In 1987, I had been painting for several years and had developed a process and a style which was artistically satisfying for me. The work was all figurative, although sometimes it was difficult to decipher how the forms made up a human body; the paintings were relatively large; the models almost exclusively female; and the palette generally high contrast and very colorful. Although I now think the work was fairly sophisticated for my age, the thought of approaching a gallery did not occur to me; it had, however, crossed the mind of someone else. The young woman with whom I was living had made a few calls, scheduled an appointment with Accurate Art Gallery, put three canvases in the back of her red Chevrolet Sprint, and went off to peddle my wares, all without my knowledge. I don’t know what I would have thought had I known – probably that no one would give them a second look.
As it happened, Accurate’s gallery director was interested and wanted to keep the three pieces to hang. The first time I saw my work there, through the window one night when the gallery was closed, I became nauseated. It wasn’t that I was concerned about what people would think of the paintings, or even that I thought people would know something about me because of them. I can’t explain it, except to say the experience made me feel exposed and vulnerable and sick to my stomach. Nevertheless, I did accept their offer of a show, which during the summer of 1988 would be part of Introductions, an event for which twenty galleries in Sacramento and Davis would present artists exhibiting for the first time.1
For the next several months, I painted without really thinking about the show. I imagine I must have felt some pressure from needing to produce, but I don’t believe that was a real issue for me. I grew to enjoy seeing my work hanging at Accurate, which was located in the Masonic Temple in downtown Sacramento. It was a beautiful gallery, certainly one of the largest and nicest in town.2 I thought my paintings looked good in the space, but as the show neared, I began to feel anxiety regarding the whole endeavor.3
When I had finished seven paintings and the show was finally hung, my mother, along with a friend of hers who’d known me my whole life, went to the gallery. While they were viewing the work, the attendant approached them and asked if they were enjoying the show. They replied in the affirmative, and he informed them if they attended the opening reception, they would be able to actually meet the artist. My mother shrugged and said, “Eh, no big deal,” as her friend chuckled to herself.
Just prior to the big night, I asked my sister if she wanted to attend as “Corey Okada,” and do the mingling for me. She refused. She did end up going, as herself; in fact, much of my family, including my mother, was there to support me. It was good to have them and some friends, along with my better half, without whom the show wouldn’t have happened, present, but they couldn’t run interference for me. I had to talk to a lot of strangers, and it was difficult to have them question me about the paintings. Back then, I had absolutely no experience in dealing with potential art buyers or in speaking about my work. I wasn’t trying to be difficult, but I did simply refuse to answer some queries.4 I don’t remember much else about the three hours of the reception itself, although I was relieved when it ended and we went to dinner at Fuji, a Japanese restaurant my family had frequented since I was a child.
The show went on to become a success. Not only did I survive the opening, but five of my seven pieces sold. Over the years, I have occasionally run into the former director of Accurate, and he has told me how much everyone there was excited by that first exhibition, and how satisfying it was for them that it sold well. Looking back, it took a few shows before I could really enjoy a reception, but even so, those few years were an exhilarating time for me.
Only a couple months after the show ended, the gal and I parted company and she moved out of our midtown apartment where, in the back room, I had painted all the work. In 1989, I had my second solo show at Accurate, which would soon close up shop. Almost all of the twenty galleries which took part in Introductions ’88 are long gone, as is the Japanese restaurant.
My ex went on to open her own gallery, where I currently exhibit my work. The stress I now feel prior to a solo reception is minimal; I can have a good time talking with both friends and strangers. I do, however, still have to sleep a lot the next day, and that has nothing to do with how much champagne I may have consumed the previous evening.
1 Outside of school, my work had been shown in public only once before, at the Crocker Art Museum’s Sixty-Second Annual Crocker-Kingsley Exhibition in the spring of 1987. I really don’t remember anything about the show or even the reception, except for the slinky white ribbed dress my better half wore that evening.
2 The space is now occupied by a deli. So it goes.
3 Around this time, my friend Michael suggested I write down my thoughts, because I’d only have one first show. Unfortunately, I didn’t take his advice – I had no idea that almost thirty-five years later, such a document would be helpful in writing a blog post.
4 All these years later, this still occasionally occurs.