The Last Piece of Art?
The question every artist wonders about
Let me explain.
Several years ago, the passing of my friend, Dave Hunter, a fellow poster artist, left me with a deep sense of loss and a haunting question: What will be my last piece of art?
I remember the last conversation I had with Dave. I was sitting in the parking lot of a computer repair store, frustrated because I had just received the news that a mutual client of ours rejected a design I had recently submitted. He was calling to tell me the same thing had just happened to him for the same client. Our lucky day, I guess. We both needed to rant a bit. After a bit of frustration got vented, the conversation became more chill, and we talked about our art, music, inspirations, and life. The typical Dave and Jeff conversation on being artists in the music world. I loved those conversations, cathartic artistic ramblings that always left me feeling better about the career we had chosen. We texted back and forth a few times after that, but that was the last time we spoke.
A few months later, I got a somber text from Dave letting me know he had brain cancer and would not be at the TRPS poster show in San Francisco that Fall. He told me he was suffering from major headaches and would stay in touch via text instead of talking on the phone. It devastated me, as it did t many of his fellow artists when they heard the news. Dave was a part of the gang, our gang of misfits. His passing the next Spring hit me pretty hard. A brilliant artist, Father, partner, surfer, printer and all around good, kind person was gone. The world lost a treasure. Dave had done his final poster.
Dave left us on April 30, 2017. I had completed a poster for Colonel Bruce Hampton's 70th birthday show to be performed at the Fox in Atlanta on May 1st, the very next day. Judy and I were going out to the show as guests of the promoter. It was a major event in the Georgia music community. The show was long sold out. There were too many guests to name from bands spanning all genres to be there and celebrate. I was really down and didn't really want to attend. I have Jethro Felton to thank for nudging me out the door and to the Fox. Judy and I met up with him to have dinner before the show and celebrate Dave with a drink. It's what Dave would have wanted. Jethro had reiterated that Dave would have been pissed at me if I missed out on a such an epic concert sitting around moping about him. He was right.
Later that evening, in one of the strangest twists in music history, at the end of an amazing once in a lifetime show, Colonel Bruce passed away on stage during the encore doing what he loved. Colonel would not have wanted it any other way. Fortunately, Judy and I had ducked out early when they started playing that last song to beat the after-show traffic out of Atlanta. I'm glad I was not there to witness his last moments. I'm not sure how I would have handled it with my emotions in such a fragile state after losing Dave a day earlier.
In the following days, as I mourned, a lot passed through mind about life. The inevitable thought arose once again about what would be my last creation, and what impact it might have on the world. Losing two creative people that I loved and respected really made me wonder what my last statement as an artist would be. Would it be a grand masterpiece that will stand the test of time, or a small sketch on a napkin that captures the real me, my essence? A complete dud? Maybe just a mashed up reference comp composed of a bunch of 1s and 0s on a hard drive that would never see the light of day after I turn the digital toy box off for the last time.
I spend hours in my studio (probably too much), surrounded by my collections, computers, paints, canvases, and brushes. It is my comfort zone, the place I feel most at peace. Sometimes I sit and grapple with these questions more out of a sense of artistic curiosity than sadness. But the more I think about it, the more I realize the answer is not in the outcome, but, the journey. Did I enjoy the ride?
I remember the joy I've felt when creating art, the moments of flow and inspiration that sometimes left me in awe that this image actually came out of my head, asking myself "Damn, did I really birth that into reality?". Other artists know that feeling when it clicks and the flow kicks in, that heavenly moment when it all comes together, when it all comes into focus. The magical muse visits and you realize this one is special. It's indescribable. We constantly chase that feeling, and, mind you, it doesn't happen on every piece. I can't speak for others, but for me, it only happens now and then. The muse she is fickle. After four plus decades of creating art, I realize that the beauty of art is not just in the final product, but in creating it, chasing that feeling, hoping the muse will drop by again to pay a visit. That's the real reason people become artists. The piece of art may be lost, destroyed or no longer exist, but the memory, that feeling of creating it, for the artist, will remain.
As artists, we spend countless hours perfecting our craft, learning new techniques, and discovering additional sources of inspiration. And even when we feel stuck or uninspired, we know the muse will visit us again if we stay dedicated to our work. So, I continue to draw, to paint, and to create. I pour my heart and soul into every stroke, every mark, every moment that I'm fortunate enough to be in the studio. I no longer really consider what my last piece of art will be because I know that it inevitably will reflect who I am and my lifelong journey as an artist. Honestly, I won't be around to judge my last attempt, anyway. I do know that my biggest desire is to leave here, knowing I enjoyed the ride and put a few smiles on people's faces with what I loved doing for so many years.
At the time, I honestly could not have told you what was Dave's last piece of artwork. Does it even matter? In the end, all artists know is not about their art legacy, not by one last piece, not about achieving fame and fortune. It's about creating something meaningful, something that reflects who we are and the unique experiences that have shaped us as artists. As we continue to create, we find solace knowing that the countless pieces of art we created that define us will live on, hopefully, inspiring and touching others long after we are gone, especially younger artists. Truly, what else can an artist ask for? To know you left a part of you in a piece of art that touched someone's soul is one hell of a gift. Dave's art touched a lot of souls. Every time I look at his art I remember him, the place, the first time I saw it, our conversations, SF sushi dinners and lots of smiles. That's the genuine beauty of art.
Thanks for supporting the artists you love. You let us know we are not alone at this job while we sit in solitude creating these pieces, chasing that fleeting magical muse. Whether we like to admit it, those little ego boosts of seeing someone so happy to own a piece of our art is the biggest reward we could ask for in return. I love getting those emails and messages, hugs at gallery shows, seeing the pics being posted proudly showing off the framed prints on your walls. It's humbling.
Thanks for being along on the ride and putting a little money in our pockets to fill up the tank along the way.
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