I was asked by a friend recently if I’ve ever stood before a work of art that brought me to my knees. I told him the story of a road trip I had taken years back, along with my wife, to view a group exhibition that one of our friends was involved with in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
We took several days to explore the city and take in the galleries and museums. Those who visit Santa Fe know the city holds many sophisticated museums and galleries.
On the last day of our trip I wandered into a gallery and viewed some large paintings. On my way out I walked past the gallery owner’s glassed-in office and stopped dead in my tracks. The gallerist was on his phone as I peered through the glass at a stunning painting. I gestured to the painting and the gallerist kindly buzzed me in.
You see, over the years I have developed a long list of favorite artists and Milton Avery is at the top. I have read much about and long studied his life and work. I have always admired his supreme work ethic and how he managed through the many hardships in his life. Unknown for years and then under-appreciated, I feel he never received his due while he was alive. His work is sublime and his color pallet is only slightly surpassed by Matisse, in my opinion.
And there before me, hanging on the wall of the gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was “The Martini Drinker,” my absolute favorite work by Avery. I stood less than a foot from the exquisite painting, totally stunned. Knowing it was privately owned, I never dreamed I would see it in person.
The gallery owner hung up the phone and approached me, asking if I liked the work. I think I shocked him when I turned to face him, tears streaming down my face and unable to speak. I was overcome. Embarrassingly so. He said simply, “I understand,” and gave me a smile. As I left he said, “Pretty great when art has that effect on a person.” I remember blubbering, “Yes sir, it certainly is.”
I’ll probably never see the work again in person, and that’s okay. It’ll forever exist in my mind and heart. The picture of perfection.