A few weeks ago, I bought my first piece of art. I hadn't planned on buying a goddamn thing, having already spent most of my measly writer's paycheck on groceries and other fun bills. But when I walked into the Muse, a new record store/art gallery in North Park, I felt, for the first time, absolutely compelled to buy something.
Sure, thousands of people probably bought "art" at Ikea last month. But buying a framed piece of paper does not make one an owner of art. It makes one the owner of a framed piece of paper.
When you hang an original piece of art on your wall, you are displaying a convergence of someone's creativity and talent that can never, ever be replicated again. You are showing that something aesthetically moved you enough to pry open your wallet, regardless of your wallet's gaunt state of affairs. The good news is, at the Muse, buying art is about as financially viable as buying a generically omnipresent Van Gogh print at Ikea.
Carolyn Tipton opened her High Fidelity-esque record store in September. The former owner of Oceanside's Spin Records didn't hesitate to sign a lease when she found a vacant space on University Avenue, the aortic valve of booming North Park.
"I love the area. It's so eclectic," she beams.
She and her 19-year-old son Trevor set up shop in the 2,000-square-foot space, stocking the racks with albums purchased at a charity warehouse sale in Chicago.
Yet Tipton had loftier plans than simply selling records. When she first saw the second, smaller room at the back of the space, she envisioned art. She also knew that North County artist Tim McCormick was the man to put it there.
At Spin Records, Tipton frequently displayed McCormick's work. He had a good eye, so she knew he would be an excellent curator.
In exchange for the exhaustive labor of stripping down the back room and making it gallery-worthy (it was formerly a restaurant kitchen, the walls covered with exposed gas lines) Tipton gave McCormick free reign over the space. Because it didn't cost her extra, she wouldn't charge him rent, only a nominal sales commission.
"If everything wasn't perfect, I wouldn't have done it," McCormick explains. "If the space wasn't perfect, or the location, it wouldn't have happened."
One of the biggest challenges of running a gallery, he says, is having to be there all the time. For an artist whose financial survival depends on his creative output, losing so much studio time just isn't feasible. On the other hand, galleries that operate "by appointment" risk losing potential walk-in patrons.
Because Tipton and her employees staff the store daily, this wasn't an issue. McCormick-an Oceanside resident-could concentrate on directing and promoting the shows.
"It still takes a lot of time away," he says. "But I think it will help me. If I can sell my own work there every month, I'll be able to afford to show people who might not sell their work. A lot of galleries can't do that. They've got to focus on sales."
While sales-driven galleries tend to show "blue chip" artists who bring in big commissions, the Muse is all about emerging talent and reasonable prices.
In fact, Tipton was adamant that the art be affordable.
"Tim used to do these huge paintings," she recalls. "In Oceanside, people don't buy art, especially from a little record store/café. And his pieces were really expensive. Then he did a series that was much more affordable and he sold a bunch."
Tipton incorporated this lesson into her new gallery. "I didn't want a wall of $1,000 art."
McCormick agrees. "When the work is good and people can afford it, they'll buy it."
The Muse's first show, Hardcore Intensity, opened Feb. 8. Local art collective Radioactive Future helped curate as McCormick-also one of its members-readied the space.
Showcasing a bevy of local talent, the show has been an impressive debut for the gallery. On opening night, a young crowd filtered in throughout the evening. With pieces ranging from $20 for a print to a few hundred for a sizeable painting, several people actually purchased art.
"I'm amazed at how much we've already sold," exclaims McCormick. "We've been selling consistently. We did enough to where it covered all our expenses and made everybody a little money."
Each show at the Muse will be on display for a month. Though only two weeks into his first show, McCormick says he's been inundated with ideas for the future.
"I'm already having a lot of people coming at me with things and ideas. I'm open to everything, but I'm super picky. I'm going to pick the best stuff around. Ultimately, I think you have an obligation to the people that come there to show them something worth seeing every time."
For young people such as myself, "worth seeing" might just translate to "worth buying." The painting I purchased for $100 is from McCormick's "Sack Race" series, an intriguingly weird collection brought to glorious, colorful life through silkscreening, spray paint and acrylics.
Gone is the tattered poster above my bed. And each time I glance up at its replacement, I can't help but smile. After all, I am now an art owner.