Alan Van Every: A Bangkok-based Artist

artist-Bangkok-ThailandAlan Van Every is an artist who lives and creates in Bangkok. But, before coming to Thailand in early 2008, Alan’s studio location was in a building that had once been an “Ice house” and in the 1970s was converted to use by artists. Several of the artists whom had lived there started and ran a new not for profit gallery which was called Hallwalls. There was a lot of new government money around at that time and this particular group of artists was able to get national recognition and later move to NYC and have what have become illustrious careers. Two of the most famous of them were Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman.

In 1991 after living in the “ice house” for 6 years Alan decided that it was time to go back to school and get his masters degree. His father had died a year before and had always wished that, so Alan enrolled at the State University of Buffalo in the masters program to get a dual degree in painting and sculpture.

In January of that year a small local “Artist Gallery” which was located in the ice house complex of buildings lost its state funding and closed its doors. Alan participated in the last group show there and realized that this was an opportunity to take advantage of, while at the same time helping an artist community that was being ignored by the larger not for profits. Hallwalls and a couple of other galleries in Buffalo had become large venues which didn’t show very much of what was being made by artists in Buffalo at the time. And the fact was that these products of 1970s government spending were continually under fiscal attack from budget cutters and a flattering economy.

In March of 1991 Big Orbit Gallery was opened and Alan was the founder, director and curator of this new concept in not for profit thinking.  He felt that as long as a gallery has a product to produce and was allowed to take donations and sell things at the same time there was really no way that the operation could fail. The idea would be to keep staff and space expenses as low as possible and use recourses to market the gallery as helping the artist community locally. The gallery had an artist handmade art gift shop, a membership show which all the gallery members participated in; a Christmas gift giving sale/ show, all things which would help the artists to sell the work and at the same time help the gallery to stay in business. At the same time the gallery had an agenda to also show the work which was most challenging and which had what Alan called poetry. The space was also used for art performance shows and avant-garde movie nights (Buffalo has/had some internationally renowned avant-garde) by filmmakers who donated time and did screenings of work. The gallery also had some off the wall events such as hosting a square dancing night with a “caller” to instruct all the participants.

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The gallery quickly had some success and Alan was becoming well known in the art community in the western NY region of the state. As an artist this was indeed helping him to sell his own work as well. As he was enrolled in the university at the time, the gallery was also getting support of students and some of the staff. Unfortunately this was also causing some problems with some members of the teaching staff at the university though too. As Alan started his second year of school he was told that he would not be receiving his Teaching assistantship (teaching 4 undergraduate classes and receiving a salary and free tuition for the year) as he had a letter from the previous year stating that he would indeed get one he had to go as far as threaten legal action to get it to happen. This didn’t make certain staff members or Alan too happy about his position at the school. Also Alan noted there was a general animosity growing with the media attention he was given. Although he generally did not care much about others opinions about his efforts or their insecurities there were some incidents at the school that happened which affected him.

Alan finished his time at university but one professor gave one of his class grades as a “C” there by insuring that if Alan wanted to get his degree, he would have to be enrolled in one more class for one more semester. He had always enjoyed teaching but this small politics in the university and the successes he was enjoying in his career as an artist made him believe he would be better off not having that degree from that college.

About this time Alan was given a 2 person show at the Burchfield-Penny Art Center for the following spring. He was working to save money and get ready to move to NYC. He gave up working at Big Orbit Gallery and he got new directors and it still exists 19 years later, although not in a form that he is particularly pleased with.

After having some success he realized he was ready to learn more about being an artist. He also began to understand that success in the art world would mean having a degree from a school in NY City and thought he could always finish his education there.

So, in January of 1993 Alan moved to Chinatown on “The Bowery” in NYC. He felt that this move would be the best place to be in the center of the art world. He soon got a job working for the sculptor Dennis Oppenheim’s studio as a fabricator. Dennis had a show coming up in a few months and his regular fabricator was making a large sculpture for him in the Caribbean and could not help with the show. Alan needed the work and Dennis needed work that had a moving/ kinetic component to it, so Alan’s experience as a mechanic and making machines would come in handy. The only problem of course was the fact that after the job was finished Alan would be looking for some other work again.

This was to become a reoccurring obstacle to living and surviving in NYC in the next 13 years that he stayed there. In fact by his own estimation Alan switched jobs in NY a total of 38 times. He worked for several artists, worked part time doing installations at several auction houses and museums; he drove trucks and delivered and moved art all along the eastern part of the nation, he even gave painting lessons  and had at least one student who actually also became an artist. He worked at several large galleries and even owned one himself for a year and a half. It was a great education and life for a young guy but after a while he became a bit jaded about what it would actually take to become a known artist who could make a living from his work in NYC. He was involved in the art community and did actually have one solo show and was involved in some group shows but it didn’t pay his rent and his landlord raised it on a consistent bit yearly and then later yearly basis. Finally Alan decided he needed to get out, he loved NYC and now thought of it as his home but he could move and put his belongings in storage for a while so, why not?

(To be continued)

Author V.M. Simandan

is a Bangkok-based Romanian-born writer, archer, speaker, traveler, and vlogger.

More posts by V.M. Simandan

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