Run Big Monkey, 2010

Run Big Monkey, 2010, James Hough

As I was painting and sanding in turn, trying to build up a good-looking surface on this painting, I eventually started to see the image of a baboon running across the top of the canvas. Normally I don’t go seeking imagery in abstract artwork, especially my own; usually it’s impressions, visual and emotional, that I’m seeking. But, these paintings emerge through a process a lot like excavation, so when I see in them things that look like symbols or archetypes, it’s fitting to go with it and see if the image and the paint work together in the end. The image and the paint both feel primal, so I think it works.

Run Big Monkey is a big painting that took a lot of elbow grease. A friend of mine has this interesting idea that maybe I should set my prices by adding up the labor hours and multiplying that number by an hourly wage, which is an elegant theory; I like how it demystifies the way we assign value to artwork, at least monetary value. Paintings like these, however, for all their size and complexity, would probably have too high a price tag with that method. It is a cool idea, though, charging by the hour. What do you think?

I made this painting on top of an old canvas from a series of nine paintings I did in 2005 for a big LA show at Patricia Faure Gallery, which has since passed away with its long-beloved owner Patty. Those paintings were labor-intensive themselves, though less so than Big Monkey. I had the same idea then about pricing my artwork as I do now: the lower the price, the more likely it is to sell. I talked to the gallery people about the price for the pieces. I wanted them to be $4000 each. They talked me up to $6500, using the argument, which sounded great at the time, that a gallery of Faure’s prestige has to maintain a certain baseline price level; in other words, the fact that my paintings had been chosen by that gallery made them more valuable right off the bat. By the time I arrived for the reception the price sheet showed that they were $8000 each. None of them sold. Now, I take my share of the responsibility for this: had I made them better, they would have had a better chance with collectors. But, had they been priced lower, they also would have had a better chance.

Running an art career on my own, as I am right now, I feel a nice sense of empowerment. I can set my prices as I deem appropriate. On the other hand, lacking the connections that a good gallery provides, I am much less likely to sell any of these larger paintings, even at the fraction of gallery market value that I have priced them at.

It’s an odd dilemma that I’m in. $4000 is a lot for most of us to spend on a painting, even at the large scale of Big Monkey. Yet $4000 is a suspiciously small amount for seasoned art collectors to spend on a painting like this. In either case, something seems fishy. In fact, sometimes I think the best move would be to double my prices across the board so that they seem more legit. This quest of mine to make serious contemporary art at a decent price may be doomed from the outset. Perhaps if I can eventually persuade an art dealer to lend them some legitimacy and partner with me, then things will go more smoothly. In the meantime, I’ll just keep working toward my goal and try to make interesting things happen.

Run Big Monkey is acrylic on canvas, 87″ x 67.″ It resides in our living room, on the only wall that can hold it. Because it’s so big the bottom foot and a half is obscured by the loveseat in front of it, so it feels like it’s part of the household, vying for its own space like everything else in here.

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