asked the Wrights how the Georgetown exhibition went for them, and they reported it was a good show. Jody sold several paintings and took a custom order. Carl met some notable clients who are interested in later sales and he got a chance to meet a collector who had earlier purchased two sculptures. Overall the show was a success, their experience was positive, and the Wrights hope it will bear continued interest and sales later in the year.
Most importantly, the show allowed the couple to enjoy a unique opportunity to see how well they worked together outside of the confines of their somewhat solitary life in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Whereas paintings may easily sell in a gallery when there is enough interest, with sculpture it takes a while to develop the client because sculpture is such a very individualistic medium. A piece has to be the right color and style to hit the client just right. It proved to be a workable dynamic with sales and relationship building occurring simultaneously.
Carl relates that while at Ed Chasen’s, a lifelong fantasy came true. A client came into the gallery and said something to the effect of, oh I’ve just got to have the piece, but I have to bring back my wife. When the client actually returned with the spouse, she said something to the effect of, fine, you can have the piece, but I also want this other one!! In the art world, one finds all kinds of marriages!
And so it was appropriate that the Ed Chasen show was entitled, "A Marriage of Art." The Wrights liken it to Bogey & Bacall – the perfect match, in the perfect place, at the perfect time. Or, the perfect case of opposites attracting. It’s not every painter with her dappling of color on a canvas who can live with and work with the dirt and noise of stone sculpture.
Carl’s visual sculpture sensations feature Alabaster, Marble, and Limestone in abstract stone sculpture. His work is hand-carved and lovingly finished with waxes and a variety of other finishes bringing out the subtle beauty of the stone. Depending on the type of stone used, Carl’s color offerings vary. Limestone, for instance, is a dove gray. Marble can be white or sky blue, among other colors. Alabaster can be translucent white, green with brown striations, or strawberry and cream, among others.
Carl carves stone sculptures for both interiors and exteriors. He has been in several juried museum and gallery shows. His work is in private residences from Maryland to California to Switzerland. One sculpture is also in a pharmaceutical headquarters in Durham, NC.
Wife Jody offers a wide range of original canvases, she is widely known for her works of companion animals, but at the Ed Chasen show, Jody wanted to bring new life and energy with her. Featured were several different series: The Renaissance series with Einstein and Twain, dancers, and abstracts. Jody’s mural work can be found in both Martinsburg and Charles Town, West Virginia, and her paintings are hanging on walls nationwide and in Australia.
The Couple’s History
Jody and CarI had been married for a couple of years when the first impulses of being an artist started to bite. They had both dabbled in art as part-time pursuits: photography and painting. Their day jobs and college classes together began to affect the time they were able to see one another. As a solution, they took a craft class. This was mainly to satisfy their urge to do something different and have a guaranteed date to see each other.
After that, the passion for art and for each other just kept building. Weary of the metropolitan city life, the couple moved to West Virginia in 1986 to occupy an 1895 Victorian home. This meant one and a half hour commutes by train or by car. Carl was commuting to DC; Jody to Baltimore, Maryland. Within a month of each other, eventually both artists quit their jobs and opened up the WSG Gallery in 1988.
The Wrights find that while in the city, they were getting caught up in the hustle bustle. When they moved - life got quieter and easier. Because of their move, their life is simpler so more effort can be poured into their art.
Contract for Artistic Collaboration
Carl reports that as to working with Jody on a full-time basis – it is a delight. He had the great fortune to marry his best friend. Since the couple work around each other upwards to 14 hours a day, they have to be best friends and they recognize that this level of involvement would be pretty hard on a lot of people’s relationships. The Wrights have guidelines about getting along as artists, as friends, and as spouses that have evolved over the years.
1. Have a space that is yours. Carl's work is basically noisy, dirty, and messy. Some of that carries over in his organization of paper and filing. Jody is just the opposite, she is neat. She can paint on canvas all day with a white sweater on and at the end of the day it is still white. He is always allowed in her studio and she into his - but you always ask where a tool is (ask permission), and then put it back.
2. Know how to talk about your partner’s work critically and more importantly, know when to back off. Carl loves color and detail. He can help Jody with these two items in her paintings when she asks. Jody can help him with a three dimensional design problem in stone. The important thing to remember is Jody is the expert in painting like Carl is in sculpture. If there is a difference of opinion – the winner is always Jody if it is painting; Carl if it is sculpture. There are no exceptions.
3. Everyone gets to do housework, regardless if it is the studio or the personal space in the house. There are no set rules on who gets to do what. Both of the partners made the mess, both of them get the fun of cleaning it up. No Mighty Maids to the rescue. With the Wrights’ 112 year old home, there are things that need to get fixed. Jody hates plumbing but gets better results at it than Carl does. Wiring the house is easy for him. Putting in the framing for new walls, installing hardwood flooring, building and installing cabinets is a breeze. Jody is the one who can plaster the walls and make the room look good. Somehow it all works.
4. If all else goes wrong, nothing gets in the way of their relationship. Carl feels his relationship is somewhat akin to the way he looks at stone sculpture. Stone sculpture, like love, is a dance. Sometimes you lead, sometimes your partner leads. It is all about getting to the same objective. I asked him, "How do painting, sculpture, and space interrelate?" Painting, sculpture, and space interrelate well. It is a case of keeping as much as possible, the work separate from the home. "That is a hard act to accomplish" says Carl. The separation of space is essential.
5. Forgive, respect, and compromise. The Wrights worked together in the corporate world a couple of times and don’t understand the argument of people who love each other but say they couldn’t work together. Certainly there are differences in personal style and temperament. Carl says one has to be somewhat forgiving about much of it. Compromise and get along – respect each other. It’s not for everyone.
The Proof’s in the Art
Well, all of that "get along" stuff is just plain mumbo jumbo to this arts advisor. What I wanted to see was the work. Because after all, art is work and work is art. So I was delighted when Carl shared that he had participated in the first Public Art Program of installation sculptures in the City of Algonquin, Illinois (near Chicago). This is the third year in a row that the respected Algonquin Public Art Program has held this event; previous years brought awards of excellence.
Carl’s contribution, his sculpture Eihei (pronounced I-HEE) and the sculpture Motion, are on display from November 1, 2007 - November 1, 2008. Eihei and Motion grace the entry way to the Old Algonquin Town Hall at the corner of Main Street and Algonquin Road (State Routes 31 and 62). The works are specially carved from stone so that they can be displayed either on the exterior or interior of buildings and homes. Eihei and Motion are carved from limestone from Indiana, the same stone used for the sculptures and exterior cladding of National Cathedral in Washington, DC.
Eihei, on its pedestal, is 60" tall. Motion, on its pedestal, is 48" tall. Both are part of Carl’s sculpture series having a rhythmic, flowing, and peaceful feel to them. This series of sculptures is specifically meant to impart a peaceful calm feeling before entering an office or home. I asked Carl about Eihei’s name. He imparts that it comes from Japanese and means guardian or sentinel.
Carl had a few clients who mentioned they could visualize his work in a Japanese stone garden because it has a quiet meditative feel to it. When he created the works, he was also experiencing an internal shift about naming conventions. Years of experience had taught him that many art buyers who look at an abstract piece want to know what the artist was thinking about it.
Carl’s gone through a phase of naming association in his works because he wants each sculpture to have its own individual name with a distinctive, relatable personality. On the other hand, naming a sculpture is fraught with a mindset. An artist doesn’t want to turn off a potential buyer and to add a layer of complexity, and when using a foreign language, you can have the same word with different meanings based on one’s intonations. He says, "You want to ensure you’re not coming off as culturally arrogant or ignorant."
Carl’s excited about Algonquin because the City is trying to cultivate an Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia environment with the re-use of waterfront properties, Victorian homes, and home-town small walking mall shops. City developers are trying to attract the Chicago professional who craves the cultural arts beat.
More than 20 sculptures are spread all over from the old part of town to new shopping centers. Additionally, Algonquin staffers were very professional to work with, very detailed oriented, and knew how to install and de-install. Both sculptures weigh 600 pounds each, and a sculptor is always worried in public installation whether public officials know how to correctly place a work – would it be level?
Carl says after the three to four weeks it takes him to complete a work, he wants the finished product to be a testament to his sculpting ability and not a sad reflection on stone. It is this motivation that causes him to be sure to read public art prospectuses very carefully. He pays particular attention to where sculpture is sited and the installation expertise of the public art authority to make sure of a successful proposal and project.
Other Career Milestones
Although the Wrights report that so far, there has not really been one big sale or break, they say their arts journey has been one of process, transformation, and time. Most of the breaks or milestones the couple has accomplished seem to them to be more of a steady building of intensity.
Recently, Carl was one of four participants in an eclectic invitational museum show with the Washington County Museum of Arts in Hagerstown, MD (part of the American Association of Museums). He and three other furniture makers were invited to show their creations.
While most people think of furniture in square shapes, none of the furniture makers in the show did conventional works. Carl’s piece, "The Dolphin Table" is a depiction of a dolphin breaking water with the table top being the water. He laughs and says it makes for an interesting conversation piece. He credits wood to getting him on his path in sculpture and thinks he knew he was answering to a different call when his work was stained and finished and all the others in the show were highly painted. He was interested in works and materials that were visually exciting design wise.
Other career markers are having been represented by the Washington, DC gallery FAA Fine Art & Artists Gallery also located in the Georgetown area. Carl’s first large sale ($6,600) was through a gallery and took place almost a year ago to date. A woman through Summerhill Gallery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina had her eyes on a sculpture that weighed 250 pounds, but the gallery couldn’t deliver it.
Carl said he’d take care of all the arrangements – and the Wrights went down and personally installed it in her newly completed home with beautiful, high-end flooring. For the Wrights, this was not just a matter of logistics and installation, but rather personal care and concern. Carl’s equipment is used to being on dirty concrete floors. The Wrights had to clean everything. For added measure, they got builder’s paper (heavy duty craft paper) to protect the floors. A testament to customer service, the woman recently purchased another sculpture from the artist.
No Rest for the Weary
It’s very true that a rolling stone gathers no moss, and the Wrights are well aware of the power of invested activity. With an opening reception to be held this January 23rd, Carl will be in a juried group show at West Chester University, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The show is sponsored by the Philadelphia Sculptors (www.philasculptors.org) and Carl will be among 33 other sculptors exhibiting work. He plans to show one small piece about 13 – 15 inches tall named Noboru.
In early spring, the Wrights are planning their first Joint Show in Richmond, Virginia, at the Chasen Galleries (www.chasengalleries.com). Not to be confused, Carl will be showing some of the same works he showed at Ed Chasen’s Gallery this winter. Here is one case where the accomplished sculptor has to take a back seat, as Jody is primary draw for the exhibit "Fauna & Fun." Opening reception is April 25, 2008.
And if that weren’t enough, the couple is celebrating the publication of Jody’s new book. "50 Secrets Humans Should Know" is scheduled for release in March ’08 and will be published by Peter Pauper Press. This personal-sized book is a delight with 50 of Jody’s paintings on the left hand page, followed on the right with a lesson that a dog would love to teach a human. Each picture is paired up with a cogent dog thought. Jody, not only being a gifted painter, is much attuned to dogs – at one time the couple had three dogs in the house! Jody’s natural way with the animals accompanied her written articles over the years. The book seemed like a natural extension for her.
The couple anticipates the upcoming release and then they hope to promote that well so "50 Secrets Humans Should Know" moves fairly good sales. [The Wrights will then attract attention for a follow on book as Jody has great writing ideas but needs to explore directions she’d like to take. 50 Secrets is particularly exciting as it is representative of her work and philosophy in an entertaining and easily digestible form.
So by now, my brain was starting to hurt and I asked the Wrights where they find the time. They say they work with time to do many projects simultaneously and Jody and Carl don’t watch much TV. Instead, they work to help their business. Marketing. Mailings. Continued learning and exploration.
The Business of Art
I thought they were joking. The Wrights, among all their paintings, and the sculptures, and the book, and the house, and the dogs, are devising a new marketing plan to drive business to WSG Gallery. They think marketing their services to banks and other financial institutions might be a good idea. Banks have a huge need to personalize their art and differentiate themselves from their competition. This is particularly true in the DC Metropolitan area.
Many galaxies ago, the couple had people come to a stand-alone store, but when the Blue Ridge Outlet closed up, these same people stopped coming to Martinsburg. People live in Martinsburg for relaxed atmosphere and inexpensive living. The idea is to drive these same people who might have visited the artists to their retail galleries for other smaller pieces. If art buyers want larger pieces (murals for Jody) or large outside sculpture – then of course, the Wrights would welcome them.
But all is well in paradise as the couple has to balance small town life and inaccessibility against metropolitan living. They think the trade off is worth it.
Living in a metropolitan area might force the artistic duo to do more commercial work like graphics or building stone fences rather than answering to what their true calling is. Would metropolitan people buy what they want to sell?
The couple is now reframing themselves as a wholesale purveyor and this came after quite a bit of open studio controversy. Most people don’t want to see process in other types of business – I don’t really care how my toaster is made. When you do art like the Wrights, you are a small business person who happens to do art - not an artist in business. Carl started feeling it was draining their time, energy, and home life and if husband and wife were going to be performers, didn’t they deserve a performers fee? Why perform for free?
So they channeled that energy into professionalism they show talking to the customer, taking the order, fulfilling and servicing installations, and working. Did I mention the newsletter (http://mysite.verizon.net/vzexhp7w/wsggallery/)? The Wrights feel a newsletter is a good tool for them because it helps to get older clients thinking about the work, it allows color pictures, several pages, and is not affected by the postal rate.
The Wrights learned that galleries don’t always want to tell you who is buying your work because many artists will go direct to the client and cut the gallery out. Many galleries won’t give names and addresses out to the artists. The Wrights ask the galleries to tell them whether the work appeals to a certain demographic. They use that information to shape the body of people they personally want to address. Carl says, when you’re shooting in the dark, you have no idea how successful you are, particularly with art. Art is one of those things when people are feeling good and successful, they buy more – that is, when and if they get your newsletter.
It’s not all about money. Carl and Jody recently started a blog (http://wsggallery.blogspot.com/)on helping potential clients and others navigate through the wilderness of art speak, sculpture commissioning process, buying a pedestal for sculpture, and other art related phenomena Many people don’t know the questions to ask in where to look for a problem or how to hire an art expert. There are so many questions in art; it’s a subjective thing and not objective. You have to know something about art to know if you like it or why you like it – and then comes the question of how or where to hang it in the home. In sculpture, if you want to buy, you then have the question of what to put it on. So the Wrights have begun an education outreach to make the process of art more enjoyable and more informed.
How an Artist Defines Success
Feeling comfortable and successful is an evolving thing. The Wrights say one day, you wake up and feel you are a professional. It’s gradual. Concentrate on your sphere of influence, the gift that’s a total refuge for you. Carl says he doesn’t know if he could work with someone else. He knows, sees, and visits other artists. He reflects that maybe he became an artist with his self-imposed exile to do humanity a favor by not being in the traditional workplace. No, he’s not sure he could work with others.
With Jody, he can talk about projects together, he feels fortunate they don’t have a problem in working side by side. The couple defines their own success – creativity, color, collaboration, compassion, and concentration. "Jody and I have been full-time artists for 19 years. We enjoy that the living we make is because of the effort we put into it. We enjoy making artistic decisions and being responsible for them. It is not the easiest way to make a living, but it really works for us.”
Carl & Jody Wright
330 Winchester Avenue
Martinsburg, WV 25401
Where Sculpture is a Delight to the Eye!
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Posted by shauna lee lange at Saturday, January 05, 2008