Besides admiring the art works, one can find the artista fashionista as another entertaining aspect of the art show circuit, with all the colorfully attired personalities found at most art shows and museum exhibition openings. Artists generally have a free pass with the fashion police, even at the special coat and tie dinners and receptions common to major art events, and dressing in a quirky style is acceptable, if not expected.
So it was on a Sunday morning, the last day of a significant wildlife art show, and I had been invited to a country club brunch with a few other artists by the local mentors of the event. Such occasions are always upbeat and full of the optimism that art appreciation can engender, and this would be no exception. With added flair, I prepared for the brunch and the last day of the art show by wearing a splashy black and gold batik style shirt that was a special gift from an Indonesian friend, although this style was typical to import markets everywhere.
Dean [pseudonym] was an ever friendly, engaging gentleman of the age when sound leadership is the norm and had actually founded this wildlife art exhibit promoting conservation and helped steer it into one of the more prominent USA venues for wildlife art. Preliminary to the brunch, I was to meet up at Dean’s house with other artists including Mark Eberhard and his charming and witty wife.
As I entered the house with an exchange of greetings, Dean and I were faced with an immediate nervous revelation. His shirt was almost identical to mine! A bright and flamboyant black and gold, sure to attract maximum attention. It’s one thing to be in a large hall with hundreds of people where a similarity of cloth would go unnoticed, but at a light brunch it would be like two zebras in a horse herd.
Before the clash really settled in, Mark’s wife appeared in the room and always quick with the wit, merrily observed, “Oh, I see we’re nicely color coordinated for the day!” And with a glint in her eye and a wide smile she reveled in the rarity of two gentlemen experiencing an awkward fashion miscue moment.
Knowing I held the high ground since the artist is expected to shine on for an art festival, I wasn’t too abashed, but Dean looked flustered. I felt badly for him, since it probably meant more to him to partake of the flamboyant dress at this once a year event, whereas I routinely attended many such events, and in this instance, was not in a position to easily change. However, with a respectable command of the situation, Dean proceeded unscathed through the brunch with a light jacket tightly zipped.
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Being in vogue at western art shows is an entire spectrum to itself. I have only been on the fringes of the western art world, which sometimes incorporates wildlife art into their line up. When exhibiting in a western art show, my particular adornment consists of some old boots that fit quite well and a cowboy hat made from hardwood, which draws plenty of comments, such as the knothole in the top “ that must be a bullet hole!”
Whereas the spectacle of western cowboy fashion at these art shows can be extraordinary, it mostly follows long established traditions of western wear. Of course there are always the ubiquitous boots and cowboy hats for men and women, and often enough there is a real cowboy or cowgirl under that hat, but the closer you are to Hollywood, the more bizarre the costumes. In the audience attending one such art event appeared a pair that looked like they were auditioning for Wyatt Earp at the OK corral, adorned in classy knee high boots and smooth, mid length leather without any of that “crude” fringe.
A fellow artist explained to me that they were likely from a club of western adherents who go all out with the attire and look forward to appearances at western art shows or any other western type event. “Its almost scary,” he exclaimed, referring to a trapper rendevous- type event he once attended. “There’s like, guys in full length bear skin robes.”
From all this western attire, an entertaining jargon is bound to emerge. At a reception table of one western art show the conversation led by an authentic cowboy artist named Joe covered the finer points of how to fence in buffalo. “First you have to find out where the buffalo like to be,” was his advice, “If they don’t wanna be where your fence is, well its not gonna work, no fence in the world will hold them in.” He paused before unraveling more first hand accounts of buffalo and ranching experiences.
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Sometimes it’s the garb that’s not there that draws the attention. While setting up my art display at a national wildlife art exhibition, some light conversation ensued with the artist in close proximity. “Did you see that barefoot gal walking up and down the aisles,” this newcomer artist exclaimed with a touch of disbelief.
“Oh, you mean that tall, leggy blonde in the knickers. She’s just greeting all her artist friends,” I explained. Little did he know that she was one of the premiere artists of the show with a magnificent life size bronze sculpture adorning the front steps of this large, stoic exhibit hall in the shadow of the space needle. I asked him where he was from.
“Camden, Maine, a small town you’ve probably never heard of, on the eastern shore,” was the reply.
“ What a coincidence!” I responded, “I know your town quite well, worked in a lobster house restaurant there when I was seventeen. I hitchhiked from a beach of the Pacific to Camden in just four and a half days. It was three in the morning when I dipped my hands into the Atlantic.” I went on to explain that maybe my high school girl friend being there had something to do with my quick coast to coast transit.
Besides the bohemian attire common to displaying art , the wildlife art world can include the safari look of khaki, since observing wildlife in the field is key to the art. Sometimes there is room for real wildlife adornments. That can be a pygmy owl on the shoulder, or in the case of artist Gary Johnson, a full size macaw, and cheetah expert Dr. Laurie Marker promenaded one of her fabled cheetahs at a major wildlife art exposition; real wildlife in wildlife art venues.
And for those show openings and receptions – the clink of toasting wine glasses can be heard above the soft music wafting over the exhibit hall which is dotted with beauties in beads and bangles, and the dance of the hour is a celebration of the visual arts.
Where on Earth?! Southern California and Seattle, Washington, USA