Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Randy Akers. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Randy, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Can you share an important lesson you learned in a prior job that’s helped you in your career afterwards?
Jerry Saltz, the self-esteemed Art Critic, recently posted his first five jobs on Instagram. Here are mine:
Strawberry picker (Summer job). 13-15 years old. Picking strawberries was just plain boring but gave me the chance to flirt with the girls also picking. Yes, I got fired a couple times, once for putting firecrackers inside the hood of the farmer’s transport bus.
Sweep sidewalks and clean dime store windows (After School). 14-17 years old.
Sweeping sidewalks was the most humiliating because other kids always came by and ridiculed my situation. However, I later learned to use sweeping as a tool to have quiet time and attack my own nervous energy.
Cannery Worker, graveyard shift. (Summer College Job). 18 years old. Working in the Cannery was the most grueling scenario, physically and mentally. It was assembly line work with no let-up, but fueled determination. I was fired once for a major spill, but rehired immediately at another Cannery.
Re-Paint room numbers on local high school doors (College Summer Job) 19 years old. Repainting hundreds of room numbers on doors gave me a chance to practice brush skills, perfection, and speed. I was hired because I was the so-called town “artist”.
Sort and count screws for inventory (Summer College job) 19-20 years old. Sorting screws and inventory taught patience and big picture goals. Really liked this job and the people I worked with…even the bosses.
Obviously, none of these jobs are on my CV or Bio, but perhaps should be. In some ways they have all contributed to my professional outlook. In retrospect, they were all humbling experiences and gave me some insights into work ethics.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
My first real exposure into the ARTWORLD was on a 5th grade field trip to the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum to see Van Gogh’s traveling retrospective exhibition. It was Mr. McGinley’s class and he was uniquely adventurous and experimental as a newly minted teacher right out of college. He could also claim credit as being the first to teach perspective, a terribly difficult concept to elementary school students. It should be pointed out that McGinley was not an Art teacher per se, but taught all subjects in addition to coaching Football. Also, we just didn’t do field trips in our small farm community school system at that time period. Now looking back I am pretty sure he must have brought down the castle walls to make this happen and get a bus and driver and permission slips dedicated for the all day event.
A little background first. The only thing I was really proficient at in elementary school was drawing. Being left-handed had limited uses. My blue-lined newsprint portfolio was mostly Disney characters, but I did pretty decent signage and lettering as well. Honestly up until that field trip day, it was all I was exposed to. Mad Magazine and Kelly Freas had not happened yet. Mr. McGinley had even encouraged me to create and enter a poster design for March of Dimes into the local Kiwanis annual Art contest (really big shocker that it won second place!). I still remember my parents and Mr. McGinley being so proud at the awards ceremony. The composition included a large image of Pinocchio sitting down splay-legged with Jiminy Cricket on his shoulder begging the viewer for money in a cartoon balloon. Not a stellar concept, but a lot of 10-year old energy and untold Crayolas went into it. Of course, somebody had to cough up the bucks for the poster board. Suffice it to say that I understood that if you could make something look like what it represented the audience usually deemed it okay. That pretty much covered my rural art training up to that point.
On our field trip day we all marched excitedly single file into the yellow school-bus, glad to be out of the David Hill elementary school building for the day. It was doubtful that any of us had ever been to a bona fide Art Museum before or even heard of Vincent Van Gogh or even knew that art hung in large galleries. The three story museum was about 20 miles away and in the “big” city.
We entered the designated gallery on the second floor and the work was shown all in chronological order. The darker muted monochromatic early paintings from Van Gogh’s mining years (including “The Potato Eaters” and “Boots with Laces”) were first and then the images carefully transitioned into his highly colored Impressionistic ground-breaking landscapes from Arles. I remember distinctly taking the whole gallery in and then walking back and forth to the pictures that most impressed me and trying to soak it all in. I had a very difficult time grappling with the seemingly primitive nature of Vincent’s brushstrokes and questioned the validity of his flatness and depth of color. At my young age there was never any discussion of Van Gogh’s psychosis or his dependency on his brother Theo or the impact of Vincent’s state of mind on his art and his eventual suicide. This monumental show made me reassess everything I thought I knew or did not know.
Is there something you think non-creatives will struggle to understand about your journey as a creative? Maybe you can provide some insight – you never know who might benefit from the enlightenment.
A couple days ago I met an artist who I may share gallery representation with. We met for the first time for coffee. I have admired his work for some time and he lives nearby in Savannah and has traveled widely and lived all over the country. I really knew very little about him except for his work. We both have complex histories and were both previously involved in the communications world.
This meeting was totally spontaneous, interesting, and easygoing…something I have missed for a while in the time of COVID. However it caused me to think as I was driving home about my own identity, especially in a time when we are all grappling with so many social issues.
How would I like to be indentified? The first and foremost word that comes to mind is as an Artist. That is the pinnacle for me. I have worked and strived for that word since I could walk. However other possible positive/negative descriptors include:
In my mind all these descriptions coalesce to form the word Artist for me. Sure there is training, reading, classes, experiences, and skill-sets involved. I look to many artists from different genders and race for inspiration. Some of those pathways are difficult to imagine and even relate to, but the results are continually stunning. I am in awe of these individuals and want to see through their eyes, if only for a moment. This becomes powerful content that gives me something to work towards. Artist is still the word I covet and becomes the visual dialogue of injustice, health, inequities, daily struggles, fairness and perception.
Do you think there is something that non-creatives might struggle to understand about your journey as a creative? Maybe you can shed some light?
I am lucky enough to spend my days in my studio cranking stuff out. At this moment I am working on a relatively large piece (42 x 54 inches) from my Morocco series. I am on the third week of it and it has been a struggle as I am rounding the corner towards finishing. One of the things I have noticed about this (and other pieces) is that I spend inordinate amounts of time just looking at the work. So much so that I look more than I actually paint. Just staring. I mentally change colors up and move shapes around. When I am sleepless at night I think about the painting (thankfully rather than the virus) and literally paint in my dreams. Sometimes I even get up at 2 AM and go out to the studio and work for a few hours to get it out of my system. Still looking though… and searching for answers. When all else fails (as it does regularly) I get out my little 9 x 12 drawing pad and a box of oil pastels and do quick sketches of the same subject matter or problem. Somehow my drawings ALWAYS solve the problem. They intuitively go to the right shapes and the simplification of color. My head doesn’t, but my hand seems to do so. Everyone does this stuff differently but this is my methodology such as it is. I’m still looking though.
- Website: www.randyakers.com
- Instagram: instagram@akerswork
- Other: https://www.telfair.org/article/art912-virtual-studio-visit-with-randy-akers/