Hillary Clinton collage by Peter Edler 2007
For Saturday, June 16, 2007, we had planned a showing of my paintings for family and friends at my studio, 21 Värtavägen, Stockholm, which I’d morphed into a gallery space. Since I can be a slow, fastidious planner and worker, this had taken me all week. By the time 2pm Saturday rolled around I felt heavy and sort of washed out. Then, ten minutes before the first guests arrived – presto, I got my second wind and perked up very nicely for the actual event. Eventually some 35 people showed up and we all had a great time.
My daughter October and a friend, Markus, catered the event Lebanese style, with hummus, babaganoush, assorted dips, chips and cheeses, salmon, pastries, coffee, juices and Amé – no alcoholic beverages. By 3pm the party was in full swing, with me walking around like a museum guide, narrating those large paintings and their stories. Since no sales prices were given, indeed no selling intended, people were relaxed and happy throughout.
Nevertheless, at one point, an old acquaintance – a wealthy American widow named Eunice - called Uni by her friends, offered SEK200,000 (USD30,000) for a 40x33cm collage on canvas depicting Hillary Clinton smoking a joint, with the message Smoking Can Cause Fatal Diseases – You Know The Difference! Naturally I told her the canvas was hers. However, as the afternoon wore on she started backing away from her offer, jokingly suggesting I might drop a few zeros from the original amount, like 3 or 4, to reduce the sales price to 30 or even 3 dollars. We shared a good laugh on that one, but it started me thinking.
It occurred to me that my vernissage was really more like an oldfashioned turn-of-the-century salon, and then I realized with a psychic slam that this was, or had just been, the friggin’ turn-of-the-century. Imagine - in one instant of serene clarity I had acquired an entire century! Suddenly here I was, asking myself What now? What now, In this suddenly truly fresh new century? What was ahead for me as a painter the way it would have been ahead for a 72-year-old painter in 1907? A staggering thought, the answer equally unsettling – cubism, expressionism, modernism and post-modernism, op and pop, photo-realism, neonostalgia, avantretro … oopsadaisy, with neonostalgia and avantretro I’d vaulted into the yet unlived future of this, the 21st century. Suddenly I was into art fiction, or fictionart - exactly what I was painting or at least hoped I was.
This, of course, was an eternity loop, it would go on and on and on – ad infinitum, ad nauseam. A fresh dimension needed to be introduced, one that would add a little excitement. That dimension was … of course … Money, with a capital M. Painting honestly and well is one thing, getting honestly and well paid for it quite another, but, aside from the actual daily labor of painting, that’s where the action is - and the rub! As Shakespeare, ask Goya.
Me, I asked myself why living artists like Jeff Koons or Lucian Freud command enormous prices for their work, and dead artists like Gustaf Klimt and Egon Schiele downright astronomical prices for theirs, and what it might take for me to achieve the status of a living Koons or Freud before I went upstairs to join Klimt and Schiele in that Big Studio in the Sky. What it took was a phone call from Uni informing me that she’d thought about the Hillary collage and how we’d bantered back and forth about it and … well, to make a long story short, would I take 10,000 for it?
Dollars? I asked. Yes, US Dollars, she replied. "It’s yours," I told her. "But there’ll be a rider on it."
"What’s a rider?" I explained to her that a rider comprises a number of contractual clauses meant to protect an artist from being ripped off for vast sums of money if his or her painting should make a splash in the market. Specifically, in this instance, this meant that Uni would contractually agree to pay me fifty percent of all money received from a resale of the Hillary collage that was over and above double the original purchase price. In other words if she bought Hillary for USD10,000 and sold it for 30 thousand US, I would received half of the 10,000 over and above double the price - 20,000. So she would then pay me 5,000, which would still leave her with a 15,000 dollar profit. She said she’d think it over and would call me back, and did, ten minutes later, telling me that what I proposed looked like a fair deal to her.
I told her there was one other thing – a clause in the contract that obliged any future Hillary buyer to
sign an agreement with me coveringon the next resale,
the wording exactly as in my contract with the first buyer, i.e., with her, Eunice. Uni responded with a burst of raucous laughter. "You certainly know how to sew them up, don’t you, Pete." I fibbed then, telling her I had a couple of top-class contract attorneys well versed in Swedish and in international law. (A couple of top-class contract attorneys was certainly what I needed.) However, there wasn’t time - Uni might change her mind again.
That evening I took Hillary over to Uni’s ritzy crib on Stockholm’s Haute-Bourgeoisie Strandvägen and we signed the contract I myself had drawn up. Wednesday the following week USD10,000 was received into my offshore account – my very first bona fide sale … but I’ve digressed.
Toward the end of that wonderful vernissage, with only a handful of people lingering, I let down the venetian blinds and popped in one of my favorite DVDs – Cab Calloway and his band, in the early days, the thirties and forties. There we sat, watching one of the great showmen of the 20th century do his thing - with the sort of abandon that immortalized American enthusiasm, humor and drive. Then, after everybody had left, I turned to Cab Calloway again, for old times sake.
There was still light when I went to bed up here in the Land of the Midnight Sun, and light again when I woke at 4am – a question from a turbulent dream about America reverberating through my mind: What on earth was Hillary running for? I mean, after Cab Calloway! Then, with a start of satisfaction and delight, I knew that no matter how or what Ms Clinton might do as a presidential hopeful or otherwise, I’d be ten thousand smackaroonies ahead of her silly game. Eat your heart out, Bill – I did it for Cab!
©Peter Edler 2007