Life As An Itinerant Artist

Stories and anecdotes from fifteen years on the art show circuit. 

Deposits & Withdrawals at Tucson’s 4th Avenue Street Fair

Deposits and Withdrawals

Back again in Michigan.

Greeted by rain, cold and a flurry of snow two Sundays past. Brrr! I’m no sooner home than off again to Greenville, South Carolina, for Artisphere, which promises to be a well-run show with just 100 hand-picked artists. Proud to say I’m hand-picked. I got a call from Liz Rundorrf who is the liaison between the artists and the show last week as I was driving — can’t recall that happening before. She was just checking in to see if I had any questions. Flashback to Tucson…

Corn Pointer

Our friend Scott saw a woman gesturing with a turkey leg in his booth…

The Tucson show was interesting, to say the least. 400+ artists, artisans, crafters and dealers in junk. The 4th Avenue Street Fair is not billed as an art fair, but as a street fair, and after being in the thick of it for three days, I can see why. It has a huge amount of energy, some good, some not so good. Fourth Avenue is pretty dirty, even for a street. The show is big, too big, maybe, and filled with all sorts of interesting detritus. Toe rings. Dog visors. Lots and lots of street food. Beer. Sausage and turkey legs on a stick. Strolling performers, including the “Stop Abortion Now” sideshow, complete with 3′ x 4′ posters of bloody dead fetuses on a stick. (The posters, not the babies). The fine artists are buried beneath the rubble of this street circus — maybe two, maybe three dozen of us.

We stick out like a sore thumb. Sitting in the shade, or hiding in our booths, we peer out, waiting for the constant tide of humanity streaming past to notice our work.

Beer is popular

Maybe I’m in the wrong business… beer seemed to be selling quite well.

A few do. Conversations ensue. A few pieces are sold. Beer is a hot ticket on this lovely day. My neighbor to the left is a lovely watercolorist who was at the Tempe show the week prior. There, she had one of her best shows ever. Today, she’s having trouble getting people to even stop for a minute to thoughtfully consider her work. The jewelers on t’other side are doing okay with their beautiful Native American pieces. Other artists up and down the street roll their eyes. “How did we end up here?” the expressions seem to say. The decorated switch plates and the coke tab jewelry seems to be selling quite briskly. Our friend Dave Piper is here, and he stops by our booth two or three times a day to crack jokes. Even Dave isn’t selling as many sandals as he normally does.

Dave Piper and Karyn

Dave Piper and Karyn swap stories on 4th Avenue

For me, it was another show to help defray the cost of the gas to get to Arizona. Two shows are always better than one. Or so goes my reasoning.

And in the end, the carnival atmosphere brings a few customers into the cool shade of my canopy. We have the opportunity to meet a distant cousin for dinner on Saturday night, as well as break bread with Karyn’s cousin, Linda, who is down from Scottsdale with Uncle Bob, to see the giant rose in Tombstone, and to visit us at the show. And the show is fun, in an odd sort of way. Many many people enjoy this show, but mainly for the carnival atmosphere, the food, the music that is constantly blaring. When the show is over, everything is filthy dirty from the mesquite barbeque smoke, the tobacco users and the grime on the asphalt. We dolly out, as there was no way we can get the trailer onto 4th Avenue. We found a spot on the street a block away, and it isn’t too bad, actually. I don’t suffer too much withdrawal as I drive away from Tucson towards Las Cruces, and I’m actually able to deposit a small sum into my happiness account.

April 28, 2008

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  1. I’ve meaning to write to you for a while now. It’s finally time now. I walked around the show in Tucson and saw 8-10 booths of photos, of these there only 2 or 3 that were actually good photography, not counting the guy who shoots only eagles, wolves, and penguins, etc. (cute photos only).

    I stopped and saw your work…I thought it was outstanding, I really liked it the way you matted your prints, the presention of the photos, everything had a touch of class to it. But the best part was that your photos were good, as we say in the business a “good shooter”. I didn’t say anything to you, you looked like you couldn’t wait for this show to be over, and I understand why.

    Here’s a note to you. I gathered all the business cards from the photographers at the time that had them. I’m surprised at the ones who didn’t have cards. Anyway I looked at their sites and most were not very good, but again yours was good and the blog that you write is good reading, keep up the good work. I really like like reading it.

    Take care and thanks

  2. It looks a bit like someone attempted to make a deposit at the withdrawal kiosk.

  3. Tucson was, looking back, quite a bit of fun, but somewhat of a carnival. I had some after-show orders, and the street traffic was non-stop. Quality of the show is very much crafts and buy/sell, which tends to annoy the “serious” artists, such as myself and the other 25 artists at Tucson. But the 4th Street Fair is what it is, and doesn’t pretend to be something else.

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