People in the world of outsider art in Vancouver have been telling me that I have to meet “Ray”, but they couldn’t tell me where I might find him. They said he was “around” and that I would meet him sooner or later. Well, I finally met Ray by sheer chance, when he was painting outside the Vancouver Art Gallery last week.
I noticed an artist with a shopping cart full of art supplies: boards to paint on, big cans of paint, an assortment of brushes. He seemed to be packing up for the day, so I wandered over to see what was happening. I soon learned that I was standing in front of Ray, and a small collection of his artwork. He was delighted to hear that I knew about him.
Ray is in his 50s, and says he has been painting for a long time, but couldn’t be more specific than that. Apparently his style changes frequently and he just happens to be creating abstract work right now. He loves to paint – that’s just who he is. I was curious to know how he sells his work. He sells at least one painting a day right off the street. The best sales are at night when the pubs empty out. He says his work is owned by hundreds of people in Vancouver.
I learned something disturbing when I asked if any galleries carried his work. Sadly, Ray says that gallery owners buy up a lot of his work for a few dollars, then sell them in their galleries at highly marked up prices. I asked if they gave him a percentage of sales, and they do not. We discussed the injustice of it all. Ray knows the galleries are taking advantage of him, and is resigned to the situation. Having just written about ethical issues in outsider art (and about to attend a conference on the topic), I am acutely aware how life is for street artists. Their personal circumstances leave them quite powerless in the commercial art world.