Don't expect ever to buy an art masterpiece on the streets of New York. That's advice from Tom Bevan, a Belfast-born sculptor who sells objects at Union Square on the weekends.
"Some of it is okay," he said of the work on display at the various stalls, "And some of it is bad. But there's a good community spirit."
The 63-year-old Bevan has regularly spent 13-hour days there without making a sale, but on a recent Sunday he sold seven mirrors with mosaic surround at $20 apiece. One couple bought five of them. They'd been directed to him by a friend who's familiar with his sculpture.
As for the latter, he argued, the street is no place for it. "Views of New York do well," he said of the open-air marketplace. Serious contemporary art must find a gallery and there's no shortage of those in the city.
Bevan himself will have his next solo show during the month of January at Higher Bridges Gallery at the Clinton Center in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh. It's called: "What it is that makes Irish homes so welcoming, so appealing," a play on the title of Richard Hamilton's pop art classic from 1956, "What is it that makes modern homes so different, so appealing?"
The interactive exhibit will have fabric sculpture that can be handled and passed from person to person. "The sense of touch is good for the stresses that we're currently experiencing in the world today," said Bevan, who lives in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. "It can be restorative."
It will also feature all manner of collected objects. "All of my interests will be in it," he said. "It will be a view of my mind, things that I like.
"And the trip will be an opportunity to reconnect with Ireland," said Bevan, whose mother lives in Belfast.
The sculptor abandoned his history and psychology studies at Queen's University after just a year in 1971. He traveled to Guernsey in the Channel Islands where he found employment in a series of potteries. In the mid-1970s, he settled back in Crossgar, near Downpatrick, Co. Down. "I lived quietly there, while developing my career as an artist locally," he said.
Bevan first came to New York as a resident in the P.S. 1 International Studio Program, which has been discontinued. He was Northern Ireland's representative for that year, 1993, while his girlfriend Yoshiko Kanai was Japan's. "I stayed because of her," he said.
He continued, though, to spend some of his time at home in Northern Ireland. The trauma of its recent decades has been a feature of his work. Photos and documentation of it are contained in the Troubles archive in the Ulster Museum. In the mid-1990s, he spent a few months teaching an art class to Maze prisoners associated with the Irish National Liberation Army. He gave a talk to them once about his art and its socio-political aspects. They liked some of his liberal and left-leaning views. "But they said that my political development hadn't gone far enough," he said, laughing.
As someone from the "other tradition," someone who regards himself as both Irish and British, he told them he didn't believe that a united Ireland was necessarily the solution to the island's problems. "I suggested if Northern Ireland was going to unite with somewhere else why not a more exotic place like Tahiti?" he said.
The upcoming show will have to settle for Enniskillen and, after January, other galleries in Ireland. Money is a big concern, as it almost always is for full-time artists. Bevan, who has been the recipient of five-figure foundation grants, was given £300 by the local authority for the Clinton Center show. The figure represents less than a quarter of the amount he needs to pay for shipping and travel costs. Mosaic mirror sales, he knows, won't make up the shortfall.
"I'm now scouting around for the extra funds," Bevan said.
For more about Tom Bevan go to www.tombevanart.blogspot.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com.