It Spoke to Me

By Lloyd Graff

I bought a gorgeous piece of art last Saturday, a painting of an “L” Train clacking through an apartment jungle in Chicago. At least, that’s what it represented to me. Another person might see something different. That’s part of the beauty of art.

I didn’t expect to be buying a painting. On the spur of the moment after a workout with my trainer I was driving home, focusing on NOT stopping at Dairy Queen, when I remembered there was an art fair in downtown Homewood, Illinois. I spotted a parking spot at Starbucks, went in and bought a bottled water and asked if I could park for a half an hour or so. They were cool, and I walked over to the fair. I saw Charlie Celander who used to be the art director of Screw Machine World in the early days of the magazine. He was in a booth with his daughter Anna who was showing her work. The “L” piece immediately caught my eye. That’s the way it is with art. If it doesn’t speak to you, yell out to you, when you first experience it, who needs it. I talked to Anna, who remembered me from the magazine days, and she told me about her work as an art therapist. I wanted to buy it then but figured it was wise for my wife, Risa, to see it because we would have to negotiate wall space in the house, though I also had Graff-Pinkert as a fall back location. Risa was working out at the time, and we had a dinner engagement in a couple hours, but I figured I could get her to see it before the fair closed at 6:00 pm.

“L” Train Painting by Anna Celander.

Risa arrived around 5:30 and checked out some Peruvian fashions I liked (that she didn’t like). Then I led her over to the booth with the painting. But on the way over we met some old friends, Joel and Gayla Kahan, who were grazing at the fair. I told them about the painting, and they wanted to see Anna Celander’s work. Joel loved the “L” piece, too. Both wives were a little less enamored of it.

Joel wanted to buy it, which only increased my desire for it. I asked Anna for “her best price,” which I’m sure my son Noah would have said was a poor negotiating tactic, but I considered her asking price of $525 framed and covered with glass to be something I could afford anyway. She stammered and went down to $475. Then my friend Joel stepped up and indicated he really wanted it too.

Impulsively, I said to him, “why don’t we flip for it.” Anna was a bit taken aback by this twist of events because nobody had ever sought out her work like this before. She offered to do another piece or make a copy, but both of us were really only interested in this “one and only” original.

Fortunately, my “flip for it” gambit knocked Joel and Gayla off their game. Joel Kahan is a gastroenterologist, not a used machinery dealer. Competing for a material object of unknown value at an art fair was not exactly a colonoscopy, so he gracefully backed off, and I immediately handed my credit card to the grateful artist as her Dad began wrapping it up.

I felt good, not because I beat Joel out of the “L” painting, but because I was decisive about something that really spoke to me.

It harkened back to 13 years ago when I commissioned a college kid named Mike Eisenwasser to paint an original mural on the side of a 40-foot steel shipping container to flank the driveway of our office. I had liked his work that had been displayed on the walls of my local Starbucks so I proposed this crazy assignment for Graff-Pinkert. He was up for the project, but I made it clear to him that he had to finish it in three months from inception to completion. That’s a lot of paint.

Mural outside Graff-Pinkert in Oak Forest, IL. By Michael Eisenwasser.

Mike completed the mural right before he left to go back to the University of Illinois, and I loved it. He created a colorful city-like scene in which the buildings are shaped like screw machine parts and tooling all found in Graff-Pinkert’s shop.

But the evening before he left for school he realized he had forgotten to sign it, so he and his dad came back to Graff-Pinkert that night, dug the paint can out of the dumpster and put the finishing touches on in the dark

That mural brings me pleasure every day when I drive into the parking lot and when I look out my office window. When I came back after my heart attack 10 years ago I cried when I stared at Mike’s mural.

How much is art worth? That is in the eye of the beholder. But when I saw Anna Celander’s painting last Saturday afternoon I knew it would bring me great pleasure, hopefully for a long time.

Question: Which art pieces have spoken to you? Both famous and not famous.

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5 thoughts on “It Spoke to Me

  1. Carl Rutenberg

    Attention Lloyd
    I love the mural, both the functionality and the
    Artistic flair
    I have had similar experiences.
    A sculptor came in our warehouse looking for a machine to make precision convex aluminum slats.
    After seeing his amazing geometric sculptiures which rotated on a single point ,I landed up making him a trade giving him 700.00 towards his machine purchase. Like a slash of progressive slats culminating on a rotating point I was enamored with my purchase which sits on my mantle to this day. My dad, Jerry Rutenberg of machinery dealer fame was a sculptor And painter of considerable talent.
    I have a stone reclining lady of his to this day.
    If you recall i am a classical guitarest and sing folk
    In 10 languages and performed for an MDNA convention
    In Montreal awhile back in spite or in addition to my machinery dealer endeavors.
    Lloyd, i am gladdened that we are able to cross the bridge between the 2 seemingly opposite worlds of machinery and artistic endeavors
    Carl Rutenberg
    Industrial Machinery Solutions

  2. fred f

    Lloyd, you’re addicted to sugar like so many folks are.
    If you have to TRY to not stop as DQ, you are addicted.
    I was too, but almost a year ago I decided to cut out all sugar to the best of my ability. Which means all soda, sweets, and baked goods. I know I cannot avoid ALL sugar, because it’s (high fructose corn syrup) put in everything these days.
    I also don’t freak out if I feel like cheating once in awhile.
    But it’s amazing how easy it is to avoid sugar and sweets after you kick the addiction. My brain and my joints feel 100 times better now.

  3. allen

    Diego Rivera’s murals in the Detroit Institute of Art.

    While he was a dedicated communist some of the rich folks who show up on the murals aren’t badly dealt with. Some of them are but than some of the rich folks in the mural were pretty awful people. To me that’s an implicit rejection of the sort convenient, simplistic categorization endemic on the left…rich=bad, poor=good.

    The murals have a couple of Easter eggs which is always fun and bespeaks a sense of humor on the part of the artist both with himself and his art. I like that.

    There’s a surprising degree of technical accuracy in the depiction of the process of building cars which I always appreciate. Far too often artists, in depicting a bit of real life, can’t be bothered with technical accuracy. They’re far above such mundane considerations and besides, people are too stupid to notice. That’s far more aggravating in the movies but older art is heir to the same conceit.

  4. Lloyd Graff

    I love woven art. The Weavers of Berea, Ohio have done such amazing afghans with delicious fabric. I have several in my house which I use for warmth, but as much for their beauty as their utility. I am looking for more, not so much for myself, but to give away to special people in my life for them to enjoy for decades.

  5. Bruce Renwick

    I also love art with a local flare to it, wherever the “local” may be. When I lived on the west side of Rockford my wife and I attended an opening at a local coffee shop in our neighborhood, I entered a drawing for a penciled sketch of the building and its surroundings from an artist with a studio right across the street from the coffee shop, the building was built it the late 1800’s, and I won the sketch. It is one of my favorite pieces.


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