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Making a Living From Art: Interview with Franco Mondini-Ruiz

San Antonio, Texas. ART Magazine.

“Make the merchandise! Make it. Don’t talk about it. Make it. Have it in your car; have it in your purse. We artists have a big shame about admitting we need to make money. We need to let people know ‘We are hardworking artist and businesspersons and need to make money. Do you want progressive artists in this town? I feel artists make this town better. We make the town more interesting, but we need to make a living’. Art making is not charity. Many people think we are doing this for fun or that we are rich already or that we don’t care about money. Perhaps they feel we are magical creatures that live off air? Many artists live off small crumbs for the whole year. They can’t buy supplies, they can’t better their work, they can’t pursue opportunities to better educate themselves and they can’t improve or experiment.   For example, Haydee, the interview you are conducting right now takes money every minute…. The gas to get here, the car, the license, your glasses, the tape, the batteries. Please tell me there are some batteries in there!…..”, exclaimed Mondini laughing.

I went to talk to Franco Mondini-Ruiz about his work but most importantly about his business plan. Yes, I said business plan, and just writing that term when talking about art seems strange when it should not. Mondini’s work is brilliant, beautiful, unique, and very interesting; all very admirable qualities within art. However, I am also a big admirer of Mondini because he is a walking source of knowledge about what an art industry artist should work like. There is a place for the artist who has a passion for art, but if the goal is to be a professional artist, passion and business skills are needed.”It is not rocket science, it is an easy formula: work your ass off and have product. Don’t brag, be honest, and let people know you need money to thrive”, said Mondini.

It is a very competitive world, especially nowadays since you are competing with the whole world. “The people you get drunk with at the bar are your friends, but they are also your competitors. There is only so much wall space of people that buy art and you better make sure your art is better, smarter, prettier, cheaper, and easier to buy”, added Mondini. If we want to become a competitive art scene, we need more artists who are dedicated to improve every day and becoming professional world-class artists. How can we do that? First of all by deciding we really want that not only as artists, but as a community. Second, by applying the same rules as in any industry. As a former lawyer, Franco Mondini-Ruiz understands the business world and gives us some input on his views about the art industry and his personal experience as a professional artist.

“Remember, I was a lawyer since the 80’s and my peer group now charges about four hundred to six hundred dollars an hour. For you to talk to me right now, it would cost about four hundred to six hundred dollars an hour. When I was a lawyer, people did not waste my time. People respected me and did what I said. As an artist, people think I am thrilled just to talk to them, and I am, but it costs me money. This is costing me ten thousand dollars talking to you right now because I am not working on that ten thousand dollar painting I need to finish today”, said Mondini. “When I was a beginning artist, I too felt thrilled that someone liked my work. As a mid-career artist, it is still meaningful to me that people connect with my work, but is it not enough to keep me happy and financially thriving”, he adds. “We are a puritanical country; so if we think something is enjoyable, such as the making of art, one should not be paid much for it. One should only be paid for things that we are suffering for. We, as artists, often buy into that”.

Mondini built a new model of working in which he makes many pieces that range from thousands of dollars to cents, which allowed him to earn a living but it also made his art accessible for everyone. “I was already selling things from five cents to five thousand dollars at the Whitney Biennial.  At first, I was not doing it only because of the money (but it helped because if I sold a five dollar art piece that day I could instantly buy a hotdog). However, the main reason why I sold work for so little was to make it accessible to a broad audience. I did not want to make beautiful paintings just for the rich elite”, said Franco. Making many smaller pieces allows him to open a bigger market for himself. “I make a large quantity of work that I can make a profit on and can be sold at a wide variety of prices.  Some artists are like a fancy French restaurant that will spend days making a soup stalk.  There is nothing wrong with that, but those artists better make sure that they have a strategy and that their fancy soup comes in contact with their wealthy fancy soup eaters.  I, on the other hand, am a taco stand or a Mexican bakery, or a short order diner where everyone can afford what is on my menu in varying quantities.  That does not mean that I can also have some fancy expensive specials ready for the right customers.  Once again, I must stress that this cannot be everyone’s art making strategy. But every artist must come up with a plan to make and sell their art at enough profit to sustain their lifestyle, art making and artistic growth that they would like in their life”, said Mondini.

When Mondini first started using his new business plan, some organizations in New York were already wandering around the idea of self-supporting artists. “Even though my original art-selling thesis wasn’t necessarily a business plan to sell in quantity, Creative Capital, which is an organization in New York founded by the Warhol Foundation, were asking the questions you are asking today about twenty years ago. Creative Capital tries to reprogram artists not to think that we need to be dying of tuberculosis in our attic or starving to be a good artist. Creative Capital reeducates us that we are a vital and needed important segment of a healthy culture and a vibrant society and we are a great economic generator that should be capitalized. I applied for their grants and showed them my botanica model, they loved it, and I became one of their poster children”, said Mondini.

The artist worked in New York for several years and found several differences between working there and here in San Antonio. “Living in New York made me realize it was a meritocracy with a view towards artists much different than San Antonio.  I feel I was perceived as a desperately hard working Mexican talent from San Antonio.  People loved my work and my parties and I was rewarded every 5 minutes.  While New York is a meritocracy that rewards hard work and merit, San Antonio is still an 18th century aristocracy which is suspicious of hard work and success. No matter how hard you work here, it mattes what family you came from, what zip code and what high school you went to. If you are talented and hard working, you will be exploited, barley kept alive, allowed to get drunk at the right parties once in awhile, and rarely heavily rewarded or capitalized.  It will be hard to grow to the next step”, added Franco.

Franco Mondini-Ruiz has returned to San Antonio with his new model. Mondini will have an art happening at Bismarck Studios tomorrow August 9th from 7-9 pm. The show will be very characteristic of the strong personality in Franco’s exhibitions, where the viewer is immersed within his model and his own persona. Franctober-fest in August will be a Bratwurst and Beer VIP Red Carpet Reception and will feature  UMPAH & POLKA Music by ‘Rennie & The Happy Travelers Band from New Braunfels. The exhibition will be on display until September 12 and part of the proceeds will benefit Bihl Haus Arts. For more information please go to the gallery’s website



About the author  ⁄ Haydeé Muñoz De la Rocha

Haydeé Muñoz De la Rocha earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture and a Bachelor of Arts in Art History at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Haydeé studied painting in Florence, Italy under the internationally renowned artist Eva Rorandelli. She also had the honor to study under Malaquias Montoya, a major figure in the Chicano Art Movement of the 1960s-70s, at UTSA. Haydeé Muñoz is also an international art promoter. Last January, she directed the promotion of Pancho Villa’s “Last Saddle” auction throughout México. Last year, Muñoz curated and organized the international exhibition Mexico: Rolando Rojas, Amador Montes, and Daniela Sacramento. Muñoz is currently working on an MBA in International Business at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The Founder and Director of ART Magazine is also a conrtibutor for and Kindform.

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