Recently I had the opportunity to raise the value of a painting I own by firmly establishing its provenance by sitting down with the artist who made the work and learning how it came to be. Around 2012, I was offered the opportunity to purchase a painting by Eyob Mergia for well below market value from a charitable organization that received the painting as a donation. What spurred me to make the purchase was the beautiful color, specifically a mixture of pink, peach and orange colors that vibrate as a background for several brown and blue figures. The color in this painting engages my senses every day as I pass it by or sit in a chair looking at it. Even though I knew nothing about the creation of this painting, I enjoyed having it in my home.
In November Jon Piper told me that Eyob would be visiting his shop, Piper Arts (formerly Piper Custom Framing and Fine Art Gallery), for a few days in the following week. I asked Jon if I could drop off my painting to be signed and if possible meet with Eyob to get the story behind the painting. Jon arranged a meeting and I sat down and talked with Eyob.
Eyob explained to me that he painted this picture in 2010. One evening he had gone out to a bar downtown with several friends and when he arrived back at his studio that night he started this painting to commemorate the enjoyable experience he had just had. He further explained that at that point he was learning a lot from the work of Pablo Picasso and African Art and these two influences can be seen in the painting. He then told me the painting is called “Saturday Night.” Eyob did sign the painting and I have an audio recording of him telling me about the painting and the circumstances that brought it into existence.
For six years I had hung the painting unframed on my living room wall. I took this opportunity to have Jon put a simple black box frame around the painting to both protect the surface and to set it off from the wall. Now the painting is a whole new experience for me. The physical object is more dominant, more impressive and my interest has been renewed. My family have all been surprised by how its place in the room has been strengthened and made new.
We collect art mostly for the stories an artwork can tell us about ourselves. An opportunity to learn more about that story through a discussion with the artist is one way to make the ownership experience better. Well thought out framing and presentation makes the story richer for all viewers, and of course, getting the painting signed by the artist is always a smart thing to do. I feel lucky for the opportunity that presented itself to meet with the artist, and hear the back-story; it made a treasured object even more meaningful.
Robert Aldern was an American modernist whose work (painting and drawing) was informed by the landscape of the Great Plains and specifically by the muddy colors and small seasonal shifts of Southeast South Dakota. Aldern was part of the post WWII generation of artists that expanded university art education by leaps and bounds; he spent a career teaching at SDSU, USD and finally Augustana University.
His personal artwork is a response to the local landscape. I never met Mr. Aldern but have come to appreciate his work for its visceral strength and keen observation. Work that appears simple and direct becomes a nuanced meditation on small color shifts and translucent patterns, available to the viewer if she is willing to continue looking without preconception. His work is not to be missed.
Piper Arts, formerly Piper Custom Framing, has a meaty selection of work on display though the end of the year. This may be your only opportunity to see a strong selection of Aldern’s work in one place.