Well, I’m home from the front lines, back from the “trenches” filled with Imaginative Realism – and the reunion was an unqualified success! I say “reunion” because IlluXCon (IX for short) feels just like that, attracting the same fans, collectors and artists, year after year. With just enough “newbies” in all categories to make the convention feel new. Pat and Jeannie Wilshire manage to put together a show that attracts a wide range of art lovers and art creators.
The main convention, which this year ran from Sept 17-21, is run somewhat like the World Fantasy Con – with limits placed on the number of tickets sold for the full convention, and with all the artists juried in (around 50, plus the Salon and Showcase). And the same people have tended to return, if they can, year after year. At the same time, it’s the sort of environment where (because of the small numbers of attendees involved) everyone gets to know each other (if they didn’t already know each other, through social media) pretty quickly. Plus there are special events for aspiring artists (portfolio reviews by well-known art directors), “boot camp” sessions for students wanting to enter the commercial or gallery world, and “how-to” demonstrations by artists who are expert at explaining how they produce their fantastic imagery.
The core attendees are limited to about 250-300, and they started arriving Wednesday – by the show’s opening that night there were already red dots springing up across the main display areas. Single day tickets for Saturday and/or Sunday also were available through pre-orders and at the door, with discounts available for members of the Allentown Art Museum. At the Museum’s request, single-day ticket sales were limited to 500 per day. This of course added to the crowds, but not enough to overwhelm the facility.
Of course, each year there are artists attending for the first time, just like there are artists who skip a year or two…and the same goes for collectors and fans. But the general ratio remains the same, about 4 to 1 – prospective buyers to prospective sellers and the quality of art is very high. And importantly, the high percentage of discriminating buyers . . . encourages the artists to only bring in their very best.
For weeks before the show, artists were deliberating and agonizing over what to display there. The line-up of artists in the main rooms (2nd floor of the Allentown Art Museum) is scary good. About 50 artists are squeezed in there . . . cheek-to-jowl, but not minding the squeeze at all. Saturday and Sunday the lower level of the Museum is cleared for another 20-30 artists who can only make it for the “Salon” – and there was a lot of talent there! This year, the outer hall was also filled with a lovely retrospective of Jeffrey Jones’ artwork, courtesy of Robert Wiener – publisher of Donald M. Grant books, and collector extraordinaire. Friday and Saturday nights, after the convention closes its doors at 5 PM, there is an additional opportunity to view art at the Holiday Inn, where the Artist’s Showcase event takes place . . . free of charge.
At the Showcase, the work of 85 additional artists are on display in the hotel’s 10,000 square foot ballroom – fresh takes on fantasy, great skills, good prices = more sales for more artists and more opportunities for sharp-eyed collectors to discover new talent.
I didn’t arrive until Thursday Morning, just in time for my first of two “guest lecture” gigs – this first one, directed to collectors. I was somehow not surprised to find I knew just about everyone in the room – perhaps 2-3 collectors I didn’t recognize out of 30-40! Glynn and Suzanne Crain came in from San Antonio, Doug and Deb Ellis from Chicago (and Windy City Pulp and Paper Con), John Davis and his wife Kim from Texas, plus a slew of Canadians, Murray and Marianne Moore, Pat and Irina Robinson, Peter Griffin, others . . . and lotsa collectors from the East – the Olsons, Lizottes, Zipsers, Durnans (1st timers!), Dashoffs, Johnsons, Ray Tolomeo, Greg Spatz, Robert Wiener, Naomi Fisher, and more. Too many to list them all.
Like some sort of crazy game of musical chairs, we would all meet, greet, re-meet, re-greet each other over the span of four days . . . .It was weird, and yet entirely expected . . . because somehow we’ve been managing to do this for years. The days whiz by, interspersed by breakfast dates, dinner dates, and then . . . the Brew Works (around the corner from the Holiday Inn) or the hotel bar. The Brew Works even went so far as to create an official “IlluXCon ale” for the event 🙂
What wasn’t expected, were the artists who showed up “just to say hello” Somehow Carl Lundgren got wind of the convention and came in from Detroit to check it out! somebody else called Steve Youll and talked him and Jamie Warren Youll into making a visit, too. Mike and Audrey Whelan made an appearance – he explained that he’s “taking a year off from cons to do some painting”. But it was nice of him to stop in!
Chris Moore, Mark Harrison (first time at Illuxcon) and Jim Burns flew in from England for the event and all were pleased by the response to their art. Amazingly, Wayne Haag decided to make the trek from Australia – his first time at IX – and I have to say, I’m very glad he did. Wonderful art! Other artists (in no special order), that have returned year after year – Boris and Julie, Dave Seeley, Donato, Jeff Easley, Bob Eggleton, Armand Cabrera, Steve Hickman, Marc Fishman, Gary LIppincott, Omar and Sheila Rayyan, Mark Zug, Vincent Villafranca and Tom Kuebler…just to mention a few. There are really too many to mention.
I was so happy to see Don Maitz again, and sorry that Steve Crisp couldn’t make it, as he had planned. Chris Moore, this year, decided to make the trip into an occasion for him to tour the U.S. from New Orleans to Allentown, with Memphis and Nashville in between. He and his three sons had a blast….Stopping at my house Tuesday to pick up some paintings and “crash” overnight before heading up to the convention.
I was sad to say “goodbye” on Sunday, but glad to have Jim and Mark’s help in packing up – and now I know how much art my car really can hold: 16 paintings (most framed, and including two in a wooden crate), plus my suitcase and a couple of goodies for myself.