I got a gig showing some of my paintings at a local cafe. It's a nice downtown place, very supportive of community. The owner is Russian, about twelve feet tall, head of bushy salt-and pepper hair, and terrible business sense. Although it is nice to come by on a weekend and see his friends/relatives sitting around a table with Russian orthodox priests, who, with their tall, slender builds in black cassocks, and their long silver hair and beards look like a gaggle of sexy Santas.
The manager is a nice young man who knows how to bring business in, and it was through him that I got my gig - he understands integrating a small business with the local community. I explained how to get a picture rail to save the walls, and on a Saturday I was there wiring and hanging my pieces.
Because my pieces were not of a uniform size, it took some time. It was a slowish morning, and an older gentleman sat at the coffee bar. From his manner and the ID hanging around his neck, I gathered that he was a regular, liked the social aspect of the place, and lived under some form of supervision.
He took a great interest in my pictures, and came closer to watch me hang them.
"I like this one!"
"You should call it 'After the Rain.'"
"Well, it has a name already, but that's a good name. I'll keep it in mind for the next one."
A man came into the cafe and began watching me. My new partner came over to him and they stood next to each other, observing. Conferring gravely with one another.
"You should put those in a different order," New Man said. "The levels are too much the same."
"Yeah, they need to be different," my partner agreed.
"I'm just hanging them up, guys. Once they're up, I'll arrange them, I promise."
My partner was squatting in front of a painting waiting on the floor that featured a stylized pink tree (it looks better than it sounds).
"I see a donkey. In the tree."
"Well, you have a great imagination."
"And an alligator."
"Uh-huh." I was wrestling with a stuborn piece of hanging wire and trying to not let exasperation creep into my voice.
"I really can see that donkey."
I stepped off the ladder to head to the restroom. As I passed the man, he said, "See? Look. A Donkey."
I looked. Damn.
"And here's the alligator."
And there it was.
The paintings took four hours to hang (from now on I will paint on uniform-sized canvas). During that time, the other artist, a photographer, hung his. He was Russian. Of course.
"I have never done this before."
"Well, your stuff is very nice. If you need any tools, let me know."
"I am fine, I have brought things."
"OK, but if you need anything, I have lots of things in that bag there."
"I am fine, but thank you very much; you are very courteous."
"Did you bring a level?"
"No." He looked like he was about to rail to the heavens in a Dostoevskyan fit of despair, drink a quart of vodka, and throw himself under a large, allegorical locomotive.
"It's OK; It's easy to forget until you've done it a few times. Feel free to use mine."
"Than you. You are clearly a professional; I am new to these things and clearly I still have much to learn."
"I've just done this a few times, is all. I've already made my mistakes. I usually forget something. It's not a reflection on you." Please don't strip and walk off into a Siberian winter sunset to the howling accompaniment of wolves.
So, the paintings and photos are hung, people love them, and nobody has yet bought anything. It's the way it is: sometimes you sell; sometimes you don't. I try not to think about the young man whose stuff hung before mine, who decided to try his hand at painting and sold a fairly average piece for one thousand dollars. Unframed.
It's a low-budget thrill, but it is nice to be at a music event at the cafe, listening to a guy with an electronic piano massacre a top-40 tune, and have people say, "THOSE are your paintings? I love them!"
I still pay for my hot chocolate. I'm not that big-time yet.