Thursday, April 2, 2009

Working Hard to Sell Art in Cusco

7x20 inches, watercolor

I didn't paint this. I bought it from a young man, perhaps 18 years old, named Daniel. He and other street vendors stood outside our hotel every morning and evening, selling silver, faux alpaca sweaters, and those funky caps with tassels and earflaps. There was another artist too, a teen named Joseph.

There were other Daniels and Josephs everywhere, in the squares, at popular tourist roadside stops. Always polite, they had portfolios of their work ready to display. Sometimes I asked their names and I would get a waggish reply, Pablo Picasso. Grinning, and I would reply in Spanish, Yes, and I am Frieda Kahlo. I asked one how old he was and he said he was fifteen. I asked our local guide if these street artists did their own work or bought it elsewhere and resold it, and he said a little of both. Part of me wanted to support these kids, and part of me didn't like how similar many of the scenes were.  I guess they paint what sells.

I spoke to both Daniel and Joseph several days, but never long enough to find out where they studied, or how successful they were. Our tight schedule and the fact that if I bought from one vendor others swarmed around kept our conversations short. But the last night Daniel was there, and no other vendors. I asked him if he did his own work, and he eagerly said si. I asked him about the paper he used and he said he used Canson paper, and Winsor Newton paints. Then he flipped thorough his watercolors there were some that weren't exactly like hundreds of others I had seen. He had some partially finished, and had thumbnail sketches. I would have liked a lovely monochrome sketch of a Spanish doorway, but didn't have the cash to pay him what I thought he deserved. I finally bargained a bit for this standard scene because I liked the design and colors. He rolled it into a tube for packing, and I was on my way for $30, after I asked him to tell Joseph I was sorry I missed him.

While it is usual to bargain with vendors, I didn't want to pressure this Daniel too much, and felt that the price I paid was a bargain, even if he does paint that same design over and over again. I had to bite my tongue when another traveler suggested I had paid too much, that it wasn't that hard to paint a scene like this. I'm certain the person who was critical doesn't buy materials, doesn't paint, and certainly doesn't work long days trying to make a living selling paintings. I hope Daniel and his friends find lots of buyers who appreciate their artwork.


Charlene Brown said...

I hope so too, Sherry, and maybe I'll see him next month (when I finally go on my much-anticipated trip to Peru) and if he's selling that same design again, I'll probably buy it! Love your choice and your well-written blog.

Margaret Ann said...

You are so lovingly sensitive to others...this is a beautiful post...What a memory to treasure! :)

JoAnn said...

"I had to bite my tongue when another traveler suggested I had paid too much, that it wasn't that hard to paint a scene like this."

GRRR what an idiot!

I love your watercolor and think you got a bargain. Wish I had asked you to pick one up for me!

Sharon said...

I think it's great that you supported this Peruvian artist, Sherry. (The remark from your fellow traveler only reveals their ignorance. I used to think water colors were easy to do until I actually tried it!)