Rick Araluce

The Grant Thing by Rick Araluce

At some point in your artistic career you will hear about artist grants. You know, money given to you so you can make art. Not selling. Not a commission. No, simply money given to to you so you can keep doing what you love to do: make art. If you are like me, at first you didn't even know these kinds of things existed. And when you did, you thought: how the hell do I get into THAT racket? I would hear stories from time to time from fellow artists, or those who knew artists, to the tune of: "Yeah, so-and-so got a grant to do what-the-heck-ever for $15,000! Or: "So-and-so lived for a whole year on such-and-such a grant!" I would hear these anecdotes and think: how the hell do I get into THAT racket?

But when I did find out about a grant and applied for it, I got turned down. It was a local art project grant for a modest sum. I filled out the form, attached the slides (remember those?) sent the thing in, and a month or so later got a written rejection. "We regret to inform you that your project was not chosen to receive funding. Please apply again!" or some such cheery twadle. Well, I thought, dejected, I'll never get one of those! What's the point of even trying for these things--I'll just get rejected. Why make the effort? Why bother?

I had applied to ONE GRANT and got rejected and I was ready to throw in the towel. That was my mind set. Other artists get grants and have their projects funded. Not me. I'll never get one. I've never won anything in my whole life, except maybe a goldfish at a carnival once.... Sad. Really sad, man.

A lot of artists feel this way. I know several. One or two negative experiences color their entire world view as an artist. It colored mine for years, so I know the feeling. Some go to their graves bitter, feeling dejected, feeling overlooked, feeling it's all a scam, and only the "popular" or "connected" artists get funded, and that the only way to get grants is to have already gotten them so that you're "in the system" or vetted. And so on and so forth. This same victim's view extends to the art world entire for many of these folks. It's all just a big fat scam and the fix is in.

Well, if you are one of those, I've got a message for you: get your shit together and stop being a whining brat. Like anything worthwhile, writing a compelling grant proposal takes work. You know, kinda like a lot of things in life that are worthwhile take work.

So, for me--Mr. I'll-never-get-a-grant-so-why-even-try--there came a time years later when I gave it another go. Think it was 2006. I was born in 1960. You do the math. A little late in my career to wise up. Anyway, I got a card in the post informing me that funding for artist's proposals was now open, and that I should consider applying. I thought about it. The amount of funding was pretty good. Up to $10,000.

What the Hell, I thought. Why not?

I sent in for the packet. I got a thick 9 x 12 envelope in the mail. It was bulging with double-sided sheet after sheet of info, along with the application itself, which I think was at least 5 or 6 pages long. It was intimidating. It was dense. I had to summarize my project. I had to give a detailed description of what I wanted to do, a timeline of how it would unfold over how many months, declare whom was my intended audience, did I have a venue to display the work, what effort would I make to reach as large of an audience as possible, what neighborhood did I reside in, what was my ethnicity, on and on. If accepted, I would need to obtain a business license since I would be in essence a contractor paid through the city bureaucracy. Oh yeah, and I had to furnish a detailed budget with confusing columns and things like "in-kind services" that had to be factored in and tallied. My heart sank. They wanted so much information. Jesus, I thought. This is going to be hard.

So, I sat down and went to work on that son of a bitch. It dawned on me then that a large part of an artistic career might be applying to and filling out these things. That would be time not actually making work. In fact, it would be rather different from the studio. It would be writing--a whole other discipline--trying to justify on paper why you or your project deserved precious funding. Oh, and the competition is just a little fierce.

Anyway, I made filling out that grant application my new job. I worked on it for weeks and weeks. I polished it to a gleaming diamond, going over it again and again and again. Tweaking, clarifying, tightening, going over every period and comma. I even went to a grant review seminar and had actual professionals from the Mayor's Office of Arts and Culture--the entity that was administering the grant--review my application. I got some valuable insight and tidied my proposal up some more. I asked for $7,200 for my project. Was that too much? Could I go for more? I had no way of knowing. At last I thought it was as ready as it could ever be, so I went to the post office, gave the manilla envelope to the clerk, saw him toss it into a bin and thought: well, there it goes....

As you might have guessed, several weeks later I got an envelope from the Mayor's Office informing me that CONGRATULATIONS YOUR PROPOSAL HAD BEEN ACCEPTED!

I was giddy. I was floating on a cloud. I could not believe it. It was my first real effort and it had actually worked. I felt special and apart. I told my friends and coworkers. I suddenly was one of those artists I had heard about!

I went on to attain several more grants over the years--a few for hefty amounts. Some of that money kept me alive when the economy was in the tank, and even my day job in peril. Now I never miss an opportunity to apply. But I have to tell you that I am rejected far more than I am accepted. FAR more. It's just how it goes. There are only so many parking spaces, as a friend of mine once said. And I've learned some things about this specialized corner of the artist's world. You have to be convincing. You have to be concise, and not resort to phony bullshit art-speak to justify your request. These people are not simple. You have to make a pitch. Tell them why you deserve funding. Tell them how it will aid you and enhance your career. And be creative. Don't just tell them I need paint, beer, and a canvas--even if that is what you need. Tell them a story. And make it interesting. Don't be a lazy ass with bad punctuation, misspeled werds, lame awkward sentences and crappy images of your art. Do some work, for crying-out-loud. Be a professional and not a crybaby with a lofty air of entitlement because you are an ARTIST. No one owes you shit. And you can take that to the bank.

So, now I can tell you that I have recently been made a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. That's right, I'm a Guggenheim Fellow. This is a hugely competitive and prestigious accolade in the world of Arts, Scholarship and the Sciences. I really can't overstate how important this is to a person's career and standing. Thousands of accomplished folks from Canada and the USA compete. It is a career- topper. It's The Shit.

Well, Rick, you say, bully for you, dude. But how the hell did you achieve THAT?

Honestly, I'm still a bit in awe that it happened at all. Unlike most of those chosen as Fellows in my field of "Fine Arts," I did not graduate with an MFA or other diploma from an esteemed Art School, like Yale, or RISD. I am not represented by top-tier galleries in New York and elsewhere, as are many of those other folks. I did not have a solo exhibition at the Whitney, as one of the recipients has. I have not attended important residencies like the Mac Dowel Colony or Skowhegan, or the American Academy in Rome. No, so it's clearly not my pedigree that got me chosen by the Committee for Selection.

So it must have been something else they saw in my application, resume, and images. Perhaps I was represented in enough exhibitions to demonstrate my ongoing commitment to my career and craft. Perhaps it was the unbroken length of my resume, which dates back to 1987. I'm certain my Recommender's letters helped. Most likely all these things. In the Foundation press release, the President, Edward Hirsch, used words like "best of the best," and the announcement in the New York Times said: "Fellows are appointed on the basis of impressive achievements in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment." Talk about an affirmation of all your endless hard work and commitment. Word.

Well, short story is, I approached the Guggenheim opportunity the way I do every opportunity. I try to make each proposal--large or small--a glittering diamond of clarity and brevity, have it be as compelling as words and images can make it. I try to kill it every time. I always swing for the fences. Part of my competitive nature, I suppose. Also, I've applied four times before. Not that that matters; the Committee for Selection is comprised of different professionals each year. So, even if I had not been selected, I would dutifully apply every year until I croaked. That's my way, anyhow.

Sometimes it works.

The Studio by Rick Araluce

The Studio

The Studio

I don't really want to talk about my current studio workspace operation here. Suffice to say I have a teeny studio I made for myself downstairs in my daylight basement, and a giant workshop I have access to.

No, I'm more interested in relating my early days as an aspiring artist. I want to talk about the will to use what you have when you have very little, and how that can make you a more versatile artist and stronger person in the long run.

Like many kids with an interest in drawing, painting, and making stuff, there was no "studio" at first. Maybe rich parents can indulge their pampered children with an art studio where they can make a mess and tease out their inner Picasso, but I hazard most of us make due with a table and a chair in our bedroom, or kitchen, or garage, or wherever. So it was for me. My first actual dedicated place to work on my little projects--my drawings, paintings, plastic models, and so forth--was a slab of plywood I scrounged from some construction site that sat on the carpet of my bedroom. I was around 10 years old, and it was the first time I actually had a room I didn't have to share with my younger brother. The slab was maybe three feet square. An old gooseneck lamp with a feeble 25 watt bulb was my light source. I sat cross-legged or worked on my knees, stooped over. I worked on my stuff mostly at night because I was either at school or outdoors constantly when the sun was shining, which it did a lot in Southern California.

When I moved out on my own I bounced around, six months here, nine months there. I was fortunate to border with an older artist for several months when I first moved out. He had his own home and studio that I was welcome to use. But when I was asked to leave my artistic pursuits suffered as I moved around. No place to do work, pesky roommates, never wanting to be home. I did do a little sporadic work in those first years, but nothing much. Eventually however, I got my own one bedroom apartment when I was 19 or 20. It was in Anaheim, perhaps a mile from the original Disneyland. The rent was maybe $250 a month. There was a carport for my series of shitty cars. There were banana trees in the courtyard and skinny iron railings on the landings and walkways. There was one washer and one dryer that almost never worked in a downstairs utility room. I lived just around the corner from the main drag of Harbor Boulevard where the car traffic was thick and prostitutes plied their trade day and night. The walls and floors were paper thin, so you could hear actual conversations at times from the neighbors on both sides and below. Or arguments. Or couples fucking. Or someone singing drunkenly along to the Eagles. You get the picture. I think the euphemism would be "working class."

But it was my own place. No roommates around to eat my food and drink my booze, not pay their share of the bills on time, bring home strange people at all hours. It was great. Except for the noise. I've for a long time been hypersensitive to certain kinds of noise.

At any rate this was also where my first true studio was housed. I think "true studio" for me means a place that is totally given over to the making of art. Even if it's tiny. Even if it's in some shack with no electricity and candles for light. It's your place; it's the place that sees the conception, birth, and completion of your art. It's actually a sacred place, no matter how humble.

My studio was in the breakfast nook beside the kitchen and "living room." It was maybe eight feet by ten. I had thrown a painter's tarp down to protect the already-soiled carpet. In that area I had an easel (given to me as a Christmas present from my employer at the frame shop I worked at during the day) and a drafting table that my Dad had given me. I had a little cabinet for paints and supplies and a couple of containers for brushes. That was it. Oh, except for the rough asphalt alleyway behind the apartment where I would do messy things, afterward sluicing off the paint or what-have-you I had left behind with a garden hose. I lived in that place for eight years. I painted a lot of paintings there, some as large as 6 feet tall. In fact, I painted a series of intensely laborious artworks on masonite that were of that scale in that humble awkward setting. I'd work all day at the frame shop, come home and paint. I had a stereo and records and a little black and white TV. On the weekends I might party, either locally, or more frequently, up in LA. Sometimes I would bring girls back to my place. Sometimes I would stay home and be lonely. I was mostly single in those days.

It took a long time to finish some of those works. Months and months. They would sit there on the easel, unfinished, antagonizing me with their un-completeness. If I didn't work on them I'd beat myself up about it. I was dedicated to making art. I was on a mission.

So, I guess if it was me who was to hear you declare: "I'd love to make work, but I just don't have the right environment, enough space, enough money," whatever you think is keeping you from it--I guess I'd be calling bullshit on you. I guess I'd be saying you don't want it enough. If you have the will and the need and the urgency to make art, you will do it in the fucking rain under a tree. You will not let anything stop you, save tragedy. You will find a way. It might take you a while, you may not create a lot, but you will do it.

Would I have loved to have been one of those fortunate souls supplied with money and a well-lit artsy loft with all the amenities to enable me to launch my artistic dabblings to the world, provided for by some understanding saint who could support my little hobby? Maybe. Hard to say for certain. But I think what I do would be different, and not necessarily in a good way. Struggle and making due with what I have is so integral to how I approach making art, that having had luxury and ease when I was developing might have messed me up, made me soft, made me weak, made me not as driven to kick ass. Guess I'll never know.

But, if a bag of money fell from the sky, narrowly missing my head, I'd be okay with that. I've done enough struggling. I've paid my dues a hundred times over. I've done an awful lot over the years. Stuff I can be proud of. So, being pampered at this time in my career probably would not affect my output. No. I'm hardwired to be an ambitious workaholic. So, lay it on me. I've done my time, created difficult demanding works with next to nothing by way of support or resources. I've worked like a sherpa, humping up Everest to make good work. Okay, a bit of hyperbole--but it has been a true struggle, an uphill climb the whole way.

Would I change a thing? Not on your life.

Makin' Stuff by Rick Araluce

I love to make stuff. I really do. I love a challenge, love thinking on to how to figure out a problem. As in how-in-hell-am-I-going-to-make-that kind of challenge. This goes all the way back to when I was a kid. It's kind of core with how I operate as an artist.

Some people don't realize that I create virtually everything in my artworks, large and small. Of those who do, many wonder how it is that I make what I make. Since I don't buy crap from dollhouse stores for my miniature works, or use much salvage or pre-made components in my larger artworks--except for the occasional light switch, plug in, light socket, or other item that would be virtually impossible to create--I choose to make it from scratch. That means little bricks, doors, floorboards, trim moulding, tables, chairs, window sashes, fixtures, all kinds of props--whatever, you name it. For full-scale or larger that means whatever I can make from scratch I will make. For example, in the sculpture The Terrorist (pictured in this site) which is full-scale, that means I fabricated the television, the table it sits on, the wall, the linoleum tiles, the case that covers the radio, even the electrical cord that squirms on the floor and even the plug itself. With the giant phone I created, The Noise of Infinity, that means everything. People sometimes think I'm exaggerating. "Sure," they might say, "you made this and you made that, but there's no way you made that," pointing. "Nope," I'll tell them, "I made that too."

So, there you go: most of what you see in my artworks I made from scratch.

So, Rick, you say, that's great and interesting, but how do you do it? How do you make all that stuff?

Well, I'm not going to tell you exactly. But I will tell you it takes tons of time and trial and error and just plain thinking to figure out. Here's the deal: I like trying to figure out ways to make stuff. It's a challenge I've set for myself that is maddening, frustrating, and also fun. I will tell you that on much of the miniature stuff I don't have dollhouse-sized tools to create it; little teeny saws, little routers, and so forth. No. A lot of it is made with full-size regular power tools, including table saws, chop saws, routers, drills, etc. It takes real cleverness to figure out to do these tiny tasks without removing fingers, I'll tell you that much. However, naturally some teensy tiny things are made with simple tools, like razor blades, Exacto knives, jeweler's files, and so forth.

So, I'll take you back to when I was a kid, making little spaceships out of toothpicks and scrap paper, boats out of beauty bark, and souping-up plastic models of WW II tanks and airplanes to make them as realistic as a 9--10--11 year old could make them. I think some of it comes from poverty. Meaning, not having the money to buy the whatever-it-is to make what I was trying to make. Also, I didn't have a meddling daddy to take my project away and "help" me with it by simply doing it himself, like so many kids have. Okay, philosophy now: if you are one of those dads or moms, you are doing your brat a disservice. You aren't allowing them to come up with their own ideas and methods, not allowing them to fail. It's one thing to gently guide your kid; it's another to take away their project and do it for them. That's feeding your own ego and stealing from theirs. There is too much of that shit going around. It creates adults who can hardly turn a screw or put together some press-board crap from Ikea without a meltdown. So, don't be lame: if your kid wants to do it for him or herself, let 'em. If they want you to do it for them, don't. Sure they might cry and whine. But, so what. You'll be doing them a favor.

Okay, I think I was talking about being a kid and making stuff on my own. Making stuff comes from my mom's side, best I can tell; my granddad was an ace carpenter who built houses. We didn't have a lot, like I said. I was a kid of divorce, living with my mom who worked all the time to support my brother and myself. So, when I got a hankering to make a little boat, I found some scrap lumber or even a piece of ornamental bark in the planter outside our apartment and carved a boat hull. I made a mast out of a toothpick, a sail from scrap paper, and rigging from sewing thread. If I wanted to make a submarine, I glommed some of my mom's sewing thread spools, got some more scrap wood, some useful trash and I was off. If I bought a plastic model of a tank and it didn't have the correct headlight guard or engine hatch handle, I'd make one. I learned all kinds of ways of manipulating various materials this way.

I still work like this. I don't have the same poverty mentality, but it informs everything I make. I'm a scrimper and a saver. I don't like throwing money at a project if I can make what I need myself. It's just how I roll. Besides, it's way more interesting and challenging, and, like I said, fun. And, as well, I don't have a lot of money to spend, and so far the project funding I've received is relatively minimal. Hopefully that will change. I'm waiting on my Mac Arthur Fellowship.

I know that one day I might get to a point where I might be forced to be less hands-on. This can happen to artists. It happens all the time. They become more like project managers and designers and less like artists and have studio assistants and fabrication firms create their work for them. Think Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, or a whole slew of other mega-artist turds who never lay a finger on their work anymore. I can imagine how it could be: the projects are too many and too large; I can't do it all! I've got three solo shows and two giant public art projects and I have to fly to Abu Dhabi next week and Art Basel the week after that! Whatever. Personally I must say that I would utterly loath to be hands-off for the sake of my ballooning career. It may need to happen, but I would not be happy without having a direct hand on my art. Perhaps I'm being naive and quaint. If so, fuck it. Let me be naive and quaint.

Rejection by Rick Araluce

People often wonder how an artist--or anyone in the arts, for that matter--starts out. We're talking the painters, sculptors, dancers, actors, musicians, composers, writers, poets, and so forth. For most it's something they love and do from an early age. Some come to it later in life. The idea of money and success and acclaim does not usually enter the equation at that point. These people just love to and/or have to do it. You might be fortunate and get plaudits from your family, friends and school. You might not get any attention at all, yet you do it anyway. You do it for yourself.

So, if you stick to it, there will come a time when you want to take your abilities further. You were a hero in high school, amazed your friends and family with your talent--you were the best!--yet now you want to do more. You know: make some money with your skills, or at least enter the wider world of your calling. You want to succeed. If you go for it, throw your hat in the ring, you will encounter REJECTION. Whether you send in a manuscript, go out for an audition, try out for a band, approach a gallery or enter a competition, you very likely will face the monster that is REJECTION. You will feel terrible and be discouraged and think you are no good and a waste of time.

Get used to it.

So, I was one of those kids. My talent was drawing and making things. My dad was an advertising man who also had loads of artistic talent. He taught me the fundamentals of drawing; composition, layout, a lot more. I was totally self-directed. I didn't need coddling or cajoling. I just did it. It was my thing. I always was drawing, always making things. Mostly drawing. Later I turned to painting. Early on in high school I wanted to be the next great Surrealist painter--half Salvador Dali, half M.C. Escher. I had ambition in abundance. I had self-confindence. I was even a tad arrogant.

As is the case in a relating a story, I'm going to leave out an awful lot so I can get to the topic at hand: rejection.

In my very early 20s I was intent on going further with my art. To me that meant exhibiting, having work published, selling work, etc. I wanted to somehow be a represented artist. But how? I didn't really know. I never went to ART SCHOOL™. No one I knew was in the art world to lend advice. I was desultorily taking a few courses in junior college, mostly so that I could have some kind of social life outside of work. I had no idea exactly how to approach a gallery, didn't know what to say, didn't know how to behave. I didn't know shit. One day, in my life-drawing class, I overheard the instructor telling a student, "Yeah, he might be interested in your work for his gallery." My eyes widened and my ears pricked up like a rabbit's. Did he say gallery? "Howard M__. He's looking for new work." Or, words to that effect.

I took note. A GALLERY was looking for artists! Maybe I could approach this Howard M__ myself!

I had had a few pieces of mine in the back of a gallery once, so, technically, my art had been displayed, kind of, if you call a few paintings leaning against a wall in a back room "displayed." Not exactly anything you would put on a résumé.

I looked up the name in the phone book and found an address on Wilshire Boulevard, not far from downtown Los Angeles. This was in the very early 80s. I think I must have phoned to ask their business hours. I was a working kid, living on my own in a little apartment in Anaheim, near Disneyland. I worked all week but figured I could drop by on Saturday. I was kind of excited. Okay, I was stupid excited. This could be my break! My entry into being a represented artist!

On Saturday morning I got together some of my odd little paintings, threw them in the back of my sad-ass beater Chrysler K wagon with its imitation wood siding, and headed up to LA. I parked off Wilshire in the little lot behind the gallery. I walked around to the front of the business and looked in the display windows. Behind the glass were paintings of female nudes and still lifes, shiny fabric draped behind them.

Bad Nude

Bad Nude

Had I made a mistake? I didn't do anything like this horrible crap. Maybe, I thought, I'd fucked up.

I ignored the thought.

I buzzed the front door, but no one answered. I went to the rear entrance, buzzed, and someone appeared from the shadows behind the glass and opened the door. My heart was beating loud in my ears. A largish blonde and pleasant looking man answered. "I'm here to show Mr. M_ some of my work," I must have said. "Oh," the man said with a friendly tone. "Come on in. I'm Howard's partner. Howard's upstairs talking to the Coast." I assumed "the Coast" was New York.

I was ushered to a little area with a sofa, leather chairs and a coffee table to wait. I think I was given some water. I imagined this was where Howard met with his clients and collectors to make deals. "So, what do you do?" the pleasant man asked. I showed him some of my paintings. "Interesting," he might have said. Upstairs, I heard Howard talking on the phone, his tone grating and harsh. I felt nervous.

A thin man with a scowl descended the stairs. We might have shook hands. "Who are you?" he inquired, not smiling. I told him. "What have you got?" I showed him. He looked through the handful of paintings. None of them were nudes or still lifes. The scowl never left his face. He made noises: "Hmm. Oh..." He turned to me and asked again:

"Who are you?"

I squirmed and plastered a smile on my face. Said something, I don't remember what. At some point I might have said words like "I'm hanging in a gallery," before he jested, "You're hanging in a gallery?" implying I was literally hanging on a hook on some wall somewhere. Funny. I get it. Then came the drubbing. The insults and rejection. Wave after wave of it.

"I don't know who the hell you are. You don't make an appointment. You drop in from outer space. And you bring me this." He waved a dismissive hand at my strange paintings.

For 45 minutes he berated and humiliated me as I sat there on the sofa with a stupid grin on my face I couldn't seem to lose. I checked my wrist watch: 45 minutes.

He said: "I actually know people who might like this kind of work. But I'm not going to tell you, cause I think you'd be wasting their time." He said: "Here's some advice. See these paintings?" He gestured to some mundane paintings of lighthouses and crashing waves. "This man loves the sea. He lives in Maine. He's a retired sea captain. He paints what he knows."

Bad Seascape

Bad Seascape

I nodded and grinned.

"Here's what you need to do. You should paint what you know, make a bunch of paintings all the same size, strap them together with a belt or some rope, and show those."

"Thanks," I might have said.

I stood and left in disgrace, having had the flesh peeled from my bones by a real gallery owner for 45 excruciating minutes on a bright Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles, California. I walked numbly to my pathetic car, put my ridiculous paintings in the back, closed the hatch.

I had met REJECTION, severe, demeaning, soul-bruising rejection.

But, here's the thing: even as I was walking to my car, I was telling myself, That was horrible, that was brutal, that sucked ass, but that is not going to defeat me.

I thought, as I was driving back to my little one bedroom apartment in Anaheim, that I would not do that again; just show up at a strange gallery without having cased it first to see if it even remotely fit what I do. Sure, he was a mean asshole, but I kind of wandered into it, so I blamed myself. I was kind of cocky before Howard __, doubtless overly confident of my talent. I was a lot less cocky after. But it didn't defeat me. That's the take-away. I just kept going on and on, one little step and minor success at a time. Oh, and a whole lot more rejection. Boy, let me tell you. That's how it goes in this racket. Part of the territory.

Still stings like fuck though. Oh, yeah.