I think something is wrong with me. I don’t like art. I know that’s like saying someone doesn’t like pizza, but as I have spent the better part of my life trying to explore what art is and what it means, I feel further disconnected from it. A lot of the people who call themselves artists and what they produce I don’t identify with, I often don’t like, and I’m bugged by it. I just don’t think I like art. Let me explain further.

I understand how art can affect someone profoundly; it happened to me at an early age. I grew up in a small town in Ohio, about an hour from Toledo. When I was in junior high school, our art teacher took us on a field trip to the Toledo Museum of Art. I was a child of a factory worker and a truck driver who ended school at the eighth grade. That big, old, fancy masonry building that housed the museum never seemed like it would have anything worthwhile to offer my people. It wasn’t my world, I didn’t feel like I belonged, but since a field trip got us out of the classroom, why not go?

All of the stars aligned for me that day. I was in the right place, with time to spare, and an open mind. I saw paintings by names I knew – Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh – but I couldn’t relate. These paintings seemed like what one would expect to see in a fancy art museum, European and so out of my world. But then I saw Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, George Bellows, and Childe Hassam. These paintings made sense to me. The sense of Midwestern space in the Wyeth, that feeling of loneliness in the Hopper, the Bellows had this movement to it, but not a clean, tight painting. Hassam’s felt like real rain, and it was about a hundred years old, from 1888! These paintings confused me with delight, I just didn’t understand.

 

Edward Hopper, Two in the Isle, 1927

 

Childe Hassam, Rainy Day, Boston, 1888

 

I think the fact that these paintings were done by Americans helped me relate, but honestly, there was a painting by James Tissot, titled London Visitors, painted just a few years before Hassam’s, that, even though it was a foreign country depicted and the culture and time period were different, the expressions, and the realism in every sense, expertly painted, made them seem real, and right now. Painting came alive. Even the act of painting came alive. I drew a lot as a kid. Instinctively I thought about subject, composition, tonality and various aspects of the act, but seeing a Giorgio Morandi painting in person, stopping and really looking at it and thinking about how it’s put together, the subtlety and sophistication wasn’t lost on me as a kid even if I was too young to articulate what was hitting me in the gut.

 

                                                                                                                

 James Tissot, London Visitors, 1885

 

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life with Bottle, 1951

 

I became obsessed with art. I did my first oil painting my second year of high school and never stopped. I made several more trips to the museum, always rediscovering some of my old acquaintances as well as new acquisitions, like the Chuck Close painting titled Alex. So big, raw, and fucking cool!

 

Chuck Close, Alex, 1987

 

I was never a leader, but somehow I became president of the art club in high school. It was no big deal, not that many people were in the art club. It was for nerds. My two favorite things that happened while being president was a trip that the art teacher planned to the Art Institute of Chicago (imagine a seventeen year old kid standing in the room that housed Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks at the Diner and Grant Wood’s American Gothic! I was the dorky kid in the corner standing quietly, blankly, and drooling. Another triumph; There was a windowless cinder-block room at our high school that all of the teachers used to smoke in on their class breaks. I successfully got them kicked out and turned it into a photography darkroom. Art dork.

My art teacher was a huge influence. Once we were sitting on the front porch of his cool-ass Victorian talking about my future. He talked about college but I told him I knew nothing about how to do that and my family didn’t have any money. My future was uncertain but probably rooted in a more practical career path. He told me about how he grew up in rural West Virginia to impoverished coal miner stock. He got way into ceramics and figured out how to go to school and eventually became an art teacher. He made me believe that if you want something, you’ve got to try to go after it.

So I did. I applied and got accepted to the Columbus College of Art and Design and Kent State. Both great schools. The only problem was how to pay for it. I talked to my parents and their argument was; why would you spend four years going to college when you could get a job at the factory and after four years be making more than an art teacher? Solid argument, but I just couldn’t.

One night I was on the phone with my girlfriend’s brother who lived way out in California, I told him my concerns and he said that was the same position he was in a couple years before. He and his friend researched the cheapest state college systems at the time, which was Alaska and California.  The decision was a no brainer – California. Then they looked at cost of living balanced out with a city of a decent size to function. Fresno or Sacramento. They flipped a coin, Sacramento won. He told me he’d set me up with a cheap place to live and line me up with a job. I’d establish residency for one year, then start going to a community college for $50 a semester, then transfer to a larger university after a couple of years for $500 a semester. I could figure this out.

It was a plan. Two friends were making a cross country trip the summer I graduated high school in a rusted out 1969 Cadillac convertible and said they’d drop me off in Sacramento. So we drove to Ocean City, Maryland and started the cross country journey from sea to sea. After a few weeks on the road they dropped me and my three boxes of belongings off in midtown Sacramento. I was set up with four other people living in a run-down one bedroom apartment in a hundred year old Craftsman four-plex for $100 a month. I didn’t have a room or a bed, but I had a place. The main dude, affectionately named Whizz-Pow, occupied the only bedroom. He didn’t have a job, I think he sold crank. I was also set up with a job. I worked at the newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, on the midnight shift in the warehouse. A stack of newspapers would come down this chute, I would assemble them, lead them into a machine that strapped them together, then stack them on a pallet. All night.

 

 

I changed jobs a couple of times and moved into the apartment across the hall with a new friend who just graduated from Cal Poly. Things were sweet. Sacramento had an arty vibe that Ohio didn’t. Art and music were everywhere. A gallery had art shows right around the corner, and once I walked out of my apartment at 18th and G and saw a van parked on the street that had Buck Naked and his Bare Bottom Boys painted on the side. The Cramps used to live in the apartment above the laundromat I went to. I didn’t know why, but for some reason I just felt rich for living there.

I started at Sacramento City College and dove into my classes head first. On top of struggling with math and science requirements, having to work extra hard since my high school was lacking compared to the local schools, I had the joy of taking some amazing art classes. I didn’t realize how good Fred Dalkey was before I took a class from him, but he is well known locally and his figure drawing classes really opened my mind to the rewards of putting in time and effort into the craft of creating quality images. Once you get over the fact that you are a heterosexual boy in your twenties who is allowed to stare at, and draw, real naked boobs, you start honing in on the craft and become obsessed with recreating the three dimensional form into two dimensions.

 

   

   Fred Dalkey, Seated Figure

 

Art was my world, I thought about painting all of the time. My friend and roommate at the time, who was in a really good band and obsessed with music, asked me one time why a painting was considered  high art and had this weird lofty prestige to it, where a perfect two minute pop song was looked down on more, when really, they often took a similar amount of knowledge and skill. I thought this question was ridiculous. I’m sure I gave some half-assed reason why this is the case, but that question always stuck with me. Painting always seemed more prestigious to me because I was obsessed with it.

I finished all of my undergraduate classes and was ready and excited to transfer to a real university. I applied to Sacramento State and got accepted. I lasted for about a week. This college was more expensive than the community college and my education was precious to me. I went to one art class and this lofty teacher was all over the place. Our homework assignment, spelled out in detail, was to go home and take a shower with just a small cold drip of water starting at the top of our skull and… My eyes rolled hard. What was this going to teach me? Some bullshit about “sensation”? Fuck that.  I left that class, left campus, and never went back. If that’s what art was, it was a waste of my money. I started thinking about what my parents said.

But I was determined and too passionate to think logically. I applied to the University of California at Davis – legit school – but I really didn’t think I could get in. That’s where the smart kids went. But it worked. I started the next year. It felt legit too, it felt real.

I had several profound experiences there and met friends for life. Here’s a couple; I was lucky enough to have a class with Wayne Thiebaud. It was art history and his paintings and body of work were so good I trusted any experience he threw out. One time, he came into class, wearing a bow tie (it’s Wayne, of course!), he put on reading glasses over his main glasses and read haiku. Once he was blasting through slides of paintings he loves, describing them with solid reasoning, then an early Mickey Mouse image comes up. He didn’t say much, but it was obvious he held it in equal esteem. One day he brought a boom box into class and puts a cassette in. He played it for about twenty minutes. Turned it off, then just said, “Fats Waller, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.” I loved how weird it was, only to realize later that he was a great teacher. Putting context to those moments makes sense to me now.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Wayne Thiebaud, Boston Cremes, 1962

 

I had a couple of classes with Mike Henderson – great teacher, good painter, and solid, down to earth person I really respected. One day this kid was talking about what he was trying to do with his work and Mike interrupted him and asked, “How many paintings have you done?” The kid replied, “About fifteen/twenty.” Mike just said, “don’t talk to me about ‘your work’ until you’ve done a hundred or two. It’ll take you that long to realize what the hell you’re trying to do with your work.”

One of my favorite teachers was Squeak Carnwath. She was incredible at refining an idea and creating an image about it. She painted in an abstract manor that visually was polar opposite from the way I painted, but she was able to convey how we are all working through similar concepts and ideas and it’s just how we translate them into a physical form that’s different. She was really great about refining the idea to make it more pure and clear, excluding as much extraneous stuff as can be. One day she came into class and said, “I was thinking about your painting this morning when I was in the shower, and…”. She thought about what I was struggling with while she was getting ready for work! Teaching was not just a paycheck for her. I was so happy to see a painting of hers as a recent addition to the collection of the Toledo Art Museum when I had gone back, yet again.

 

 Squeak Carnwath

 

I finished my degree, Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of California, Davis. I was bonafide. While graduates were throwing their caps in the air, a few of us went to our favorite local brew pub and threw back a couple of pints. I don’t think anyone from my family knew what this meant. No one came out from Ohio, no cards. Nothing. But I did it. A lot of work, a lot of money, no future prospects, but I did it and it felt good.

Now what?

   

 

I wasn’t out to figure anything out. I was just living and learning, still. One night I was at my friend Scott’s place drinking beer, shooting the shit, listening to records and playing Yahtzee with friends. Yeah, that’s right, Yahtzee. We were all poor and bored. All these people had good taste in music, which made the listening that much more fun. Scott put on a record; the Zombies, an old band, Odessey and Oracle, a record that got released in 1968 after the band had broken up and got very little attention. The first song, “Care of Cell 44,” stopped me in my tracks. I never heard anything like this! It hit me hard, inexplicably. A song with an incredible melody about someone being really happy his girlfriend was coming home from prison. It felt like my first trip to the art museum. I fell further in love with music.

That roommate, Dean, who asked why a painting was more important than a pop song, was responsible for getting me in a band several years prior. We were at a club, watching a band, and he said, “We could do this.” To which I replied, “Yeah.” It was a loud bar and I didn’t think much about it. He walked away, came back a few minutes later, told me to borrow a bass and he’d teach me some tricks because we had a show in two weeks. I asked who “we” were. He said we’d figure out the rest later. That’s how I got involved in my first band, by the time I graduated from UCDavis, I was in three or four. A ton of my friends were in bands and it was a great way to hang out and share ideas together. I wasn’t musically gifted, I was often just the bass player because every band needs one, as well as someone without a bad back who has a car. Bass players don’t need to have talent.

 

     

The Tiki Men, mid 1990s

 

It seemed like if you were in a band in Sacramento back then, you either worked at Tower Records or a place called State Net that did legislative tracking. I got a job at State Net. I knew a bunch of people who worked there, it was close to home, it was easy, and it paid the bills. A little while later, through the help of another friend, I landed a job managing the Tower Art Gallery. This was started by the sister of the founder of Tower Records and tied up in the family. I was managing an art gallery in California! This was way better than working at that factory in Ohio.

One realization I made was, even though I loved art and went to school for it, there’s a difference between the real world, the right now, and the intellectual, theoretical side of how the art world works. Real world wasn’t discussed in school, only theory and history. All that money for theory and not on practical day to day existence. I never took a class in art business, they weren’t offered. A teacher only once dabbled into that subject; Mike Henderson said “It’s really important to have a good relationship with your gallery owner,” but that was it. What do you do with an art degree? A friend who graduated with an art degree from the same school would always respond to that question with, “Welcome to McDonald’s, kelp you?”

I sucked at being an art gallery manager. I’m not so good at business, and I question my people abilities. I lasted only a short time then moved on to construction to pay the bills, but I started showing my paintings in galleries. I had a couple of shows at various places in the beginning, then I became exclusive with a really good gallery, the Elliott Fouts Gallery, and have been there for almost two decades. The paintings got better, people seemed to like them and I’d sell them pretty regularly. Elliott offered me a studio space for free at the gallery, which was great. He didn’t charge me because he said it wouldn’t be right to charge a painter for space when he makes money from the sale of those paintings. Solid dude.

Every second Saturday of the month was a city wide event where the galleries would have evening receptions and people would visit many of them. Since I had a studio at the gallery it was good for me to be there painting, but something about it didn’t seem comfortable. Who’d want to see me paint? I’ve always struggled with people giving me compliments and I’d only point out the flaws in my paintings, not try to talk about how great I was. Elliott would make name tags for the artists in residence. Mine said, “Tim White, Artist,” with an image of one of my paintings. Upon receiving mine, I asked if he could change it to just say “Painter.” “Artist” felt too elitist. He did, and then changed his own to say, “Elliott Fouts, Janitor.” I got a kick out of it, I loved the humble honesty.

 

 

 

Things continued down this path for several years. I always painted, and now I had a reason. I could bust some out, each one different, learn from them, and get better. It was cool. I was in group shows, a solo show, always had stock at the gallery. I did a few commissions. For a time I was even writing art reviews for the local weekly.

 

Tim White, Thank You, 2007     

 

Tim White, Road To Nowhere, 2010

 

And then it changed. I wasn’t happy. I still felt good about my paintings, but I was starting to paint things that I thought people wanted to see, what I thought they wanted them to be. Other people’s happiness was more important than my own and I wasn’t getting much out of it. Painting is a solitary and lonely act, and even though I had met and been around some great people, the art world I was in didn’t feel as comfortable as my music world. Being in bands was more social and it’s where I met a lot of friends, not just acquaintances. I even met my wife, Gerri, when I joined her band. Playing bass in a band I didn’t have to express myself artistically. Just play the damn song without fucking up, hang out with friends, load equipment, drive and book shows.

Painting became a bit of an obligation. I just could never figure out to whom, or what. A large, local, commercial bank director wanted to commission me to paint three to four large paintings. Eager to please, get my name in a space like that, and make some cash, I was willing to do whatever. The banker expressed that I had full control and the style was all my own, and then proceeded to manipulate me to paint what he wanted to see. He played on my weaknesses and it was tedious and frustrating to get through. I hated the paintings even though the banker loved them. I did the math and realized I could’ve made more money doing construction. My own desire to please bit me in the ass, after that I gave up.

I told Elliott I felt bad about occupying the studio at the gallery, the paintings didn’t seem like they were very popular or selling well. I didn’t feel like an important artist there. He seemed confused by this and so he pulled up the numbers. He said I was in the top ten sellers for the gallery and he had no issues with me being there. I was surprised. My brain hurt.

I still painted for a little bit, then Elliott bought a building and moved into a new location, this time with no studios. I took my stuff, went home and didn’t paint for a couple of years. The largest break in painting I’d ever taken since being a sophomore in high school.

Meanwhile, work was going well, my marriage was going great, we bought a house, things were good. I was still in a band with my wife, which had its twists turns, but I fell further in love with her song writing ability and vocal style and sound. Playing music with your wife and best friend for twenty years makes one feel extremely blessed.

I was also in a band that did small tours in Europe a few times, a US tour, and played all over the west. This band had grown pretty popular over a decade. Life was good. One day on one of those European tours, we all woke up on a Sunday morning reeling about how fun the little bars we played the past couple of nights were. We were nearing the end of our tour and felt complete, but we were still on a schedule. Our tour manager person picked us up early and told us we were playing a festival in Brussels that day. We were tired and really didn’t know what to expect.

That day, I don’t know what it was, but a strange thankfulness overwhelmed me. We were on an outdoor stage in the city center, in Brussels, Belgium! The king and Queen’s digs were right around the corner. From the stage I glanced to the left at the Rene Magritte museum and thought about my journey. I was playing guitar and singing a song I had written. It wasn’t a great song, I’m not a great singer or guitar player, but the several hundred attendees who were there, were paying attention and liked it. It felt surreal (pun intended). How did this happen?

 

  The Alkali Flats, 2002-2013

 

A few years ago a reset button was hit on my life. It’s a much more complicated story but my girlfriend from high school’s brother who helped me get to Sacramento had recently bought a place in Arkansas. I went out to visit. Late that first night, after too much drinking, we were on a joy ride on dirt roads in a truck. He was driving, I was standing in the back. I only know details second hand, but I flew out, slid across the dirt road, cracked my eye socket, broke two vertebrate, brain swelled, seizure, coma, stopped breathing. That kind of thing. Many more details, of course, but that friend drove me to a hospital, dumped me off, then starting driving to Mexico.

Traumatic Brain Injury. I had over a two year recovery. Gerri didn’t know if I’d come back completely. She had a tremendous load to carry, but we got by. Early in the recovery when seeing therapists, they all agreed once they got to know me that painting was a great thing for me to do. It was mildly physical and good for the brain. The first couple of paintings I did turned out really well. Two of my best up to that point. I think that even though I was recovering, the act of painting was just for me; I wasn’t doing them just to sell or for anybody else’s enjoyment, just my own. After a couple of years I recovered freakishly well, almost back to normal.

 

Tim White, Open, 2013 

Tim White, Drinks, 2014   

                                                     

I was inspired again and kept painting. When talking to Elliott, he offered for me to be in a two person show about a year later. This was a huge step coming from where I was only a little while before. I painted like mad. I wanted the paintings to be free and just for me, and they were better, but I was still painting for an audience. Looking back on the whole, many of them I am still happy with – good, solid paintings – but some were messy. I was painting on schedule and balancing sizes, price points, how they’d fit together, and styles. It was a good show, but…

I continued painting and selling a few at the gallery, then, with the emergence of social media and a lack of interest in competing with other artists for popularity, I tried an experiment. I did a painting, then just put it out there on social media to see if a friend wanted to buy it cheap. It worked. Someone snapped it up and I had some lunch money and didn’t have that damn thing I had been staring at too much kicking around anymore. This worked.

I have been doing this more in the last couple of years and as I think it through, I believe it’s a good way to go. I feel free. I have a job that pays the bills so I don’t have to paint for money. I can paint a painting the way I want, the size I want, spend as much time as I want, and paint it when I want. When it’s done, I put it on social media and see who is interested before a price is discussed. I’ll throw out a range for them to make an offer. My gut gives me a sense of pricing, based on time spent, relative success, materials, size, etc., but I’ll often be okay with minimum wage plus the cost of materials. The money just helps me buy a new camera lens, tubes of expensive paint, or a skylight for the studio in my house, not for the mortgage. It feels right, It’s so refreshing, and my friends can buy one of my paintings for cheaper than through a gallery, since there is practically no overhead. And the paintings are the best I’ve ever done. They are getting better.

 

 Tim White, Belgian Beer Bottles, 2018

 Tim White, American River, 2018

 

Music seems to be going in a similar direction. For twenty years Gerri and I have played countless shows – big ones, little ones, put out cassettes, CDs, vinyl 7”s and LPs, etc.. We are no richer or popular because of it. But here’s the thing; the band now is comprised of four people who share the same thoughts about music, are solid long-time friends, and with songwriting, vocal, and playing skills that reflect the time and maturity that years of obsessing produces. We have teamed up with a producer/engineer who shares these same traits and we just recorded an album that reflects this. We will release this on vinyl LP soon and we’ll lose money doing so. Very few people will hear it, but this is one of the most satisfying places to be. It feels right.

                                                                                                                                             

Arts & Leisure, Live at the Crocker Art Museum, 2016

I haven’t been a part of a perfect song on a perfect record. I have not painted the perfect painting. I suspect that it can’t happen. I’m sure if I did achieve that perfection, I’d stop. I’d consider myself a success, declare that I understand everything thoroughly and not need to waste any more time on it. But since I haven’t achieved perfection, I have to continue trying. It’s what I do and what I’ve been obsessed with my entire life.

I think that is why I don’t like art. It’s hard. You don’t end up being more liked, feel important, wealthy, or attractive after you spend forever geeking out over what makes the best thing. You don’t figure out who’s right, or how to do it the definitively correct way. It’s a long journey that’s a pain in the ass. It beats you up. When time goes by and you’ve spent years dealing with this stuff, the younger generation with more excitement and energy comes along claiming with all of the certainty in the world that the way they do it is the best. They’ll do one creative thing and declare that they are important artists.  I see people excitedly get involved with art and music marketing machines. Sensationalism and money. So much bling without sustainable substance. Think Miley Cyrus and Jeff Koons – art stars. There’s individual talent there but it’s so over produced and refined…  I just don’t understand these kids. I’m left to just metaphorically throw up my hands and walk away.

I’ll walk into my studio, try to figure out how to get rid of that extraneous stuff in my current painting, wonder what the hell I am trying to do with my work, and still have that desire to make it look as perfect as a Gerhard Richter painting. I’ll pick up my crusty old bass and make mistakes while trying to figure out that bass line to “Care of Cell 44.” I suppose I don’t have to like art, but I do have to live with it.