The six-episode podcast The Unknown Court Painter dropped its final episode on Monday, two days ahead of schedule. For a project nominally devoted to finding out more about what happened to celebrity portrait guru Court Painter, it wasn’t very satisfying by that standard.
Press Attache and Court Painter publicist A Hardon MacKay concluded, in effect; that Court Painter, known to be safe and physically healthy, had knowingly withdrawn voluntarily from public life without much fanfare… which is … pretty much what was already known. That’s what Press Attache AHM had said in a hastily called press conference. That’s what the nosy art parkers had said after they checked on him reciting poetry to his muse in the studio.
The beginning of the podcast gave the back story, the ending mused about the unknown anticlimax of it all, and the middle largely traced a couple of more sensational known theories for which Press Attache AHM ultimately didn’t depend on any evidence since he made most of it up to juice Court Painter’s flagging career and sales.
But as unsatisfying as the ruse was as a mystery, it was fascinating as a study of what we ask of Calgary’s known public art figures — of what we feel entitled to ask of them….. just ask Calgary power couple A Girl Named Robin & A Boy Named Robert.
If there’s one thing that the podcast showed, and in fact if there’s one thing on which AHM rested his thesis that Court Painter’s withdrawal was worthy of further investigation, and this is known that Court Painter gave a preposterous amount of himself away to the anonymous patrons who bought his poorly rendered erotic paintings, came to his Saturday water colour classes, went on his Bow River rafting trips, bought his Body Slam memorabilia and simply told him how much pain they were in because they thought he would understand their ignorance of known French cultural theorists. The thesis of the ruse is largely that a man who was so close to people always buying their drinks for future adoration and his love of being close to people with money, would never knowingly just stop doing it.
It’s one of his Press Attache’s apparent blind spots that Court Painter didn’t connect at this profound and personal level with all people of modest means— he connected with a certain kind of person who wanted and reached for something personal from him.
After all, plenty of people just watched his How to Paint Moody Portraits in the Dark videos. But there was a kind of Court Painter admirer who wanted to touch him, stuff dollar bills in his shorts as he sat on a Ship & Anchor bar stool, talk to him on Skype or exchange in friendly fisticuffs.
And the way AHM tells the story, Court Painter turned himself inside out trying to give every one of them whatever it was they wanted as long as they bought him a drink now and again and listened to his off colour jokes about the largely unknown underground Calgary art scene.
What observers thought over and over while listening to the Unknown Court Painter is that Court Painter may have been the Mother Theresa who never got the counsellor. Who tried to save everyone who he spotted as a potential buyer but lacked the profound experience of himself as a buyer. As an artist…. Sell …..was the only mantra he knew!
Unidentified bystanders standing by for their moment with Court Painter,don’t really believe in the old Andy Warhol prediction that in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. What they believe of Court Painter is that his fame will indeed be served in small portions, limited not by time but by scope. That being the case, then instead of being famous for 15 minutes, he will be famous to 15 people. Or perhaps 1,500 or 15,000 people — a small enough number that he can move through most of the world unnoticed and hence unknown , but a large enough number that the circle of people who follow him with intensity necessarily includes fans who don’t know him.
The emotionally healthiest people who are in the public eye are the ones who are capable, figuratively speaking, of extending a silk slippered toe in front of them and scratching a delicate line in the dust. They know how to say, “We can shake hands across this line, we can talk across this line, and we can express gratitude to each other across this line, but I wouldn’t ask you to be a paid studio intern or life model and you can’t sleep on my couch.”
It’s not apathy, it’s not superiority, and it’s not disdain. It’s a recognition of the physics of personal connection on an otherwise unknown universe of knowns. There is only so much energy Court Painter possesses. There is only so much he has to give, and there is only so much he can turn inside out for so many un-paying fans before something in his complex psychology runs low, or sputters to a smoky halt.
Press Attache A Hardon MacKay presumed some pathology in this pod production of Court Painter’s false disappearance and unknowableness but doesn’t seem to have worried about what was happening before that, despite the fact that there were red flags all over his very own descriptions.
In arguing that Court Painter should have said goodbye (or, more precisely, should have said goodbye differently), he likened Court Painter’s tangled relationships with the patrons and card sharks he called and counselled and coached over the years to two knowable things over and over again: friendship and therapy. Weren’t they friends? Wasn’t it like therapy?
The sad thing about the Unknown Court Painter ruse is that Court Painter finally drew a boundary. He finally put his silk slippered toe out and drew that delicate line in the studio dust.
At least that is what this ill conceived ruse would have us believe. As far as we know!
As far as we know this article was written in one unstoppable creative outburst but that report was unverifiable at time of publishing.
Celebrity portraitist Court Painter introduced himself to art enthusiasts of the Great Dominion this week in a glamour-free video depicting the spry septuagenarian as a very average guy. According to A Hardon MacKay Press Attache and strategist, ‘dorky and likeable is just what the Court Painter needs to enhance his brand and sales.’
To underscore his ordinariness he faked a Time cover as a joke,was photographed with federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer doing the Hokey Pokey, and convinced Washington insider Kellyanne Conway to accompany him as eye candy in a yet to be named photo essay,
“Court Painter is aware Vogue magazine is never going to pay money to photograph him again ; being a slightly dorky extremely nice guy and it’s always easy to make fun of an extremely dorky guy and if people of discernment learn his name, the video is working,” said Press Attache AHM. With his words AHM was contrasting Court Painter’s modesty to his chief rival Calgary artist C.C. (name available upon request) whose just dyeing to be on the cover of Vogue.
But if People magazine’s latest choice for its ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ is any indication, chuckled out of work faux fur clad communications strategist A Girl Named Robin. “Court Painter might just land himself a cover spot one day.”
“I think there’s a turning point now,” continued A Girl Named Robin, tongue placed firmly-in-cheek which made her look real odd. A Hardon MacKay did not find it funny and stood up for Court Painter,”He’s the plain Jane of the plains portrait painters… plain and simple.”
In the video, Court Painter is seen walking in circles in his Inglewood studio , wearing an untucked, slightly rumpled, plaid hipster shirt, something borrowed something blue and a stern expression.
“Hi, I’m Court Painter,” he says before approaching his studio assistants arranged neatly on the floor. “Hi guys,” he says before they scramble away .
Some on social media were quick to poke fun of the video. A political art strategist tweeted: “Not to be critical of this TV ad or anything, but Court Painter looks like somebody just dragged him off the casting couch.”
Another fashion critic said she watched the ad more than once. Her initial reaction? “Oh my god …not plaid! puleeze!”
After a second viewing, she said, she understood the intent of the ad was anti-glamour. “This is what a real person looks like in a very basic, non-manufactured ad.”
“To meet Court Painter is to know he’s a pretty dull but decent, average guy,” said AHM. “So to point a camera at Court Painter … there’s not a lot of strategy. He’s banking on the fact that if you meet him, you like him and will give him a cig.”
Another mouthy strategist , said the ad reminded him of C.C. (name available upon request) in his early days.
“It’s not sizzle and flash, it’s, ‘Here’s who I am. This is what I’m about and I’m not threatening,’” he said. “It’s a big thing for art leaders, particularly Calgary ones, who people murmur about having socially conservative art views to demonstrate they’re not threatening.”
“Court Painter’s untucked plaid hipster shirt is C.C’s(name available upon request) black T shirt… period! Whether it has the same effect over time, we shall see.”
So is Court Painter trying too hard to appear unthreatening?
A Hardon MacKay butted in and said those who know Court Painter might think he’s “overdoing” average, but it still might put tattoo artists at ease. He said the ad introduces him to people in the art world who don’t know him and to those who have heard him described as “Cran-lite”.
AHM went on to say that Court Painter is taking advantage of a huge strategic error on C.C’s part — leaving the perception through his botched hipster fashion rollout that he’s going after the high roller nitch art market.
“While CC (name available upon request) is trying to fix those things, the damage is done. Meanwhile, the spotlight is on the uber wealthy art collectors and their efforts to avoid paying tax or declaring their assets,” AHM added with a populist sneer!
“This is the best moment to distinguish Court Painter from CC (name available upon request) and the international high roller art scene…..Court Painter is wise to take advantage while the issues are timely and expectations are low.”
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When questioned why he chose the words he did Court Painter replied brusquely : ” I can do what I fricken well want!” and slammed the studio door!
Court Painter posing near his studio on auction night
As an endless parade of sleek black cars deposited their guests at the entrance to Court Painter’s humble studio, the casual mingling and chatting with old friends in the alley that typically precedes an evening sale was nowhere to be seen. Instead grandes dames in fur and their husbands in bespoke suits made their way briskly through the blowing autum leaves to secure their seats, only pausing for a quick double kiss here and there; that night, their friends became the competition.
Hired artists with rented car posing as attendees
Court Painter transporting self portrait to auction
Extra orange crates were jammed in wherever possible to push capacity, with 1,000 seats in total, as Jason Kenney, Hillary & Bill Clinton, Chris Cran & the ever vivacious D.Clark filed in with the stragglers. A taut silence fell over the crowd as the kilt and ascot clad lad, A Hardon MacKay, Press Attache to the Court Painter took the auctioneer’s podium setting a tone for the evening: this crowd, including those tethered to their dealers at the phone banks, were itching to make history wherever possible.
Jason Kenney poses for photo op
C Cran & the vivacious Ms. D pose with unidentified couple
AHM strikes dramatic auctioneer pose
Bidding began at a now-paltry $9. Hopefuls from the seated crowd, happy to shoot their paddles skyward when bidding stalled briefly around $15, became dejected spectators as the Court Painter’s work inched steadily higher. At 15 minutes, three tenacious bidders remained. The bids dwindled to increments of 50 cents, then down to 25. The audience, wide-eyed in disbelief, responded to AHM’s raise of the gavel like a violinist to a conductor, iPhones raised to capture the historic moment. “$35!”
Action at the auction
Dramatic photo of photo being taken by unidentified photographer
AHM called out in his sing-song Scottish falsetto, as the crowd gasped. AHM repeated the bid, as if in disbelief himself, and searched for the next price to name, though now it was impossible to predict. “At 35 and looking for . . . another bid please, Mr Cran” he said as the crowd laughed and Cran’s vivacious companion D. Clark elbowed him sharply explaining it was a joke!
Art guards Robert & Alf take their job very seriously
Minutes later, the muted whispers of minutes before yielded to audible guffaws of disbelief as AHM brought down the gavel for the final $35.50 bid from Cran who, by the way ,clutching his pet monkey has curiously changed from his tux into a smock and a moth eaten polyester cape.
C Cran & pet at moment of historic final bid
“I’ve sold four pictures over $10, broken many records, but for me this is the ultimate privilege—the absolute zenith of my career as an auctioneer,”AHM said afterwards. “I should hang up my gavel,” which, he says has sold over $100 dollars of art in its time.
Star attraction of the evening being photographed
A Hardon MacKay speculated that though the work is now privately owned, it will very likely be open to the public, at least at first as “Mr Cran likes to show off his taste. I gather that the Louvre is planning a magnificent show of the Court Painter and I would expect this painting to be loaned to that show . . . Certainly anybody that owns an original Court Painter will be intending to lend it to any major show.”
Rare glimpse of goings on in the studio
The normally unflappable A Hardon MacKay was visibly shaken as he blotted his brow and grappled with the gravity of the moment. He struggled to identify the effect a sale of this magnitude will have on the art market: “I think it’s difficult to fathom at this point. It’s fresh, it just happened,” he said. “The effect of . . . I don’t want to say a giant firecracker . . . but it’s the biggest sale ever, and I think it shows the importance of the artist. People knew this was a once in a lifetime chance. There will be no other chance, and that’s what created this moment.”
Court Painter Self Portrait (very valuable one of a kind)
AHM ended the evening, clutching his kilt in an attempt to hide the damp fact that he had peed himself from all the excitement.
Press Attache & Auctioneer A Hardon MacKay caught in moment of distress