Blog / 2022 / New York City Art and My 19th Artiversary

May 16, 2022

[video transcript]

A lot of the footage for this video was filmed by my favorite person, and another one of the best humans on planet, my brother, appears here and there in the two minutes.

You can order your copy of The Future We Need at Cornell University Press, and you can see the whole series of paintings from the book here!

My May 16th artiversary posts vary quite a lot from year to year. In 2021, I talked about one thing every artist should do whether or not they’re quitting social media, and the year before I ran a whole series about how to love your art. In 2018 I read from diaries I kept as I was starting my career, and in 2013 I detailed exactly how I make my money as an artist.

Heather and Allyson, portrait by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Heather and Allyson
acrylic on panel
14 x 11 inches

New York has never had as strong a hold on me as it has on some artists. I mean, I love the history of New York as a scrumptious tossed salad of creativity, but I’ve also always been a bit grossed out by the idea that artists have to be in a massively expensive, mightily crowded city in order to make anything that’s truly valuable. It’s not that amazing things can’t be accomplished in New York—of course they can! But plenty of extraordinary art is being made everywhere, all the time.

I think my resistance to New York’s aura of importance stems from the same place in me that has always seen celebrity portraits as a no-no. I hate to think that one person’s humanity is more important than another’s just because they’re famous, and it’s same-same, but for cities and their city-ness when it comes to the Big Apple.

That’s why I love that my first ever experience of my art being exhibited in New York was maybe the opposite of celebrity portraiture. It was portraits of workers from across the country who’ve brought their communities together to make change, including Heather and Allyson, two educators who were part of the 2018 teachers’ strike in West Virginia. Like all of the people portrayed in the book The Future We Need, Heather and Allyson are super stars, just not the kind that usually get their portrait painted.

Showing this work at the Ford Foundation building for the book launch event feels like an excellent way to celebrate my 19th artiversary. It’s an affirmation of my values both as a person and as an artist. And I love that the way my art finally made it to New York was through a connection that probably only ever happened because one of the authors and I were living in the same conservative region where everyone who wasn’t a Trumper knew each other.

That’s not to say that I wasn’t the right artist for the job, but it is an excellent reminder that, while a successful art career is certainly helped by the daily effort of making interesting artwork, it also requires a good deal of luck and an openness to working on the projects that come your way.

This video is made with love and microdonations from my community!

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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