Art is a Gift

Let me begin by saying I’ve never been an art collector. An admirer, yes. In fact, it was my admiration that compelled me to jump into the world of creative arts non-profit boards over a year ago.

I had decided to take some time off from work and get reconnected in the community. An area that I’d never served was the arts and, fortunately, the chance presented itself for me to join the board of governors of the Austin Museum of Art (AMOA).

Serving on the Board was a thrill, even during a turbulent time in late 2010. I completed an unexpired term, during a time that immediately preceded AMOA’s change in leadership in the spring of 2011 and eventual merger with Arthouse, punctuated by executive director & CEO Dana Friis-Hansen’s resignation.

But, as so often happens, when one door closes, another opens. And, with my AMOA Board tenure, the door that opened was the introduction to Dana, his partner Mark, and a great many fantastic people who are engaged in creating and supporting art in Austin and around the world.

If you’ve followed my writing, then you’ve read my reviews of ArtPrize. It’s as impressive an example of the depth of artistic energy and breadth of contemporary art as one could find anywhere in the world. And it’s all staged, believe it or not, in the modest, Midwest town of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Which brings me back my opening statement about collecting. Because, during the long weekend adventure to the 2011 ArtPrize, I took an oh-so-modest first step towards collecting art. ArtPrize was the source of the first of three recent acquisitions, whose stories I want to briefly share.

During the many walking and driving tours we took at ArtPrize of personal collections in homes, museum exhibits, and overflow venues brimming with original works, we made a stop at the studio of Chris Laporte and MJ McCabe.

Chris’s work, “Cavalry, American Officers, 1921,” was the 2010 ArtPrize grand prize winner. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more modest, welcoming man than Chris…in some ways the epitome of the iconic, understated Midwesterner.

Yet, hearing him describe his art, what quickly emerges from beneath that Midwest demeanor is a passionate, burning spirit for exploring the soul of his subjects, as well as a beguiling, boyish charm that infuses each of his characters. Chris’s description of his creative process for his works was fascinating.

The bonus? Meeting his partner MJ! I can only describe her art as a powerful, beautiful combination of innocence and terror that I absolutely loved. MJ herself hits you as a rare mix of sweetness and power that is 100% authentic – she’s like a female Sugar Ray Leonard of painting.

Her subjects were vivid, rough, sensual, colorful, and damaged – damaged as in children, men, and women projecting hurt, bewilderment, rejection, and an impoverishment of hope that strips them bare to the observer. Yet, through that stripping away, MJ manages to show the dignity of humanity in us all, with brush strokes and perspective.

Needless to say, we became immediately fond of the two of them. Delightfully, as it turned out, Chris and MJ had planned to travel to Austin within weeks and we quickly made plans to go out one evening.

When they made it to Austin, with Chris being a big-time sushi fan, we of course made our way to Uchi. It was a marvelous evening! We let Chris order and it was like having a kid in a candy store. Between him and the always awesome Uchi wait staff, we enjoyed a bountiful series of creations that were their own form of art – it was a real celebration.

It was hard to break up the party, but after goodbyes and hugs, we wished them well to enjoy a few more days of Hill Country touring, before they headed home to Michigan

A couple of weeks later, we received a “thank you” email from MJ and a mysterious warning “to keep an eye out for a package” coming in the mail.

The inset photo, my friends, is what showed up. Just as the pictures in the highest quality art books or displays on the highest resolution monitors can never replace the experience of standing before a great work of art, likewise my little iPhone photo doesn’t nearly do justice to the work that MJ sent.

What a gift! It’s a real treasure, as much because of the story and people behind it, as it is because of its beauty. We’re happy to have it as an enduring presence in our household that we hope many will have a chance to see.

Next time, I’ll share a couple of shorter, fun stories about two other art items recently acquired.