Seeing a certain carrot-topped charlatan bloviate and strut about the former Post estate in Palm Beach (a house that somehow manages to maintains its beauty in spite of the vulgarian within) boasting of how he is going to “make America great again”, I am reminded of the many other pompous Palm Beach parvenues I had the misfortune to work for in my over twenty year career as a decorative painter. It is incredibly unprofessional to bad mouth former clients and decorators, but frankly leaving behind that often shallow and tight-fisted business, particularly in Florida, was the best decision I have made.
One wretched client I recall vividly, he specifically admired and wished to emulate Mr. Trump and unsurprisingly the motif he chose to decorate the dining room of his newly poured 30,000 square foot McMansion was the peacock. In my many years as a decorative painter I have found the peacock to be the most requested theme. Don’t get me wrong, I love the peacock as a decorative motif but to be snobbish about it, I like to think my fondness has roots in the Art Nouveau not the aspirations of the nouveau riche. This client, unlike what I have read of Mr.Trump, was particularly miserly. He would willingly boast of the $100,000.00 chandelier he had just purchased and his self aggrandizing decorator would boast of the spontaneous trips they had just taken on his private jet to pick up some god-awful ersatz baroque settee; but when it came to hiring the local, not-so-famous, struggling artist willing to paint the still damp walls of his faux palazzo, well then , that fellow could haggle.
Such is the life of a struggling artist, be it decorative or studio, so much depends on the market, your own financial situation and how willing you are to debase yourself to stay afloat. Sometimes you just don’t have many options. David and I had a cute little house in Ft.Lauderdale, his practice was still developing and we had a mortgage to pay. So the two grand that the client assured me was ALL he could afford was settled upon. In the end, as in all experiences, there were lessons learned: how to manipulate cheap house paint quickly (of course there was a deadline that just HAD to met); dealing with ineffective decorators who still demanded their cut no matter how paltry the commission; and of course, slowly, excruciatingly slowly, recognizing my own worth.
This wall painting has its flaws, as in my studio work I do not possess an academically trained polish to my work, and in my decorative work, my tromp l’oeil was less than convincing. But they are attractive and I believe distinctive. And this painting, finished in the three week deadline, isn’t that bad.
I’m going through file after file of old commissions, some going back to the 80’s, I’m also cobbling together a website for them, an archive free of dust, but full of memories . Some memories make me cringe , but some , like this one still pleases me in spite of the bitter aftertaste .
It has to be noted that the presumptuous genius Whistler openly mocked his client Frederick Richards Leyland for not appreciating the completely unrequested “improvements” to his now famous ( and rightly well regarded Peacock Room) by depicting him in a harsh caricature of a demonic peacock. I still question if Whistler had the right to squawk after he had painted over newly installed (expensive)16th leather wall coverings (which sound like they must have been fantastic), but nonetheless , this painting is great fun and the room a wonder of the world to this day.
James Mc Neill Whistler
The Gold Scab:Eruption in Filthy Lucre
I lack Whistler’s hubris and genius, but if my peacock is still there (so much of what I have painted has been destroyed in subsequent redecorations) I hope he is giving the clients dirty looks as they feast!
With that little bitter gem, be well, and now back to the studio.