Francoise LeClerc & Michelle Gregor | Episode 310
I had the privilege of of having lunch with Michelle Gregor and Francoise LeClerc at the historic Huber’s restaurant in downtown Portland, OR during NCECA 2017. It was such a delight spending time with them. The fun thing about this interview is that it took place during our lunch. So there is a lot of background noise and the sound of eating. But more importantly, there was a lot of deep discussion about the the life of artists.
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I want to talk to you about the business of being a sculptural artist. How important is sales for you? What is your full time job?
Francoise– I run a small hobby farm and raise sheep.
And your full time job is teaching?
Yes, I am one of the fortunate ones with a full-time teaching gig.
How important are sales for you as a sculptural artist?
Michele: You know the funny thing is about 7 years I had this lightbulb moment where I realized that sales were not important to me at all because I work really hard at my job. All of a sudden I had this revelation that really my art was absolutely unencumbered by the necessity of selling. It gave me a great deal of freedom, a sense of personal freedom which I covet. Of course I love to sell a sculpture. It gives a great deal of satisfaction to see the work go out into the world. For me having the luxury of being a full-time teacher is a wonderful thing.
What about you, Francoise?
Francoise– I would say because I am at an early point in my career, it isn’t my primary motivation. What I am focused on now is learning and absorbing and trying to make something half way decent before I die.
How important is getting your work out for the world to see?
Francoise– I think that is super important. I think that is the final step in the process. Having the courage to put it out there and not worrying whether it is well-accepted or not.
Michelle– I agree, I think it is a really important step in the process to put the work out there. I think for me probably the most important thing is the response of my peers and fellow artists. I love to have that dialog with other artists about what we think about each other’s work and talk about our ideas.
Let me ask you about critiques from other people. How do you keep it separate, your work is not you, but you are in your work, so how do you keep your heart guarded against mean criticism?
Michelle–It’s so funny because I was just talking about that last night. I think that artists really need to have thick skin because if we are going the let someone else’s opinion influence our making and our feeling about ourselves then we are in the wrong business. We have to be able to be tough enough to take a good critique. Remember the quote: Just because they are talking about you is a good thing.
Francoise– I think this is where working in Hollywood was a huge asset. It helps me to this day even though I have nothing to do with that anymore. I saw so many amazingly talented people or screenplays get rejected and it wasn’t because of the quality of the work. It just wasn’t the viewer’s cup of tea at that moment.
How important do you feel a day job is for someone who wants to be expressive with their art but not having to be tied down to the paycheck from the art?
Michelle: Well I live in the Bay area so a paycheck is pretty important because otherwise you can’t live in the bay area. I think we all have different sets of circumstances and I think most artists have carried on as waiters and so many of us have worked in so many different realms. You go to any coffee shop in San Francisco and you have an artist making your cappuccino.
Francoise: I would say try to be observant and use everything. When I first started I had jobs in mailrooms. If your eyes and ears are open even in a context where you think you are wasting your time you will run into people and observe behaviors and parts of the human condition that will find your way into your work.
How about those that want to earn a living from their work. Is it wrong to be looking for a paycheck from what you make?
Michelle: Absolutely not. I think it is fantastic. I have a lot of friends who are makers and I am often very jealous of them because they get to be in their studio when I am driving off to work.
Is there a threat for your work by having a day job?
Michelle – Absolutely! I am going on sabbatical next year and I always describe to people, as soon as I come back from sabbatical I will start working on these very large works and spend all this time in my studio and then things start decreasing in scale. Six years into it and I am a diligent worker and I have a great work ethic, and I go to the studio as often as I can, but having a full-time job with all that is required of it can take you down. You have to be put everything you have into being an artist. Time is the greatest luxury.
What is the scariest thing about showing your work?
Francoise: I am the child of immigrants who sacrificed everything so I could have a good education and do well in my life. The day that my mom comes to show and says this was worth doing that is going to be my satisfaction. It is scary to think she may not ever get what I am doing.
Michelle: Every time I put my work out to show I am always scared but it is the kind of fear that I love. I love it, it drives me so it is the kind of fear that I embrace. I am trying to think of one part of it that really scares the living daylights out of me. Actually the whole damn thing does. It is also the greatest thrill.