The Art of Acquiring Art

You can’t spell painting without “pain.” This is something I learned at a silent auction several years back.

While attending an outdoor literary festival, I stumbled upon a booth featuring one of my favorite local artists. Local for me, I should say, because I’m sure his colorful, whimsical paintings sell across the nation. He just happens to share my area code.

This was a big “yay.” The artist had actually offered about a dozen of his originals for an on-the-spot silent fundraising auction. His booth happened to be tucked away from the crowds. And, as I mentioned, this was not an art festival. It was a literary festival. Most folks there had their noses in books. Not many oil sniffers were on the prowl.

Jackpot.

I called my husband, who was elsewhere that day. “You-know-who is auctioning his paintings. I think they mislabeled his location. Hardly anyone seems to know he’s here. Should I stay and bid?”

My husband responded with an un-publishable variant of, “Jeepers, yes!”

So I committed myself to close down the event. As I have learned over the years, at silent auctions, one must linger until the last minute. Even if there’s low attendance, strange stuff happens at the end. The rule is to hover, to intimidate potential competitors while pretending to be civil and nonchalant—even though there’s smack-down rage simmering on the inside.

Blink, blink, smile, oh, hello. Oops, pardon me. Blink, blink, smile.

I signed up for four paintings, because it was him, plus everything was such a deal. But there was one painting I really wanted. It was a still life with uplifting swirls of oranges and greens. A painting I would put in my office to gaze at maybe 50 times a day.

As the afternoon ticked away, I would circle back to check on the auction sheets. People were catching on, so I had to re-bid now and then. Then the pesky issue of cost began to surface. I eventually decided to focus on just two works—but especially on my orange dream. My office painting. Mine.

With every return visit, I would chat with the friendly artist, who was as colorful as an impressionist’s palette. By then my fan-dom became rock solid, and I mean Michelangelo-marble-slab rock solid. I had to own an original. I had to.

In the final ten minutes, a mini-mob converged on the scene. Dang it. Pens flew across the bid sheets. But I was still safe. Countdown to my beautiful orange…

Then, she appeared. Miss Artbucks. She blinked twice, smiled, and doubled my last bid before I had time to rationalize “spending too much.” Orange, crushed.

I now own the other painting.

I’m sure the artist was aware of the last-minute drama. He actually hugged me (not her) as he handed me my winning bid. I could not love it more: Three martinis atop a piano. An eternal promise of celebration.

And, it’s a painting with a built-in back story. Literary festival, indeed.