One evening not so long ago, I was googling myself in an idle moment, having run out of other people to google and thereby having become too tired to go to bed. The results of such a search are frequently of interest. (To me.) Although it depends on which name I use.
My maiden name turns up a single reference to my college yearbook and pages of links to a Canadian photographer of renown who is ten years younger than me. Among the links is her current address, which inspired me to write to her. She then telephoned me for a chat. After glad cries of “Ninochka!” in both directions, I discovered she pronounces our formerly mutual last name differently. (Not much you can do wrong with our still mutual given name unless you’re from the American South and rhyme it with “Dinah” — but please don’t.) Other than nomenclature though, we didn’t have much in common. For one thing, her middle name is Barbara, and mine isn’t. There’s more, which I won’t bother you with. Let’s just say we wished each other well and that was that.
But google “Nina Mishkin” — and oh my! First couple of pages, nothing surprising. (To me.) Lots of links to this blog, the practice blog (“Learning to Blog”), my legal career in Boston, my law office address in Boston (where I haven’t been for nearly eight years), an online magazine where I published a piece nearly four years ago, a letter of commendation I once wrote at the request of the British Shorthair cat breeder who now has quite a lot of our money. Even a link to Schaer v. Brandeis University, 432 Mass. 474. (Don’t ask.)
And then I saw this!
Still Life With Bottles, 1972.
What was this thing doing in my Google listing? That Canadian artist getting mixed up with me again? Couldn’t be. She was never a Mishkin.
But on second thought…. It looked familiar! It was familiar.
And so was the painting in the next listing familiar.
Artist in Her Studio, 1972.
The big surprise was the Google tag on each of these paintings. These I had never seen before. “Still Life With Bottles” (described as “needing cleaning”) was by “Nina Mishkin, American Artist, Twentieth Century.”
“Artist in Her Studio” (similarly “needing cleaning”) was also by “Nina Mishkin, American Artist, Twentieth Century.”
Nothing more was known about “Nina Mishkin, American Artist, Twentieth Century.”
Despite their mysterious provenance, Skinner Galleries and Auctioneers in Boston had nevertheless shown and sold both pictures in 2012. “Still Life” went for $120 (uncleaned). “Artist” in her cluttered studio went through three auctions unsold; on the fourth try, Skinner unloaded it (still uncleaned) for $10. Maybe it needed more cleaning than “Still Life.”
Didn’t know I was an “American Artist,” did you? Neither did I! (Amazing what the development of marketing techniques over the past forty years can do.) All I knew was that I had once been a moderately young woman who worked in advertising (this was before law school) and had time on her hands while waiting to be proposed to by her future second husband. Churchill had just died and the bookstores were flooded with Churchilliana. I bought and read the slimmest of his books, “Painting as a Pastime,” and wondered: “If he could do it, why can’t I?”
And so, on evenings when future second husband didn’t visit, I sat on my pull-out sofa with the acrylic paints, brushes and canvas boards that some guys in the art department had helped me buy at professional discount, gazed across the small studio apartment I inhabited after working hours, and began. This is what I produced. The very first thing:
Scandinavian Modern Secretary, Holding Everything I Could Stuff Into It Or Hang From It
Encouraged by kind words from the art department guys, I went on to:
Two Pairs of Boots Drying Against Blue Towel After Snowy Day
Kitchen Without Window In Studio Apartment Without Enough Closet Space
Then I ran out of subject matter in the studio apartment, and also got married (to second husband) — which kept me too busy to continue.
[Note: The above three early works remain in my possession. They are temporarily priceless. Any future price will be arrived at after hard negotiation. They do not need cleaning. A lot is known about the “artist” who painted them, which she is telling you as fast as she can blog. By the way, she is now a twenty-first century “artist.” Definitely won’t make it into the twenty-second century, though.]
Time marched on. Soon I was no longer an advertising copywriter but the mother of a one-year-old and dying to get out of the apartment on West 86th Street on my own. Without a stroller. And not to the playground on Central Park West and West 85th Street, either. Sound of hautboys. (French 17th c. antecedents of modern oboe.) Mrs. Glicksman, aka “the third Grandma,” enters. This blessed woman agreed to take over my maternal duties on Thursday mornings from 9 until 1 for five dollars! (She set the price, not me. Life was cheaper then.)
The first year of Mrs. Glicksman I used to run amok in Bonwit Teller on Thursday mornings. (Ah, Bonwit’s. R.I.P.) But as the birth of a second baby loomed, running amok became too expensive. I settled instead for Beginning Oil Painting at the YHWA. This educational experience produced works in an entirely different style. Several different styles, actually.
We began entirely in black, white and two shades of grey:
Cup, Bowl, and One Other Object Which Artist Can No Longer Identify
I then went on to the two works which reached Skinner in 2012. More of them later.
After that there was:
Twenty-minute Charcoal Sketch of Live Model
Second Twenty-Minute Charcoal Sketch of Live Model
[These two are now framed under glass, so if you look very hard you can see a reflection of me, in white terry-cloth bathrobe, capturing the backsides of the live models forever in my brand- new iPhone 5s, which I really don’t know how to use very well.
You may also wish to know there was a third “Twenty-Minute Charcoal Sketch of Live Model.” However, this model was male, facing us, and I really botched the area between his legs. Therefore I’m not showing it to you. If you’re dying to see, you’ll have to come to the house. It’s not that exciting, really — but just in case you get lost, it’s hanging on the landing between the two parts of the stairs that go from main floor to second.]
I hurry on. My two and a half years at the Y also produced:
Fake 19th Century Painting of “Vase With Carnations”
Stuff in Living Room, Attempting To Be In the Style of Braque
Nearly Dead Pot of Geraniums in House in Amagansett
That is, you understand, not all. But I don’t want to bore you. So you don’t have to see them. I also soon went back to work, and the painting stopped.
However, before it did, I had to use up the children’s art supplies scattered around the house. (Neither inherited a single art gene.)
With their watercolors, I managed a fake Klee:
“Apres l’amour, tous les animaux sont tristes”
[It means: “After (making) love, all animals are sad.” You notice how the colors go from bright (hot!) to very dark? You do? Really? Cool! The French is a translation from the Latin, which I couldn’t remember despite three years of Latin in high school. That’s because we studied Caesar and Cicero, not Ovid. I might have made a painting that asked the question: “Quo usque tandem abutere, Catalina, patientia nostra?” (“How long then, Catalina, will you abuse our patience?”) But that wouldn’t have been a picture Skinner would want to auction off. At least I don’t think so. On the other hand, what do I know?]
With the last of the kiddy watercolors, I also made this:
Playground at Central Park West and West 85th Street, Without Benches or Playground Equipment Because They Were Too Hard to Paint
From the children’s magic markers, plastic cups and plates — came two wanna-be Frank Stellas:
Wanna-be Frank Stellas
And with a Giant Pen for Tiny Tots on crappy paper, I drew the towers of a building which may have been the one in which John Lennon lived with Yoko Ono before he was shot. Or maybe not. His was on 72nd Street; this one may have been on 81st. I can’t remember. Isn’t it something how memory fails, just when it could affect the resale value of a Work of Art? Anyway, here are the towers of the building, whichever it is, rising above the Central Park foliage:
Pen-and-Ink Drawing of Central Park West Building on Cheap Yellowing Paper
To wind all this up, let me assure you that the entire corpus of my art work in any medium (if you can bring yourself to call it that) — minus the two pieces which fell under the gavel in Boston — remains safely in my home in Princeton, New Jersey. Some of it has been relegated to the basement since the arrival of Bill in my life, but could be brought up again, if needed.
But what of those two pieces with which I began this story? (“Still Life” and “Artist” — if you’ve forgotten. Which is easy to do.) How did they come to Skinner?
That I cannot tell you. What I can tell you is that back in the days when I practiced law, I had an office to decorate and brought in some, ah, “Mishkins” from home. Shortly after I had finished with the decorating and returned my attention to Westlaw and Lexis, a new colleague joined us and duly admired my walls. Let us call her Sylvia. Sylvia especially admired my “original” art. Would I sell?
“Ah, c’mon, Sylvia. You’re putting me on. You don’t really want any of this stuff.”
She did. I demurred. She persisted. She was not a successful lawyer for nothing. I settled. For $50 a pop. I brought in the two least-loved pictures I had. The blues in “Still Life With Bottles” didn’t go with anything in my apartment. I didn’t like “Artist in Her Studio” because no one who ever saw it had liked it. How’s that for artistic conviction?
Sylvia was beside herself with joy at acquiring my rejects. Pulled $100 from her wallet, clasped her two new “Mishkins” to her bosom, and skipped down the hall to her office, where she could be heard hammering away for the next half-hour. When she was done, they didn’t look that bad. I even had a moment of remorse and wanted them back. But it was only a moment.
In 2006 I retired, left Massachusetts, and never saw Sylvia, “Still Life With Bottles,” or “Artist in Her Studio” again. I did hear that Sylvia later changed firms. Did she take her “Mishkins” with her, waiting to recoup until 2012? Or did she leave them behind for another owner, who was the one to put them on the block? I have no desire to call her up and find out.
Whoever sold those two Mishkins at Skinner made a profit of $30, but only if you aggregate the two sale prices. Not exactly a killing. Still, I am now officially an “American Artist.” Google said so. Therefore if you’re looking for a r-e-a-l-l-y long term investment and just happen to be in the Princeton area, come up and see me sometime. Maybe we can talk.
[P.S. Don’t look for me at Skinner on Google, though. They pulled down the listings a year after the second piece sold. However, I do still survive at http://www.askart.com Which proves I didn’t make the whole thing up.]