episode 9, Work of Art travels to Main Street, USA, or Cold Spring, New York, where the five remaining artists have two hours to find a portrait subject worthy of a gallery showing. The artists take a 60-mile train ride to a tiny Cold Spring, where an abundance of Caucasian subjects are waiting for their reality-TV debut. Actually, there's a lot of initial rejection and door-closing in the artists' faces during this difficult-for-the-introverted challenge.
Host China Chow livens the environment in her trench-coat dress. The weirdest thing that could ever happen on this show is if China wore something from J. Crew--or Eddie Bauer if the weather requires it. She gives everyone $200 to buy supplies in town and some clear bubble umbrellas so we can note their facial expressions of frustration as they pound the streets of rainy Cold Spring.
After coming up against a bunch of people saying no in voices reflecting an acute fear of art, everyone eventually settles on somebody to portray. Kymia finds an odd couple of antique dealers who love dolls and skull thingies and who look like an underground comic-book come to life before studio-time even commences. Dusty finds an adorably exuberant tyke who reminds him of his daughter in Arkansas. Dusty missed her first birthday by being on the show. Awwww. He asks a gaggle of children where he can buy $200 worth of candy and they dutifully point to a quaint store just down a-ways off camera. He's going to make a candy portrait because his subject likes candy. Hmmm...
Lola finds a couple of coin dealers who regale her with tales of the history of money. She buys some bills and proclaims a love of numismatics that seems somewhat genuine, given her penchant for bullshitting her way through challenges in the past. Onward! Sara strikes out a few times but then hits pay dirt with a group of firemen. She finds the world's longest-working fireman (on duty for more than sixty years) and then tries on a much-too-large uniform, for their and our amusement. She's starry-eyed at fireman-art possibility.
Young has the funniest would-be failed attempt when he tries to pry secrets-of-the-town from the owner of a bed & breakfast. Young: Have you ever stayed in a B&B? This woman has no secrets--only plates of muffins. He ends up on a tour of the entire hotel, making exclamations of wonder at lavender-painted rooms with their own fireplaces. Finally, he slips away and walks by...a portrait studio! As Young watches the painter work, he has a bright idea. You can almost see the light bulb go on over his head. Wait, I'll provide you with the image I have in mind. There.
Anyway, he decides to give the painter his $200 and have him paint Young's portrait in the 20 minutes left before heading back on the train. The guy is like, uh, well, (laugh), OK--why not? Cool guy. He free-brushes it, doing a decent impressionist take on Young and his "Justin-Bieber hair" while Young takes photos of the guy at work. Young's going to incorporate his portrait with his subject's portrait for two, two, TWO portraits in one! Young is very clever and Sara remarks as such when she sees him carrying his portrait down the street. She does a mental face-palm and asks why she didn't think of that.
Riding that train, high on cocaine - actually tobacco. Hey, that would be a great challenge. I can picture mentor Simon de Pury shouting: Artists! You have 24 hours to create your next work of art while snorting buckets of pharmaceutical-grade cocaine in order to bring back the 80s art market for all of our benefit! Now, make it brrrrrillllliant!
I have vision.
Back at the studio, everybody's workin', workin', workin' it. There's metal-hammering and cartoon illustration and candy gluing and money counterfeiting. Simon steps in and gives gentle insights. He finds Kymia's R. Crumb-like painting/illustration somewhat banal but encourages her to continue and make something of it. He likes Sara's metal-hammered fireman face and Young's portraits(s) idea. He points out to Dusty that a portrait made from M&Ms and Skittles is very similar to Dusty's earlier work with crayons (I think) and clown paint. Dusty pulls out an origami fortuneteller and decides to work with hundreds of those instead. Hmmm...
Lola's critique is also not aces. She's got blow-ups of currency mounted statically on a a big board, and some hand-written notes and a letter to her subjects. It's the Lola mish-mash, coming together (or not). Lola wants to make a portrait without making a portrait. Well, this could be brrrrrrrilliant, or it could just be a line of bullshit. Could go either way and often does in the gallery scene.
Gallery show! There wasn't enough time for Dusty's fortune-tellers (we called them cootie-catchers back in the day) to work, so he completed his candy portrait, which is leaking on the gallery floor. Kymia's portrait is cartoonish and creepy but also sweet. She's posed her subjects in an ice-skating pose, reminiscent of their first date, as depicted on an antique music box she places beneath the painting. Sara's fireman is metallic and sculptural and mounted next to metal name-tags, "scorched" with charcoal. Young glued fragmented photos of his subject to boards that are spilling around his painted portrait. Lola's got several things going on, as usual--a big money pyramid, a shelf full of notes, the letter, and a tiny drawing or photo of her subjects, covered in wrinkled foil or silver leaf. Looks like she chickened out of her portrait-without-the-subject concept with this tiny, wrinkly concession to convention. Her piece is stagnant to me, stagnant! But selfishly I thank her for getting naked last week because it caused a spike of readership on my blog. So thank you for that, Lola.
The big surprise is that all the portrait subjects are in town from Cold Spring, checking out the artwork and won't that be awkward!? You'd think, but they seem pretty happy with the work. Dusty's subject wants to gather fallen candies. I thought Kymia's couple might be a little horrified but they love their portrait. Phew! The firemen are teary-eyed. It goes pretty well all around. Glad no one stormed out or got really drunk and trashed a work of art. That would be a Work of Art first, but certainly not a gallery-show first.
This is for the final three, so double-elimination time. There will be tears. The editors try to make us think it's close, but it's obvious who the judges want to see in the final show at the Brooklyn Art Museum. Think: Fine-Art Skills and you'll probably agree.
They like Kymia's spooky-ooky take on her subjects, who look like actual walking cartoons, according to China, who is wearing a frothy dress made of encapsulated quinceañera decor. Kymia wins! No money this time--sorry, Kymia. But she's off to the big art show for a chance of winning one hundred thousand dollars and she bounces up in down in jubilation. Next winner: Young! No surprises there. Kymia can definitely draw and paint and Young is full of gallery-ready ideas, even though Jerry finds his presentation, tidy and dull. And guest judge Richard Phillips thinks Young should have just thrown his painted portrait on the wall and called it a day. As if! Young agrees with him, toadying up to any ridiculous concept a judge tosses his way, knowing full well he never would have won with another artist's work on the wall. What is this--the 80s?
You know what I think? Aah, who cares. OK--I think if Young had had more time, he could have mounted his photos in various, protruding ways from the wall, surrounding the painting of himself. The photo-mounted boards are seemingly tossed about, looking slippy-sloppy, and not tidy at all.
Now it's down to three. The judges didn't find Sara's piece cohesive. It's a portrait placed next to an almost abstract sculpture and the eye tends to flick from one to the other. But they liked her portrait, especially super-unruffled Richard Phillips, even if he thinks the metal name-tags "diminish" its scope. You know what I think? I pretty much agree with the judges but I like Sara's work in general--let's move on.
Dusty's portrait is labeled a gimmick (kiss of death) and although the judges don't mind the candies falling to the floor and neither does Dusty, who calls it reminiscent of the fleeting nature of childhood, they're not wowed by this piece. Lola is taken to task for not fulfilling the scope of the challenge--making a portrait. She has a tearful melt-down, defending her conceptual aspects. Although she doesn't stamp her little foot in disagreement, she does whine that she really wants to be there! The judges do not take this into account. Dusty and Lola are out. Sara will go onto the final. As it should be.
Sara's initial reaction to her win? "WAAAAAAAAH!" China, delivering the good and bad news, cries beautifully during this scene. She's truly a work of art. When I cry my face looks like someone threw a russet potato at it, really hard.
Dusty is mad. He feels he deserves to win. Dusty--you made a portrait out of Skittles! Even kitsch-portraitist Jason Mercier, who spends untold weeks on his crazed celebrity-portraits-made-from-their-junk, cannot get high-art gallery cred going. He's labeled a gimmick artist by snooty dealers. Dusty's nice-guy demeanor and ability to put things together in a clean, sharp way will probably get him some art attention. Plus he will now see his wife and daughter again. Bonus.
Lola breaks down in sobs. Even if she had an interesting idea, the outcome was a let-down. There had to be some skill in evidence for this round and she comes off as a second-year art student. Judge Jerry Saltz does not agree. His blog laments his caving in and ousting Lola due to emotional fireman-presence during the show. Well, whatever. Maybe Lola should become a writer--she seems to like writing more than art. Maybe she can bring back the lost art of letter-writing and save the post office at the same time.
I have vision.
And now for this week's Work of Art inspired work of art. I was thinking that if Dusty had had more time in Cold Spring, he could have worked with his subject a bit more and maybe he would have gone with a different kind of photo of her. Instead of the bright, shiny "camera-face" that kids tend to make when getting their photo taken (except for those anxious kids who think their souls are being stolen), he might have gone with a more natural pose.
Those natural kid poses tend to be the most charming and memorable. He also might have delved deeper and found out she likes salamanders or fossils--kids like all kinds of stuff besides candy. Anyway, I took some photo portraits of Jackson this summer and today put them together in a "mood cube." Typically, I am a lazy artist who will go with a photo 90% of the time (apologies for the raw edges--I was hurrying).
Let's roll the cube and see what mood Jackson is in:
Next week: The whole enchilada. And Kymia is worried. Again.