Making art is one thing. Selling it is another. Paint is about three twentysomething art students discovering just how hard it is to become a professional artist when work is required. Not just painting prints in a loft apartment paid for by their parents or getting drunk with friends while discussing the greatest hits of their grad-school textbook quizzes. The more they discover how far out of reach the art world is, the more willing they are to do the unthinkable to get ahead.
It’s a sneering comedy from Mark Walker, whose previous film Price Check reminded everyone of how great Parker Posey is. The performances here are equally great, all three leads playing characters who feel just the right level of pathetic to follow on a journey into the realm of the New York City art market. Josh Caras stars as Dan Pierson, who acknowledges his rich-kid problems are small in the scheme of things. He lives in the city in a dream apartment filled with his belongings and unseen, unloved artwork. His childhood sweetheart, Stephanie (Comfort Clinton), visits daily for unprotected sex before returning home to her rich sugar-daddy husband. Dan’s best friend, Quinn (Paul Cooper), is a hot and troubled starving artist who lives in a closet apartment filled with trash — or avant-garde works of art, if you look at it his way. The third lead is Kelsey (Olivia Luccardi), a talented painter who can’t decide whether she wants to fuck a potential buyer or sell to him.
Dan wants to make art he can sell, Kelsey wants to sell the art she’s made that nobody wants and Quinn simply wants to lead a hedonistic life where he makes art without thinking about the incidentals. All three of them are challenged by the reality that to succeed in art, you need to make:
A) Art that someone wants to look at
B) Art that someone wants to buy
C) The effort to sell yourself, because paintings won’t do it for you
Of course this is all pretty difficult, leading the three down the road to awkward sex, confusing relationships and, for Dan, a journey to add some darkness to his privileged life, including a gambit involving painting nudes of his mother. It’s a nice twist on saying someone would sell their own grandmother for a shot at the big time.
Paint takes its bleak view of the professional art circuit to its darkest possible conclusion, with none of the three characters learning moralistic lessons about their behavior and worldview. At the start it feels like a potential “poor me” story about rich white artists living off trust funds, crying about being unable to support themselves because nobody wants to buy their self-satisfied artwork. At one point, Dan tearfully insists to his mother, Leslie (Amy Hargreaves), that being an artist is his job; he just doesn’t make any money doing it. As much as Leslie wants her son to get a real job, and as much as she doesn’t really like his artwork, she can’t help but support his artistic aspirations. She can’t say no to her son. In the end, it feels like an indictment of these characters and the world they seek to inhabit.
The only way to get ahead or be someone in the art world has nothing to do with raw talent and everything to do with who will back you financially. Your art is good because someone wants to look at it; your art is good because someone wants to buy it; your art is good because you sold it. The intrinsic value of a work of art is in the eye of the beholder, but that beholder doesn’t mean anything if they aren’t able to fork over some cash. Money talks!
It’s a funny, dark story about characters you don’t necessarily like getting exactly what’s coming to them. In the art world, that doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it does.