Woman struggles with business side of art after skydiving injury
Vikki King does magical things with color pencils. Faces young and old come alive in the sort of soft, mysterious way that makes you stand and study the details over and over. Cityscapes invite you to count bricks and follow the cracks in the sidewalk.
“But for the Grace of God” is a color pencil painting of a homeless veteran begging for handouts. It grabs your soul with its heartbreaking content, while at the same time, impresses you with its creative presentation.
But King struggles with marketing herself and her art.
“Well, I’m trying to be optimistic,” she laughs. “Van Gogh only sold one piece in his life time and I’ve sold two, … but none of my siblings are art dealers.” Van Gogh’s art-dealer brother was a lifelong supporter emotionally and financially.
King, a Blacksburg resident and board member of the Blacksburg Regional Art Association, has had her work “A Boy & His Bear” presented as far away as Berlin, Germany, to celebrate the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and as close as Blacksburg businesses.
She has won spots in many juried exhibitions. In 2009, she was recognized with a purchase award and first place for her piece “Forgotten Alicia” in an exhibition in Martinsville, Va. The 2011 juried exhibition at the Floyd, Va., Jacksonville Center for the Arts, included her “Jumbalaya Summer,” for which she placed fourth. Later that autumn at the same location, King earned third place in the New River Arts’ juried biennial show for “Two Strays,” a piece involving her son and a neighborhood cat in a homeless setting.
“A Boy & His Bear,” “But for the Grace of God,” “Jumbalaya Summer” and “Two Strays” are among the pieces sitting in her home unsold.
“I can draw them,” says King. “I’m intelligent, thoughtful and talented, but I don’t have the slightest idea how to sell them. ‘If you paint it, they will come’ doesn’t work for me. The possible avenues to follow — it’s too much information for me to grasp. The how-tos (of selling) are vague and the steps not linear. I never learned at school, and the Internet was born just after I graduated. Too late for me.”
All this is said with nervous eyes darting from place to place and a delivery of words stumbling over one another on the way out.
It wasn’t always like this for King, a native Bostonian.
In June 1991, she was 25 and had just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Away from the art table, she was an avid skydiver and senior parachute rigger, with several hundred jumps to her credit.
In August of that year, she headed to New York hoping to be one of 120 women from all over the world included in a single formation, world-record attempt at the largest women’s skydive.
Three days later, the hospital called her then-husband and told him to get to New York right away because his young wife would probably not live through the night.
“I don’t remember it really,” said King. “They tell me it was the first jump of the day. We were landing out (off the drop zone.) I had trouble finding clean air and pulled low.
“I was told I moved away from the formation and looked over my head to make sure no one was there that would be hurt if I released my parachute. I was thwarted and deployed below the preset altitude. My reserve ADD (Automatic Activation Device) triggered because I was at too great a speed below a preset altitude. They told me I cut away my main parachute, but at 200 feet my reserve hit a wind shear. The reserve chute had a partial collapse on one side, but I couldn’t reinflate it, so my parachute spiraled in and I hit the ground, I’m guessing, around 70 mph.”
Life changed on impact. King was in a coma for five days with a shattered femur, six pelvic fractures, damage to the optic nerve not in the field of vision, and a bruised heart.
“All of this could be, and was, repaired,” says King. “But I also had a traumatic brain injury, aka brain damage. My helmet protected my skull so it didn’t fracture, but the brain is enclosed in a fluid inside the skull. If the head is going 70 mph and suddenly stops, the brain doesn’t. I was told my brain hit both front and back of my skull.”
Today, King appears normal. “I say ‘appears’ but people can’t see how my brain works,” says King. “Except for a major scar I look fine, no loss of motor control, my speech is not flawed in its projection so people think I’m just like everyone else but I’m not.
“I have very poor reasoning in perspective. Decisionmaking is a long process. You import all sorts of information, you sort out what is relevant and weigh its importance. You compare and contrast it with relevant related information. Toss around other possibilities again comparing the outcomes that your mind projects they will have, select one and proceed. I have trouble doing that. Other possibilities seem to have equal weight, irrelevant sidebars seem overly important, I can’t see the whole picture.
“I am very literal. If someone makes an inference, I guarantee you I’ll miss it. I don’t pick up on subtle things,” continued King. “I need to be dictated to beyond my general day-to-day routine. That’s why I can be treasurer for the art association I belong to. Bookkeeping is routine. Put the income in one column and the expense in another. Follow prescribed rules.
“On the other hand, I can’t just figure out how to sell my artistic skills. Should I start a blog when I know nothing about blogging and it will take me so long to figure it out that the trend might be over before I get it right? Put fliers on store windows? Make brochures? I have no money. I live below the poverty line. I feel like I’ve tried everything. I exhibit everywhere, but my work seems reduced with its merely adequate framing. I’ve done market shows, but I’m very uncomfortable speaking to people because I have trouble anticipating. I stumble over how I should be presenting myself and what should I be saying. I need an agent, but agents don’t exist when one is poor and unrecognized.”
King, now 46, lives on Social Security and part-time work at the Christiansburg Target. She would really like to do commissioned portrait work in which she goes beyond the plain “head on a background.”
“I love my portraits to tell a story about who someone is and reflect what is important about them,” said King. “Background can add a lot to that as you can easily see when you look at one of my pieces. I don’t know how to get people to the place where they’ll let me, even pay me, to show the world who they are.
“I work from photos for my portraits, but I also like to meet the subject before I begin.
“Art comes easy, it just spills out of me. It’s like the only language I can communicate with. I want to tell other people’s stories. Mine are getting so old.”
King’s art can be seen until Oct. 15 at the Pita Vera restaurant at 235 N. Main St. in Blacksburg. She is still hoping to figure out how to do more online marketing.
– Submitted by Gerri Young