Thursday, March 5, 2015

Black Paris Profiles II™: Waymond Anthony Grier

I had the pleasure of meeting Waymond Anthony (Tony) Grier last December at a Christmas caroling party. The hosts had hung one of Tony's paintings in the corridor and were proud to show it off. One of the hosts introduced Tony as the artist and one of the first things I learned about him is that he signs his paintings "WAG". I was surprised to find out that he is a long-time Paris resident and we both marveled that we'd never met before that evening.

Tony first visited the French capital in 1967, when, fresh off the boat from New York, he passed through Paris on a bus with a group of college juniors that were going to Fribourg, Switzerland for a year of study. Paris awakened his artistic yearnings, which had been crystallizing after more than ten years of classical piano training, modest attempts at painting, and an attraction for architecture. He fell in love with the Paris and vowed to return to live here.

Later, working in the banking industry, he moved between the U.S. and Paris a few times before finally setting up permanent residence here in 1981. Because his story is so unusual, I determined to feature him in this Black Paris Profile™.

Waymond Anthony Grier at Christmas caroling party
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: You have a very interesting mix of careers – banking and art (painting). Tell us how this came about.

WAG: I came to banking by accident. I worked part-time in a Philadelphia bank during my college years and when I graduated I was promoted to a managerial position. I started to paint seriously when my salary allowed me to afford oils and canvas. So banking and painting were intertwined in my early working years. But the non-inspirational nature of the banking environment was not my passion. Only as I shifted towards training bankers did I find satisfaction enough to at least continue to earn my living.

ETBP: Where and when did you develop your love of painting?

WAG: Probably in Philadelphia, which has a world-class art museum, coupled with my year abroad in Switzerland during college.

ETBP: Did you paint when you were working in the States between your stints in Paris (prior to your permanent relocation)?

WAG: I painted a lot while working at the bank in Philadelphia. I tried to do the same in Paris but the demands on my time and energy left little spirit to paint in the evenings as I had done in Philadelphia.

ETBP: What did you do as a banker?

WAG: I was a credit manager for most of my banking career. This basically involves analyzing businesses’ ability to repay a bank loan. That’s called credit analysis. I am also a financial analyst to a special charter. A credit analyst looks for solvency in a client (Can they repay?) while a financial analyst looks for value (How much would I pay to buy the company?).

ETBP: Did you love banking the way you love painting? Or was it a means to enable you to paint?

WAG: Not at all! I love the bank training activity, which I actively developed to replace the full-time office job, but its utility is to allow me to “pay the rent.” I love painting even more. The color combinations are infinite. And I love to create things that are pleasant to look at. As John Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

ETBP: You went for a long period without painting. How did that feel?

WAG: I felt frustrated and lost. I tried to tell myself that maybe I was meant to be a teacher (trainer) and not a painter.

ETBP: Have you always painted in the same style? Always stripes?

WAG: No. In my early years I did landscapes, portraits, and still life paintings in oil. I shifted to abstract (and the “tube” idea) in the late 1970s as a way of putting together colors without the shape actually meaning anything—at least not to me.

Books and paintings chez WAG
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: Do you also sketch?

WAG: Oftentimes I do pastels as small versions of my larger oil paintings to come. I won recognition for my pastels at the Prix de Peinture de l'Ebouillante contest in early 2013 in Paris, which resulted in a solo exhibit at the restaurant of the same name here in Paris.

ETBP: Tell us about the business of being an artist – booking shows, getting commissions, searching for patrons…

WAG: [It's] not very easy. I sent out nearly a hundred letters to galleries in Paris with pictures of my work. Only one answered: Galerie Thuillier, a stone’s throw from the Picasso Museum. The artist pays for practically everything if unknown and that can be very expensive at times.

ETBP: Tell us about the Galerie Thuillier.

WAG: This was my first real gallery recognition. I had already shown and sold at an “art barn” near the BHV department store but I was among hundreds of artists whose work was stacked up against the walls.

ETBP: You show your work in New York and the south of France as well as in Paris. How did you find the galleries that you work with there?

WAG: Actually, it was a coincidence. I was walking along rue Saint-André-des-Arts going towards the Mabillon metro station and fell upon a gallery called Carré d'artistes, which displays small format paintings. I entered and asked how to show there and was informed that application and submission of samples happens on the gallery’s website. I submitted an application and was accepted, but not for the Paris or other French galleries. Rather, I was accepted for the opening of their new gallery in Greenwich Village in New York. That was July 2013 and I’ve displayed there ever since.

ETBP: Do you plan to give up training to become a full-time artist?

WAG: When the painting starts to sell well enough to replace the training income, yes.

ETBP: Do you paint in places other than your home in Paris?

WAG: No. Only at home in Paris. I’m looking for a bigger place as storage is becoming a challenge.

Paintings at Tony's home
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: Do any particular artists inspire your work?

WAG: Cézanne for structure and Matisse for color.

ETBP: Your signature water drop in inspired by your attempts to create a glass eye with spray paint. What was the inspiration behind the glass eye? And how did it evolve?

WAG: I’m fascinated by a drop of water on a surface, its reflection and transparency. To me it shows the underlying color in a special light. Since I do not have the space to spray paint as I did in the late 1970s, I’ve evolved into a “painterly” manner of rendering the water drop. It seems to attract admirers so I’ll continue to feature it - almost like a second signature.

WAG paintings with signature water drop
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: How do you feel about Paris street art (appliqués, graffiti…)?

WAG: Not very happy. I love Paris for its beauty. Seeing meaningless scrawling everywhere does not appeal to me. If colored forms are represented I am more open to admiration but there not many of them. And the phenomenon is not just in Paris. Take a train ride to, say, the south of France and there is not a single bridge pillar along the way that isn’t splattered with graffiti.

ETBP: What is your favorite pastime (other than painting)?

WAG: Reading and listening to music.

ETBP: What advice do you have to give for someone who wants to relocate to Paris and earn a living as an artist?

WAG: All things are possible, if you only believe. Isn’t that a gospel song?


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1 comment:

Patricia Laplante-Collins said...

Tony's an old friend. Great to read his whole story.

Patricia Laplante-Collins