Thursday, November 17, 2005

Eric Waugh, the interview (part one).


If you'd like to listen while you read, click here. (stream it) [41:39 minutes, 40.0 MB] (Be forewarned, the windows were open while we spoke, and as a consequence there is an awful lot of background noise, sorry).

Back on February 23, 2005 I had the opportunity and pleasure of being able to interview Eric Waugh. He is from Montréal, and could be the best selling artist of all-time, as he has sold more than 27,000 paintings. The thing that he has done, that can't be argued about is having painted the largest painting ever - 40,000 square feet. The painting was called "Hero" and after it was done, pieces of it were sold to benefit Camp Heartland, a camp for children with HIV/AIDS, he has also done humongous amounts of work for the Starlight Children's Foundation and The Multiple Sclerosis Society, just to name a few. He also created the best selling Kleenex box of all time. However, like Jack Vettriano, he doesn't get an awful lot of acknowledgment from your standard issue contemporary art people - hence my desire to sit down and talk to him. What you have below is a transcript of out conversation.

I'd like to thank Hiroyuki Sasaki and Jacquline Mabey especially, for their amazing help in getting the interview transcribed, and Marie Malboeuf for her wonderful job of editing the transcript. If you like the interview, please consider making a donation to the gallery, thanks.

Chris Hand: First of all, thank you very much. One thing that I definitely want you to know is that I have no background in art history, in art, or in anything art related.

Eric Waugh: Neither do I [laughs]

Chris Hand: However, since I started Zeke's Gallery I've realized that there are something like 75 different types of art worlds. Everybody has their niche, and nobody talks to each other.

Eric Waugh: The art world is funny. I think its just the nature of being an artist. An artist just wants to be by themselves, locked up in a studio and not let anybody know what is going on until they are done. There are so many different worlds. 17 years ago when I was introduced to art, by my art, I didn't know about any other world. But once I realized that there were artists that were actually selling their art. I took a trip down to New York to the Art Expo and… Have you been there?

Chris Hand: No, unfortunately, I haven't.

Eric Waugh: You got to go. It has changed a lot over seventeen years. To me the heyday was about 12 years ago, there were just several hundreds of booths. And when I'm talking booths, I'm talking booths! They would put together these enormous exhibitions and displays for people who came from all over the world. I was just blown away. It's like I didn't understand. I didn't think you were supposed to do that with art. While I was going to school, the words “art” and "starving" would always go together. "Art not a business;" "you cannot make money from it." I was actually taken aback when I discovered that this could be a career, where I can make a living. I really enjoy what I am doing. So yeah, there are so many different types of art worlds, I don't know them all. I know a few. I am sure you know some others.

City Rock

Chris Hand: Yeah, I am trying to learn about as many as I can track down. And why I asked if I could interview you. To put it bluntly there is a view of "art as product" and what you do from the outside seems to fall into that world. When you're painting, do you view it as a product? Or do you view it as something else?

Eric Waugh: Its neither one nor the other. I do have a family, I do have a business and things that have to be run. I can't go and take 5 weeks off and do nothing, because I have other people who depend on what I am doing. However, I see it in as a slightly bigger picture, it isn't just doing one painting and then finishing that one painting and then selling that one painting. It's really sort of creating something bigger. I don't know what it is exactly, but when I learned that I can do good with my art. That I can start giving back to the community. That's when I really thought that there is a bigger plan for what I am doing. I think whatever I do from day to day, I think it has been building up to this. I thought that the worlds largest painting, would be it. But now I think that was just like a stepping stone to get me to another level, so people will start to take me seriously, so the next time I come up with one of those crazy ass projects, that they are going to say: "Yeah. That guy pulled that one off. I think he'll be able to do this one."

Chris Hand: One of my favorite sayings is: "I'm never satisfied." Cause the instant I sit back and enjoy the glory. "Pffft! It's all gone. You always got to keep going further and further

Eric Waugh: Absolutely. I don't horde my work. I don't hang it in my house. I have just one painting in my house that I did. It's of my three boys, very primitive looking with stick figure forms, holding hands. I don't paint for me. I paint for other people. I paint to make them happy. I get these e-mails from people that you wouldn't believe. They have never collected art before, they know nothing about art, they know nothing about abstract art. They would rather buy a nice scene with trees, rivers, birdies, and things like that that they can relate to. And then they come across my work, and they just, I don't know what it is about it, but they are drawn into it, they have to have it, and they get it, and they write me these letters saying: “This is first piece of real art that I purchased and you have really inspired me and you turned me on to art.” And that's kind of a good feeling.

Reclining Diva

Chris Hand: One of the things that I find interesting is you say that you don't paint for yourself, you paint for other people. An awful lot of the artists that I know are very reticent about letting anybody else see the stuff that they're making. It strikes me as if they are creating for themselves. When I'm selling art, the first law is, you've got to love it. You've got to make sure you cannot live without it. It's an interesting concept that I had never thought of before. The realization that if you are painting for other people, then your perception of the painting is going to be different from if you are painting for yourself.

Eric Waugh: I think if I was painting for myself, I would probably never be satisfied. Sometimes I think I still do go overboard on the work that I put in to a painting. I find people, like a sort of a rawness in the art. Then sometimes my kids will come in. So I give them a brush and stuff and they will start painting. And then I'll pull it away from them, and they are like: "What are you doing?" And I'll say "It's done. Don't beat it up. It's finished, that's it. You got your emotions into it. Now move on to another one." And that's kind of what I am doing. That's is why I like to work quickly. Put a lot of energy, spontaneity into the work, Do it quickly. Do Do Do Get it out. Let someone else enjoy it. Move on to the next. There are lots of people standing in line for my art so I want to get it out there so that they can enjoy it. But I find that over these past 17 years, I've seen other artists and I've seen different things going on with them and with their work. But I find many artists saying that they are painting for themselves. I think if they just get it out there. If they could see people enjoying it and get that feedback that I get - I get a lot of feedback - cause I do a lot of pieces, If they got that, I think they would turn around too. They are saying they are painting for themselves because they don't feel confident. They don't want to get it out there. So they end up keeping it to themselves and hording it.

Chris Hand: Exactly It's like last night, I had a band here, I had a friend who was watching, and she started to tell me "I love the band!" And I told her "tell him, don't tell me. He's the one who's going to enjoy your feedback way more than I will." But before we start agreeing with each other on everything, how do you decide what is going to stay unique and what is going to go out as multiples?

Eric Waugh: With posters, I've seen other artists come and go, because they saturate the market. So that's one thing that I didn't want to do right at the very beginning. limit myself only to a couple of images a year, and for past the 12 years or so, I have been limiting it to only completely abstract work. But, I think the key to it is limiting the amount of images that are out there in the poster market, and because they are only abstracts, whatever I publish as a poster doesn't really compete with the other stuff that I am doing. You're selling posters for $40 and canvases for $4,000. It is two totally different markets. But the great thing about that is, people who can't afford a $4,000 piece, can enjoy the posters.

Chris Hand: Do you decide before you start a painting, or after you've done it?

Eric Waugh: Before. I sit down and do a specific collection of work just for that. Because it is a bit of a different look, you know, maybe more decorative. I pay attention to the colors that are hot or going to be hot. There was the time, you know, when they the market didn't want any color, all beiges and browns and ochres, with just little tiny spots of color here and there. And last year was very colorful. Reds and teals and burgundies, purples... This year, I hear that things are sort of rich and dark. With some color popping, textures, things like that. And I just sort of blend it all together into my little artistic tapestry and then move on. As far as the posters go, you really need to limit yourself. But at the same time its great that I have sold over half million posters around the world, so that's a half million of people that I would not normally be able to reach.

Chris Hand: Beside posters and painting, do you do other multiples, like giclées or anything like that?

Eric Waugh: I don't do giclée. I have my saying "no way to giclée," I don't really get that whole thing. It's just a print, and an artist signs it, that's it. Although it's a very well produced piece, there's not much to it. Just printing. However, Princess cruise lines came to me and said “we'd really love to have your art on our ships.” Do you know anything about whole art market on cruise ships?

Chris Hand: No, tell me please.

Eric Waugh: It's been going on for a long time and it's a huge thing for the ships. Actually I heard that they make more money through their art auctions than they do through their casinos. You know, I've been on a couple of ships lately in the past year, and the great thing about the art auctions is... you know people are on their honeymoon, they're on vacation, they have been saving up for years, its an anniversary, its a special time so they come on the ship. They hear and they see art auction today at 2 o'clock come down and check things out. So they come, they see, they look, "oh you know, there's some really nice stuff here" and they sit down and they have some champagne. Auctioneer loosens everybody up tells a few jokes and things its very casual. The auctioneer's in shorts and a T-shirt and a straw hat. And they just get into it. And then they say: "wait a minute here, I can get this Picasso, etching, you know, in the gallery, its $60,000. And I can get for $30,000? That's a no brainer. I'll take two." So you get these big spenders and some of these people spend thousands of dollars while on their cruise. It's a special thing. They are actually bringing something home instead of pumping down money in the casino and ending up with empty pockets. These are people putting money down and they're actually bringing something home. So Princess Cruise Lines asks me if I can come up with something exclusively for the ships that you can't get anywhere else. I have been dabbling with this technique for the past couple of years that I call [it] mono brossé, it's where you are basically printing an outline. high resolution like a giclée. Then the rest, the brushwork, is all done by hand. So its 99 percent done by hand. This way from one to the next, there are differences between color and texture and things like that. So I started doing something with them, I did a collection with six pieces, 195 mono brossés of each, and within three months we have sold half of the editions. Now we're talking about doing a second series. You can't beat the exposure. There are literally millions of people going through their ships. The great thing is that because of what I do; painting live to music, they invite me on the boat for painting performances. How can you beat that? I have to go to the Mediterranean to paint in between Italy and Greece. It's a hard job but somebody's got to do it.

Cello Bella

Chris Hand: Speaking of the painting performances, but do you know all about the artists collective called HVW8?

Eric Waugh: No.

Chris Hand: They do same exact thing as you - painting to music. But they're coming at it from a graffiti style, doing it at rap shows and discothèques. They're from Montréal, which is why I made the connection. And I don't know if there are that many people out there who actually do live painting to music or if it is just solely Montreal thing. But yeah, they paint in discothèques for people who can barely afford a 5 buck entry fee.

Eric Waugh: I'd love to be painting at discos and hip hop clubs, because that's really where the energy is, it doesn't matter if they can't afford it, because that's really where the energy is.

Chris Hand: Then, as opposed to looking for a payoff on the painting, what about a straight performance fee, at which point the painting goes with the fee?

Eric Waugh: That's something that I did couple of weeks ago. I was asked to do a performance with the Doobie Brothers in California. It was; "come down. How much for the painting? For you to come down, your time, expenses and things like that?" So that was pretty much the first time that I had done it that way. Where someone just said "come and perform." That's something that I might do more, there are a lot of event planning companies. I didn't realize it, but this is done all the time in the arts. There is this whole circuit going on, different artists doing all these different things. But I love the music thing, the cool thing about it is, you never know what's gonna happen. Spontaneity. You have no idea. You don't know if they are gonna do encore or not. I try to pace myself where I have maybe 5 more minutes left to go. I don't put in some of the details, don't color in certain areas of the painting because I know I'm gonna have 5 more minutes. But there was a time where, Nelly Furtado didn't do an encore. And I'm out of there and I'm like left and I hadn't even signed the painting yet. So you never know. That's the exciting element of it. Like at the Atlanta Jazz festival. I'm up on stage and I got a camera behind me, I'm on this big screen I got 40,000 people behind me, watching me. I don't know what's gonna happen. I can fall over, I can trip on the stage. You never know what's gonna happen. You don't know about the paintings. I have no idea what the painting is gonna look like a second before I do it.

Chris Hand: Have you ever discussed with musicians what songs? You know, a sort of background or...

Eric Waugh: Not really. With the Rippingtons it was kind of cool in a sense that on the first night, I had no idea what they were gonna do. The tone, the tempo, the length, and all kind of that stuff. I was doing two shows a night, for five nights. So, the second show they played exactly the same set. I was like "wait a minute here! I know what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna do the drawing the first set, I'm gonna put down the texture the second song." By the time fifth night rolled around, it was a totally choreographed show. I knew exactly. Exactly, exactly. But it kind of took the fun out of it. Because it was so planned and I knew the songs and I knew the beat, when they were gonna stop, I knew they would come back for an encore whether they wanted it or not.

Chris Hand: I could imagine that it could drive you mad.

Eric Waugh: Yeah, exactly, night after night, show after show. One of the best times I ever had was, I was in western Florida doing an arts festival. I'm looking across the street and I see this club called "Swig." There's a bunch of jazz stuff going on there, and I peek in, and I'm "this would be a really cool place to paint." The next day, I'm at the festival, doing my stuff, and I'm looking over there at Swig and it's like you know what? I'm gonna go over and speak to manager and see if I can just pop in with my paints and easel just like that. So I walked in and I showed them my stuff and they said "oh sure man, no problem." And literally I finished a painting, took the easel, walked it in, took a blank canvas, my paints and started painting. It was the most fun I have ever had, because it wasn't planned, it was totally spontaneous, I had no idea who the band was, I just had so much fun. And the crowd loved it. The band thought it was amazing. It's just that spontaneity about it that makes it exciting.

Chris Hand: where did you first come up with the idea to paint live to music?

Eric Waugh: I was actually approached by the Toronto Mendelssohn Symphony Choir. They asked if I would come and do this huge painting, a painting to a symphony, with a choir. I had never painted live before but I knew I definitely could do it. I was gonna do a little practicing beforehand. They sent me the music that the orchestra was going to be doing with the choir. It was very dark. I realized that it just isn't what I wanted to do. I didn't think it was a good mix, so I was very honest with them and said "listen, I think it you'd probably be better off with a different type of artist rather than myself. I just don't think I can really relate to it." But that kind of got me thinking, well this is kind of cool, you know I'd like to do it, but how do you do it? Then I was doing one of your typical art shows in Atlanta at a gallery. And this couple came up to me and said: "Eric, we love your art, we own one of your pieces, we represent this artist called Martin Posey, and this is what we do for him. We bring him into upscale jazz clubs, nightclubs, and hotels and different venues where there is music. This artist Martin Posey, he paints live to music. Do you think you'd be into that sort of thing?" I said: "Well, I have actually been thinking about it a little bit, and sounds pretty cool." You know, it would get me out of the studio. So I told them, let me think about it for a couple of months and I will let you know when I have some time. Then they just kept in touch with me, after a while I said "okay fine, Lets give it a shot. Find me a little club somewhere, low key someplace that I can get some practice at". They suggested a little place called "Mama May's Louisiana Kitchen." It's like this southern place, they had brought in this jazz band, a really bad jazz band. I set up my paints and my easel, and off I went. But, it turned out pretty good. I think there were two nights. The first night was pretty good, actually I did two paintings on first night, and two paintings on second night. It was kind a cool. The music wasn't exactly what I was looking for. But it was a good start. It let me get my feet wet, and then they started to look for different venues. They came up with a place that was kind of cool, it was the Swiss Hotel in Buckhead Atlanta, a funky contemporary hotel. It has a really cool lobby, and every Friday and Saturday, they have a pianist or they get a little jazz duo, and at the time they were having art exhibits of local artists in there as well. So different artists every week would come and hang their art. So I came in and did my thing and people really loved it. The hotel loved it. It was kind a cool. It became a sort of regular gig. Coincidently, the first time I checked into the hotel, I'm going up to my room, and the elevator doors open up, and there is my art. Actually this Swiss Hotel has the second largest art collection in Georgia, after the Georgia National Gallery of Art. On every floor there's art, there are like 24 floors in the hotel, as you get off the elevator on the 24th floor, there are two pieces of mine on either side of the wall. So my art was in the hotel coincidently. The manager didn't realize, and I didn't realize. Jim Carter, the guy who had booked me into the hotel didn't realize...

Dance City

Chris Hand: Have you ever tried any hotels or clubs here in town?

Eric Waugh: No, other than Tony Bennett. I painted with Tony Bennett here in Montreal. Jim Carter is from Atlanta so everything is there.

Chris Hand: That Atlanta and Montreal connection...

Eric Waugh: Yeah, he's there, so it's easy for him book stuff there. But I want to do more in Canada, travel more, do more shows. Princess Cruise Lines wants me to be on their ships. Jim can set up those shows. So you know what? I see it as having an opportunity, all the jazz festivals, the art festivals. But I also have my family, and all that kind of stuff to balance. What I want to do, I want to find a nice club here, in Montreal, where possibly once a month I can come and be some sort of regular. Not for money, not for anything, just come and hang and get the feel and the vibe and sort of stuff. I don't have to set up the whole show. I'd rather take the painting and give it to the Starlight Children's Foundation or something like that.

Chris Hand: Off the top of my head, the one's that I've been thinking, down in Old Montreal, there is this placed called Java U And then, there is also any of the boutique hotels down there.

Eric Waugh: What about the jazz clubs.

Chris Hand: The Jazz Festival killed pretty much all the jazz clubs. There is Upstairs. Upstairs is the only true jazz club in town.

Eric Waugh: It's kind a small, isn't it?

Chris Hand: Yeah. Smaller than this place. There is this place on Mont Royal called Bily Kun. there they have background music as opposed to it being really people coming to hear jazz..

Eric Waugh: I'm interested in finding some sort of place that I can sort of… call home. Montreal is a big city but its also a small town. So I don't think I can go from place to place to place. Its really sort of finding a place that would work well. But I don't know any of these places. I am suburban guy. I know nothing about downtown.

Chris Hand: I'll see what I can come up with. Then, again, to switch topics, I noticed in going through your websites, you list off a large number of private collections, but there are no museums. Is that by your choice, circumstance or something else?

Eric Waugh: Museums are for when you're dead.

Chris Hand: No! No! Not at all! There's the Musée d'Art Contemporain, Loto Quebec, they both regularly buy living contemporary artists. And even the Musée des Beaux Arts as well.

Eric Waugh: Well, the first thing you said when we sat down, was that there are so many different art worlds, that is one art world. Then there is the whole government thing to help artists out with grants and bursaries. Those are the types of the things I find where they help the you when you're doing the art for yourself. Being in the National Gallery is not important to me. I'd rather create art that people can actually hang in their homes. Instead of having to get into the car and driving down to a museum.

Chris Hand: On the flip side, at home, only a couple of people will see it, but in museum, way many more people will see it.

Eric Waugh: I want people to see my art for more than just a few minutes. I want people to live with it. So that its actually part of their lives. I've been talking about feedback and letters, you know, I get letters 8 years after the fact. "Dear Mr. Waugh. Still enjoying your painting. 8 years later. We have actually started a small collection, and now we have 12 in our home." You know, that type of thing. One way for artists to get exposure is to get into a museum. But, that isn't something that I have even been thinking about. A lot of artists think that that's where they have to be in order to get to a certain level. I am doing it in other ways. I am doing it in being prolific, doing live paintings, doing it by getting my name out there. But, up until the world's largest painting, people didn't even know who I was. I just stayed in my studio and did my paintings and then sent them out to the world for them to enjoy. I want people to appreciate the art for the art's sake not because the name of the artist is Eric Waugh. And you know, I have already created 27,000 paintings without anyone even knowing my name. So if I were to try and do museum's I don't even think I could keep up with the demand.

Bongo Boy

Chris Hand: From my perspective getting your stuff into a museum can be handled pretty much in the same way that somebody else handles the distribution and actual sales of your paintings, now. In other words if you were to decide that it was something important, you can find another person to handle getting it into museums.

Eric Waugh: Well, I am not in a rush to do that. I think down on the road that it would be very nice to be in museums. But it's not a high priority for me now. Are you an artist?

Chris Hand: Nope, not at all.

Eric Waugh: It's hard to, explain. Because I am so close to it, you know when you do a painting, you're never necessarily satisfied. So you never think its good enough for certain things or certain people or certain... I don't know... So after 27,000 paintings, I still don't think that I'm ready for that. There is a bit of a change coming, taking my painting to a different level.

End of Part One, if you'd like to read and hear Part Two, click here.

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