Realist Artist William Wolk’s Upcoming Book
I thought there might be some value to others involved in the visual arts; artists, gallery owners, as well as others, to learn about my experiences and observations from my career in Fine Art. So, I wrote a book, and although it is still in its proofing stages, I thought I’d release excerpts from time to time. Below is part of the Preface from the upcoming Wisdom and Luck.
One afternoon, an elderly gentleman visited my one-man gallery at The Greenbrier, a West Virginia resort, with his adult children and grandchildren. He and his family were flying home and only had a few minutes to spare, but the following morning he called back to purchase a painting. I received a call from the employee at my gallery who had interacted with him the day before, with the good news that she had made a sale. It was a nude of the beguiling 26-year-old model with whom I had recently begun working. “Who bought the painting,” I inquired.
“Some old guy. He was really old. I think he may have been a pervert.”
A few months later I produced a new brochure which featured, among other subjects, another nude of that same model, and I mailed it off to my list of collectors. Two days later, quite early in the morning, I received a call that woke from me from a deep sleep. It was the old pervert. After I managed to croak out a groggy “Hello,” he asked:
“How much is the nude on page three?”
Shaking the cobwebs from my head, still half asleep, and in a thick morning voice I answered, “Thirty Thousand dollars.”
“Do you take American Express?”
That was, word for word, my exchange with the old pervert. Short and to the point. That woke me up faster than a double espresso. We shipped the painting to Birmingham, Alabama. About this time, I had begun a practice of printing out self-adhesive wine labels on which I reproduced a full color image of the painting the client had purchased. At the top of the label it read The (customer’s surname) Collection. William Wolk Fine Art was printed along the bottom. I always selected an excellent wine (in case they actually drank it), arduously scraped off the original label with a single edged razor blade, and applied our vanity label. Altogether, it took about thirty to forty minutes to prepare. I shipped them out in custom wine mailers.
I sent a bottle of wine to our pervert in Birmingham as a little “Thank you.” It had pleased him so much that a couple of days later, he called me to ask if he could get another bottle. “Yup.” Then, just a few minutes’ latter, he called back again to ask if he could get two full cases.
When the wine was ready, I called the client and told him that I could either ship the order to him, which would be pricey and a bit risky, or I could deliver it personally and, if he’d like, I could also bring down some additional paintings for him to see.
“Bring down everything you have!” We were invited to spend the night at his home and join him for dinner at The Club. We rented a U Haul trailer and arrived at the client’s home with seventeen paintings in tow.
There were hundreds of paintings on display, but it was his condo on the beach in northern Florida that housed the biggest part of his collection. Being a building contractor, he had built the building and reserved the penthouse floor for himself.
His office in downtown Birmingham also housed many works of art. When he gave us a tour we saw the first painting he had purchased from me. It was still sitting next to its shipping crate on the floor beside a small Monet that had just arrived that day. I was in good company.
In short order, this vibrant elderly collector selected another four of my paintings (not nudes) to add to his already overwhelming collection. He gave no thought whatsoever to where they might hang. He just loved collecting art. Afterward, we all readied to go to dinner. While our host was in the shower, his daughter stopped by. She looked around at my paintings and, pointing, said, “Please tell my father that if he’d like to buy me a birthday present, I’d like that one!” We relayed the message to our host and he bought that one too, making it five paintings that night…plus dinner at The Club. The success of this visit led us to designing our own custom built trailer.
The dialogue which lead to the sale of six additional paintings was opened because I did two simple things. First, I mailed the brochure, and second, I sent the customized bottle of wine as a Beau Geste. Our “sales associate” who decided that the old pervert was just a one-off event because of his age, saw the world differently than I did. She wrote up an order for a customer; I cultivated a relationship through which I sold six additional paintings and I had the pleasure of enjoying the company and hospitality of one of my most interesting collectors.
When the gentleman passed away in 2010, I was contacted by his estate to clarify the titles of some of the work he had purchased. His collection contains over four hundred paintings, many of them by master artists, being tended by a private curator. The collection is housed in a cloistered museum where they will be displayed in perpetuity.
How My Fine Art Gallery opened at The Greenbrier
I lived in New York City in 1981 and 1982. In those two years, a few remarkable things happened; with very little money and even fewer contacts, I had the good fortune to have two One-Man-Shows of my paintings. The first was at the Lincoln Center Gallery in the Metropolitan Opera House. The second was at The Harkness House Gallery on East 75th street; a gallery affiliated with The Harkness Ballet which gave me the title of Artist-in-Residence… granting me full access to the facility. In 1981 my artistic focus was on painting ballet dancers and, as it happened, The American Ballet Theatre was on strike that year and used The Harkness House as their facility of choice to practice, so I had access to some the world’s most elite dancers. Unbelievable bit of luck there! (Details of how these events came about are outlined in my upcoming book, Wisdom and Luck)
It was also at this time that three of my ballet paintings were published by Bruce McGaw Graphics for distribution worldwide. Before long, I was receiving calls from magazines to do ballet paintings for their covers. I began to see that I was getting pigeon-holed, or type-cast, as a dance painter and it began to feel a bit restrictive.
To escape the brutal summers of New York City, I began visiting friends who lived in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia. The contrast was as extreme as one could get. When I’d arrive in West Virginia, surrounded by the green of the landscape and the quiet of the hills, my soul would say “Ahhhhh.” When I returned to New York, via LaGuardia Airport, getting hit in the face by the diesel fumes of the departing busses as I hailed a cab, my soul would cringe and say, “Aggggh.” So, it was just a matter of time until I heeded the urgings of my soul and moved from the Big Apple, with its One-Man-Shows and publishing contracts to the quiet solitude’s of the Mountain State.
I lived on my friend’s property; 200 or so acres high in the mountains, on a dirt road, far away from the ubiquitous honking horns and blaring lights of the city. We made maple syrup in the spring. We grew vegetables. We swam in the Greenbrier River. My soul was happy. I could breathe here.
Due to space limitations, I began painting in watercolor. When I had a small collection of paintings, I’d head out to cities and sell directly to galleries. This seemed to be a workable lifestyle. One day, my friend happened to say to me, “Your paintings are getting pretty good. You should show them to The Greenbrier.” I asked what The Greenbrier was and was told that it was a famous, world-class, five-star resort, complete with three championship golf courses, located just an hour away from or little slice of heaven.
Well, I’m no fool and I know when someone is having one over on me, so I refused to fall for the ruse and dismissed the suggestion. Some months later my friend took me car shopping out of town. Of course, everything was out of town from our remote location, but this trip was out of state. As we headed back to our mountain retreat, and as we approached the White Sulphur Springs exit off the freeway, my friend made a sudden turn onto the exit ramp. “Where are we going,” I inquired. “You’ll soon see,” came the reply. We cruised down the main street of the little town on this Saturday night, and I rolled my eyes at the scene; girls hanging on the side mirrors of boy’s pickup trucks in parking lots in the Saturday night dating ritual of this Appalachian community. Gun racks in the trucks. Baseball caps on the heads of the bearded young men. NOT Manhattan!
My chagrin soon turned into wonder as we turned into the front gates of the world class resort known as The Greenbrier. It really existed! I could hardly believe my eyes. Sixty-five hundred acres of manicured landscaping, golf courses and, of course, the grand Georgian structure of the hotel.
Next day, I arranged to see the Director of Operations for the resort. My hope was to sell some paintings to the hotel. He told me that he wasn’t interested in purchasing any paintings for the hotel (although later, he did purchase some for his own collection), but offered me my own gallery on the grounds. I thanked him for his time and his offer, declined, and headed out of his office. My hand was literally on the door knob and I had one foot over the threshold when he called me back and began to tell me about a group of privately owned shops called “The Art Colony.”
He asked me to hold off on my final answer and encouraged me to interview the shop owners. This I did, and I soon came to realize that this arrangement would work better for me than the out of state trips I had been making to sell to galleries. This new arrangement would have the world come to me! It was here that the elite guests of the resort discovered my work.
William Wolk Fine Art was at The Greenbrier for twenty-five years before relocating to beautiful Sarasota, Florida.
I have been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. I marvel at the technology that every six-year-old is comfortable with and expert in, though I am nostalgic for the days when my car would allow me to drive it without sounding a condescending “beep,” when it didn’t approve, or when a friend would call to have a conversation instead of sending a text.
But then, I had a compelling new idea related to, but separate from my painting career. Pursuing this necessitated my coming on board with the world as it is today; with the connectivity of the world-wide web and the social platforms that it has spawned. It’s a new day and, to the cheers of my friends, I am ready to join in.
I have been enamored by paintings since I was just a little kid in the 50’s. That was also the birth of the modern era of painting, but I was captivated by the realists. Robin Hood and Treasure Island weren’t illustrated by the work of Jackson Pollock or Robert Motherwell; it was the action paintings of artists like Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth that got the imaginations of my generation ignited. And I would get lost in those illustrations and wonder how it was that a person could make something so wonderful as this. I began drawing…everything. Michelangelo once rightfully said that “to understand something fully, you had to draw it.” That must certainly be true because to draw something, you had to look at it and look at it deeply. That attention, that observation brought insight.
Painting requires even further depth of observation because one is not only working with subtle shading, but the shading is in color and one color effects the color next to it and so on. In painting, the object emerges from a background, and the color out of which the object emerges impacts the eye and the emotions. Color has a direct impact on how we feel. It’s no mistake that many of the psychiatric hospitals in the world have calming green walls while restaurants and night clubs tend to favor red. No mistake at all.
In upcoming articles, I will be talking about some of the events, large and small, that have influenced my life and career as an artist. I will reveal many personal accounts of the business side of my career. My hope is that by sharing a straight forward, unabashed accounting of my relationships and interactions with art collectors and fine art galleries, other artists will gain insights they will find useful in the architecture of their careers. We will look at the decisions I have made and the circumstances under which I went from being raised by a single mother, in poverty, to having a career in art in which I have sold paintings in the six figures, was honored in the Oval Office, and had my work collected by luminaries around the world.
If I may steal a line from Gus McCray from Lonesome Dove, “It’s been quite a ride.” I invite you to take that ride with me in upcoming articles on this site.
There was a beautiful handmade tutu in the window of The Sarasota Ballet School in downtown Sarasota. Every time we passed by it, William said, “I should do something with that.” So, one day he photographed it through the glass. The painting he did of it took liberties with the window itself, and he ended up using a façade from another building. We have the painting, entitled School of Dance, in our home…still in progress and left unsigned. View the painting here www.williamwolk.com.
One evening we had some friends for dinner and they admired the painting and said that, in their view, someone from The Sarasota Ballet should see it. Then they called back and asked if they could bring a ballet volunteer over. They, in turn, asked if they could come back with, Mary Anne Servian, the Associate Director of The Sarasota Ballet. She asked if she could come back with Iain Webb, the Ballet’s director. We had great fun entertaining all of these wonderful people.
All of this resulted in William being given access to some spectacular ballerinas and some absolutely gorgeous costumes. I have seen very little of him since. He is painting furiously and I can’t wait to share this new work with you as soon as he finishes some pieces. The Sarasota Ballet will be sponsoring some exhibitions of this new work; a percentage of which will be donated to the ballet.