Escapist artists refuse to struggle.
by Karen Derr
Artists throughout history have participated in movements and collaborated with their contemporaries who work in a similar style. Picasso was a cofounder of Cubism. Warhol was the megastar of the Pop Art movement. And Houston-based artist John Ross Palmer would like to become known as the founder of the Escapist movement.
Escapism isn’t actually a style of art, but rather a way of helping artists debunk the mindset that ongoing struggle is required for the creation of art. According to Palmer, Escapism is all about freeing and empowering of artists to do their best work. “There is a weird belief that you have to be struggling or miserable to create. Am I going to create better art if I can’t pay my rent or if my lights get turned off? No.” Palmer feels artists need balance in their lives to make better art. Modern pressures of legal issues and tax problems do little to inspire, in Palmer’s opinion.
In Houston, John Ross Palmer is known not only for his art but for his energetic promotion of his work along with his husband, Ryan Lindsay. A two-man PR machine, they do all of the promotions of Palmer’s art and the gallery they own on Heights Boulevard in the historic Houston Heights. Lindsay, who is also an attorney, applies his business expertise to create the kind of environment Palmer believes artists need so they can be free to create great art. This belief is at the core of their Escapism movement.
Since 2008, Palmer has been committed to helping other artists learn about self-promotion and the business of art. Billing himself as “the hardest-working man in the art business,” he has much to offer artists hoping to achieve similar success, both here and internationally. The majority of his art is sold through his Houston gallery, but his work is also represented by galleries in other cities. Representation and exclusive contracts are just some of the business topics Palmer feels artists need to become savvy about. Through his Escapism mentorship program, artists of all experience levels can apply for a yearlong mentorship under Palmer and Lindsey, at no charge to the artist.
This year, John Palmer Art announced plans to build a new gallery and three studios for use by the Escapist artists. Artists accepted in the mentoring program will not only get personalized instruction, but a year of free studio use. With the launch of the “Refuse to Struggle” campaign designed to fund the gallery and studios (to be built adjacent to Palmer’s own studio and home), collectors of Palmer’s art stepped up with support for the program. But support hasn’t just come from Palmer devotees; the Refuse to Struggle web page at Indiegogo.com raised $76,000 in just forty-six days from over three hundred individuals from all over the world. “The private collectors received art, and on the website contributors got perks like bracelets and prints by the Escapist artists. We didn’t want anything for free,” Palmer explains.
The Escapist mentorship program is not a 501(c)(3) charity, so donations are not tax deductible, although it is free to the artists being mentored. However, John Palmer Art chooses a different charity to support each year, and for 2013 it was Writers in the Schools (WITS). At a gala in October, Robin Reagler, WITS executive director, spoke on behalf of the charity and received a check for $2,500 from John Palmer Art. Previous charities receiving support have included Heifer International and Outreach United.
Palmer is no stranger to asking collectors to get behind his endeavors with their checkbooks. For the past three years, ten art collectors have funded Palmer’s annual study trip abroad. In return, they receive membership in an exclusive group called the First Class Club. Members receive a painting completed on the trip and a V.I.P. preview of the complete body of work produced during the trip. Palmer’s 2014 study-abroad destination will be announced at a private gathering of the First Class Club at his gallery in January. His international travel will likely take place next June, followed by an unveiling of the art in July at the Heights Arts Studios & Gallery. Past study trips abroad have taken Palmer to Sao Paulo (2013), Jerusalem (2012), Dublin (2011), and Berlin (2010).
When John Palmer was twenty-four years old, his father passed away after a life of struggle. Stricken with grief over the loss of his father, he vowed his life would be different. He believes his success comes from his commitment to having balance in his life. “I said that I would give back immediately if I were given success,” Palmer recalls. Success has indeed come to him, and the Escapist mentorship program is one of the ways that he’s giving back.
For more information about artist John Ross Palmer, his First Class Club, the Escapist mentorship program, or Palmer’s prior international art series, please contact gallery co-owner Ryan Lindsay at 713/861-6726 or [email protected].
Karen Derr is a Houston-area Realtor and the founder of Boulevard Realty. She writes and speaks about home and small-business topics.