Kevin Frost

Whence Painting?

Work in… egress? Manipulated AI-Assisted Digital Weirdness In Progress

I recently joined in the mad rush to try and sell some art for cheap to Jerry Gogosian, and no, Historians of Mars, that’s not a typo. And while I doubt she’ll buy – I am anything but trendy, and there she got over 2,000 submissions, more about which below – the act of thinking about selling made me wonder another thing: how exactly did I come to painting?

(Of course as with many things that try to take over your life, it’s tempting to think of yourself as chosen: painting came to me! But I’m trying to cull the more obviously self-serving mythologies, Gentle Reader, so not having any of that today.)


As a child, I was lucky to live in a house that had art in it. Not a lot, but it’s so easy to forget that most people live a life bereft of art, and this is especially tragic for children.

We had some original works. Things I can remember? A couple of bad oil paintings by my father – he had a very good hand for drawing and it’s a shame he never did anything with it, but the paintings were remarkable only for the fact that they were paintings and paintings were rare. We had some wood carvings, little things from when we lived in the forest and one of the neighbors made them for us. We had two framed photographs by a family friend who was a hobby photographer and quite good (we still have these in the family). Some things I might call textile art now, but in the day they were not much remarked upon. A Thai rubbing of men at war, some riding elephants (my brother still has this). The odd random bit of folk art: “collectible” glass plates licenses from an illustrator’s estate.

My brother and I were encouraged in our creativity, in that 1970’s way of just letting the kids play and trying to buy them the toys they liked. For me that meant a lot of drawing.

For a while I wanted to be a cartoonist. Or a forester (a friend actually became one, so it was less crazy than I thought). Or a journalist or maybe a biologist or really, any job where you could use a typewriter. Oh, be careful what you wish for in changing times!

I was 16 when I first went to a big-time modern art museum. It blew my mind: I was already very aware of and into illustration, sometimes crossing into fine art without my realizing it; but this was different, and I was hooked. The meeting of mind and material as equals.

Not much later I went to my first dokumenta – oh to see that again through my older eyes!

I can remember that sometime around then, maybe a bit before, I had started messing around with acrylics, and Lordy were those paintings bad. “Paintings.” I have at least one friend from long ago, who still has one, and I swear that before I die I will bribe him to destroy it.

At the same time, under the influence of all this hardcore contemporary art – the most moving to me, at the time, more the sculptures and installations than the paintings – I did a number of angsty bad watercolors befitting my age. And a few half-decent photographs: I had an eye already, it just wasn’t very focused.

And then off to college and actually learning some things about Art and How She is Made – more photographs (getting better), some computer graphics (bad), some drawing (so-so, the hand not loose yet); and some very forgettable studies in acrylic. I was starting to dare to think of myself as an artist, but it was still in the Jeder Mensch ein Künstler sense.

I was meeting some real artists: some young, some old. I was certainly seeing many around. I was beginning to hear the calling, just maybe; or at least I was beginning to understand that you could do this for a life, whatever exactly “this” became once you got better at it.

Also, I was reading really good books – and in general, learning a lot.

Improving your ideas is the fastest way to improve your art.

Say you’re an astrobiologist, slaving away in the salt mines of Ames. Your greatest ambition is to meet (and hopefully greet) an alien. You hope to achieve this before Elon Musk invades Mars, because then he’s pretty likely to take you with him, and the role of lackey always held some appeal. Yes-man, or yes-woman, or whatever that is in Alienese.

OK, so why are you doing anything at all besides talking to octopodeses?

Today I found a very large cockroach lounging by my drain. This is not unusual in Bangkok: in fact it’s so usual that I don’t think of it as in any way reflecting badly on my fancy condo building. I trapped her (him? it?) in a plastic box, and set her free outside, and ten hours later I was still uneasy while eating some thinly sliced red cabbage. Because bugs are a different kind of alien: as any Kafka fan will tell you, they’re the ultimate alien, so far from us that we can at best deposit in them our own anxieties, and at worst be eaten alive by their babies.

Mammals, on the other hand, are simply us. You watch a rat scurry into a pipe and you know exactly what it’s thinking, even if it makes you uneasy.

Birds are pretty close: it’s easy to get into the mind of a raven and with a little work you can do the chickens too, and once you’ve done the mind-meld with these dinosaurs you’re almost ready for the other reptiles.

But the octopus is different! Differently different! Here we have a creature of vast, indisputable intelligence, and yet it has a mind we are entirely unable to imagine. We have no idea what it’s like to be an octopus, and we never well, we never can. And yet: here they are, aliens among us, surely down for a chat if we can just figure out how.

(I’d start with making them live longer. But that’s just me. You might start by giving them the run of the server farm.)

Right, well anyway, back to my story about painting.


Jerry Gogosian, aka Hilde Lynn Helphenstein: an artist, gallerist, memelord, critic, MBA student in absentia, fly in the ointment of mega-galleries, A-List art podcaster, “influencer” with a high-powered agent: she often argues that contemporary art is overpriced.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, yes: I strongly agree that the whole system would work better for everyone except the mega-galleries if the $500K paintings were $50K paintings, the $50K paintings were maybe $5K paintings, and more people bought them.

That last part is where it gets tricky. I really doubt that the tech bro (or bro-ette) who will buy shoes for $1K or a watch for $5K or a computer for $10K, and has never bought an original artwork, is suddenly going to spend a few grand on an artwork that in today’s arrangement has a price tag of, say, fifty. And I doubt that because there is a lot of really good art available for Jerry’s target prices right now, already, if you care enough to look.

I know because that’s the art I buy: really good shit, but almost always under a grand. My top FOMO experience, the one expensive thing I really wish I’d bought but didn’t, was 2,000 EUR at the time. The highest-priced artworks that are on my actual wishlist for one of these days, when I can afford them, are all under five grand right now.

In other words, the world Hilde-Jerry wants to see exist already exists and it’s mostly doing just fine, but it’s not getting any non-fake Rolexes for the working artists, and the Yale MFA crowd is not friends with these people. Which, if anything, is a good sign: have you noticed how much same-same there is in the fancy galleries these days?

So Jerry-Hilde did a thing: she announced to her many followers that she wanted to buy a single work of art for $500, and you should message her if you had something for sale at that price.

Now, this is a very Heisenbergian situation, and she did acknowledge that fact: what Jerry Effing Gogosian can buy for $500 is, presumably, not what you can buy for $500.

I half-heartedly offered to sell any of my abstract-figurative pieces for that price, but I was late to the game – she got thousands of offers. Also, I admit I was very half-hearted about it: I recommended two artists I collect, in addition to offering my own work.

Jilde-Herry had an assistant throw together a pretty bad set of PDFs of the shortlist, which was long. This she made public, which was a good gesture! I doubt she got permission, but the whole point of offering discount art to The Gogosian is for the publicity, so whatevs.

In the end she bought one of course. Funny: I don’t think it was one of the best in her short list. Would I pay $500 for it? Dunno. I’ll call that a fair price; but I wouldn’t want to own that painting at any price.

(And to get the ego questions out of the way: no, I wasn’t on the short list; yes, I was offering a Jerry Price; and yes, I pay for her newsletter.)

Those big ugly PDFs, though, were the really interesting bit. Let’s say it’s the convergence of three characteristics:

  1. Follow @jerrygogosian.
  2. Don’t have gallery representation.
  3. Could really use the money, or the exposure, or both.

And OK, to be honest, however highly we all like to think of ourselves, that’s a group to which I reluctantly do belong. A Venn diagram in whose middle I remain stuck.

I have no idea how the art stacked up that did not make the long shortlist. I don’t follow JerryHildeJerry for her taste in art, per se. Sometimes she calls out work I find amazing, other times she celebrates the dull and ordinary. Which is fine, “you do you” and all that.

Looking at the PDFs, and being honest with myself as far as possible, I think my best work was as good as anything on that shortlist. And the really good news, for my fragile art-ego, was that in the sea of sameness my work is very much not the fashion. Which I see as a positive.

That said, there was some damn good work in the mix. Some.

The other thing this whole episode of the Jerry Show got me thinking about was pricing. (Yes, I still plan to get the shop working, one of these days.) More specifically: since I have a lot of art, and at least in theory there are people out there just like me, buying stuff for not much money, I think that regardless of how (or if!) I end up pricing the main work, the scary faces on paper and canvas, the better abstracts; separately, I should have stuff available for cheap. I’m thinking maybe $100 a pop, standard shipping included. Or maybe even cheaper, maybe $50? For small works on paper I can stick between two pieces of cardboard and send in the regular mail.

And on that note, Dear Reader, I leave you with a small picture on paper that I would, yes indeed, sell you for $500. From Budapest, in 2004. With a bit of damage, I now notice. Twenty fucking years, lordy.

Something something circles whatever. 2004, Budapest, acrylic and inks on paper, A5.