Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sprouse and Fashion - a rebirth?

Some of you may remember the 1980's fashion superstar icon Stephen Sprouse. . .

What you may not know is that in the early 1990's I discovered - on a fluke - that he and I were distant cousins. Of course, we had never met (again - "distant" cousins) and no one, with the exceptions of friends and family members, was familiar with my work then.

In any case, I thought it was a nifty fact that there was a fellow artist (he was also a very successful painter) who had made a huge name for himself with clients and friends like Debbie Harry, Billy Idol, Andy Warhol and more, who also happened to have my same last name and, somewhere down the line, same ancestral roots.

Once I learned of the connection however, I oddly never really mentioned the fact very often. It just seemed like one of those items that was somewhat personal and fun to hold on to without much ado. Occasionally, as the gallery and my work became more well established in DC, I would get asked the question by knowing patrons, "Are you related to Stephen Sprouse?" I would answer truthfully with a "Yes. But we're distantly related and have never met". This inevitably would always be followed up with a "that's cool" moment and then a move on to some other topic.

I was fine with that for quite some time really. But then one day after the gallery had been around for several years and I was much more established I had a brainstorm - "Why don't I just contact him and offer him an exhibit? I mean, were both artists and we're cousins for God's sake. The worse that could happen would be that he would say no."

It was a nothing ventured nothing gained moment and I went for it.

Surprisingly, it didn't take long. Of course, this was pre-9/11 and perhaps people wouldn't be so willing to exchange information now, but basically, within an hour after making my decision and after making a few phone calls, I found myself leaving a voice mail on Stephen Sprouse's answering machine. Truth be told, to this day I can't remember how I got his number or who gave it to me. I think one call I made was to the Andy Warhol Institute, but it's hazy now.

It all seems very surreal now, but my message was short and sweet. I identified myself, mentioned that he and I were distant cousins, that I was also an artist who owned and curated a successful contemporary art gallery in Washington, DC , that I was interested in giving him an exhibit, left my contact information and then hung up the phone.

Two days later he called me back.

We had a very nice, though initially slightly awkward conversation. He was amazed that I was able to get his number so easily and he asked me how had I managed to do so. I explained my process and he laughed stating that I was either very lucky, very persistent, or both. I told him I was both. He told me that he had looked at the web site for the gallery and that he liked what he had seen. He also liked my work and he mentioned, after seeing my photo on my site, that he thought that he and I looked like we could be related. He was very relaxed and friendly sounding.

He told me that he was interested in an exhibit and asked me a few technical questions about the space and mentioned something about having to have his assistant begin some process of some sort. In any case, we had a total of about three phone conversations to discuss the potential exhibit, but the details remained vague and nothing came from it. After our last phone conversation, there were no more. At the time, I wasn't quite sure what the reason was as it seemed that all was going well. But, for some reason, my inner voice suggested that I not pursue it opting rather to wait and see if he would reinstate the idea.

I never heard from him again and simply continued on with my activities. It wasn't until about a year or two after our conversations that I learned that he had died of lung cancer - something that he had managed to keep well hidden from those in his circle. And truth be told, he may have been ill the entire time that he and I were conversing. I'll never know.

I felt a slight pain of loss after hearing the news. I can't say that I really knew or was close to him, after all, we had only shared a few phone conversations, but I had created this idea in my head because of our connection, that suddenly would no longer be accessible. It was as if a short term muse had appeared, burned brightly, and then vanished. A tether had been cut and what was released on the other end would never return again. . .

The only reason I recalled this story from close to 10 years ago now is that I ran across the following online once again after seeing it for the first time a few months ago while engaged in some research on links to my work. The connection between "fashion" and "Sprouse" and this time - my work - brought my little story of my brush with my famous and distant relative back to me.

I'm still not quite sure what is about, (they refer to themselves as the "web's largest fashion community") but I think, it's a site for budding fashion designers, art directors, or people enthralled with fashion in general.

Now, normally, I'm not too thrilled when people use my work willy-nilly without going through the proper channels (speaking as someone who has had my work appear without my permission on the side of florist delivery vans and in high-end style and interior design magazine advertisements promoting multi-million dollar condos also in NYC) but I liked this one.

It seems that Georgina has put together a complete outfit based upon the color scheme from a very popular painting of mine I created a few years back entitled "Memory". That painting, in and of itself, has a very interesting history to it, which I will post at some point in the future. . .

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