The Founder of Artists.com Reunites With Al Hanson After 30 Years
The story of ARTISTS.COM is intimately tied to the story of Al Hanson. Were it not for him, this web site would not exist.
I am Marcelo Siero, founder and President of Artists.com. I met Al Hanson in 1970. To a random person who didn't know him, Al Hanson might have appeared to be a vagrant, with no job, and always bumming money for coffee. In a word, poor. Yet oftentime there are immense admirable qualities of people that are found only when one is willing to look beneath the surface. Most people would easily miss them. I would have overlooked them myself had it not been for the unique manner in which we met.
I was a student then, studying Electrical Engineering
and Cal State Univrercity in Long Beach. I was pretty much broke all
the time, like many students. I was living at my parent's house at the
time, but I could not study there--too many arguments and too many disturbances.
To my delight though, I discovered that modern American culture in the
20th century had invented a very unique institution, the 24 hr coffee
Ocasionally we would sit next to each other, and he would let me look at his works. I found them amazing. He was prolific, and had an artistic interpretation that I had not seen anywhere by anybody. He would see things that I could not see, yet somehow I could still relate to them at a deep level. I could not afford to buy art from him, yet I loved the excitement and the adventure of seeing what he would do next.
But there was a problem. Al was not an entrepreneur, he didn't know how to sell his art. So finding money for art supplies even of the cheapest kind was always a struggle for him, finding money for rent and food even more. There was another problem. He could not hold many jobs, because none of the jobs he could do related to his calling - looking at the world and translating what he saw into drawings and paintings. That was Al’s mission, and he was driven by it. To some this may seem like a bad quality. For me it it became a source of great inspiration. Al was focused, committed to something he loved, and whether he knew it or not, he was incapable of deviating from this mission. I knew these issues well. I had my own passions, but they always seemed diluted, and full of compromise. Al's dedication seemed like something very pure and symbolic of something that I would have wanted to have in my own life, but somehow could not reach. We became good friends.
Finally I graduated and got work as an engineer working for Hewlett Packard Corporation. At last I had some money coming in. It was then that we decided to take on a project. I had been a student and living the life of being poor, so spending little was not hard. Now, with more income than I needed, it seemed to make sense to embark on this adventure. I started paying Al's rent and gave him an allocation for food and art supplies. This to most observers may appear to be an odd thing to do--Al would hand over much of his art and I would try to find a way to sell it. Al did not mind giving me his artpieces, after all he didn't know where to put them.
I was not successful at selling his art, but for several years I collected his works. He moved from Prismacolor pencils which was his expertise to Acrylics; Al was very prolific and oils were still too expensive for us. For me, there was the reward of seeing what Al would do next, and seeing the world through the unique eyes of a gifted artist. I didn't know whether Al was good or not from the perspective of any art critic. All I knew is that what he drew talked to me in a very meningful way. It appealed to some chord in my spirit, and it gave me a great sense of adventure. Over time, my career took me to Northern California. We parted ways but a few years later I received a letter from my friend. He had found another backer - and was holding an exhibition in Sweden. He was now painting with oils, and was achieving some of what we were trying to do. Our communications stopped at that point.
In the early 90's I had the opportunity to get the domain name Artists.com as part of a business venture I was doing. I got the idea that the Internet could become a vehicle to do what I was trying to do back then - to help dedicated artists market their work by exposing their Art to a World Wide audience. The technoloty of the laser printer was making it possible for artists to sell a product without having to continually struggle producing origingals.
My friend's life reminded me much of Van Gough's life. To many modern people it seems unthinkable to compare people around them to an artist like Van Gogh, who has now received such widespread acclaim. But Van Gogh next to starved in his life. He sold a total of one painting in his lifetime, and never witnessed any recognition for his achievements.
I believe there are many Van Gogh-like artists around us. And many more that could be inspired to live life that richly if our world did not make this ancient profession so difficult to pursue.
My friend Al inspired this site, and its mission. I had completely lost contact with him for a period of 30 years. Although I tried to find him over several years period I was not able to. I put his artwork on the website trying to see if he would surface. My fear was that he had died, since generally Al had lived a life full of struggle. In the first week of June of 2004, I received a phone call from Al's nephew. He had seen my web site and called me. Three days later Al called me, and we talked again for the first time in 30 years. Al was living in Venice, California. He is still painting. We are planning to have a reunion in August in Southern California.
I dedicate this web site to this hard working artist who showed me the meaning of dedication and perseverance, and all the artists like him who persevere in such an important human activity.
President of Artists.com
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