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It's the Pitts: Dead men’s prices

Lee Pitts Published on 24 September 2015

I love art, and the walls of my home are covered with it. I’m talking real art, not that abstract/impressionism garbage like the stuff shown at a modern art show in New York years ago where the judges accidentally gave “Best In Show” to an air conditioning vent that wasn’t even entered in the competition.

Or the “art” created by “artists” like Darryl Sapien and Michael Hinton in 1971 when they wrestled bare naked in a 10-foot-diameter circle of steer manure at the San Francisco “Art” Institute. Critics called it a “masterpiece.”

Nor did I care for Christo’s 1976 piece called “Running Fence,” which was actually an 18-foot-tall fence that ran on for 24 miles through California. I use the past tense because it was taken down after two weeks, much to the relief of residents of the area.

I believe Christo’s fence was the only piece of “art” ever created that required post-hole diggers and an environmental impact report. Not only was it not art, in my opinion, it wasn’t even a good fence – as it was made out of nylon cloth that any three-legged lamb could’ve busted through.

I also happen to really love cartoons like those by Jerry Palen, Mad Jack, Earl and another of my favorite cartoonists, Al Capp. He did a strip years ago called “Andy Capp,” and I grew up reading it. Al Capp said that abstract art was “A product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.” I couldn’t agree more.

Although I like all kinds of real art, what I really love is western art painted by true Westerners. I’d rather look at a propane tank made to look like a corn on the cob painted by a prunie than I would a masterpiece created by another New Yorker who just came West to pillage and plunder and then hurried back home. Western art, my foot.

That’s why I much prefer Russell to Remington. Russell was born and raised in the gateway to the West and had the good sense to take up permanent residence here. He chose to live among us, whereas Remington was a New Yorker who just came west because he liked what the Western light did for his paintings.

It’s true he owned a sheep ranch in Kansas for a brief period, but he didn’t last long before going back home, never to return. In 1884, the St. Lawrence Plaindealer said of Remington, “He is an enthusiastic admirer of Kansas, not as a home, but as a place to make money.” For Remington, the cowboy was cash.

I’m a painter myself, you know? Not just of houses either. I even sold a painting once to a patron of the arts, but I had to promise to never pick up a paintbrush again. But I did. I can draw rocks OK, a passable house and a faintly recognizable tree, but my cows and horses look very much alike. Sometimes even I can’t tell the difference.

What I am really atrocious at is people – probably because I haven’t studied them like I have animals. People simply hold no interest for me. I’ll be the first to admit that right now there is not a huge demand for my work, but remember, Van Gogh only sold two paintings while he was alive, and I’m already halfway there.

Now Van Goghs are selling for “dead men’s prices,” and I’m confident that after I’m dead and gone, my paintings too will be fetching dead men’s money.

Just the other day, an artist friend of mine came to our house and admired a few of my paintings – which hang on our refrigerator door as if they were done by some kindergartner. (Only, the kindergartner’s are probably better.) The artist took one look at my ranch scenes and said, “I’m not really into abstract or impressionism.”

Then he gave me the greatest encouragement I’ve had in my painting career yet by looking at one ranch scene and saying, “Those are cattle, aren’t they?”

“Yes!” I exclaimed. “You could tell they are cows and not horses!”  end mark