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Tell Your Story | A lesson learned from my first art exhibition, that helped me improve my second.

Artist Christopher A. Rymer standing in his art exhibition at Ljusstråk 2022 in Nora, Sweden.
My first art exhibition "Once Upon a Time in The West" at Ljusstråk 2022 in Nora, Sweden. Photo courtesy of Richard Ekman

There comes a moment in an artist's journey the opportunity arises to display your work publicly for the first time. A dream for some and a nightmare for others, or for many a confusing taste of both. Most artists work with the intention to one day free their creations from the restraints of the studio and release them into world. Publicly showcasing your art and pronouncing your story can leave you feeling vulnerable. Artists and creatives alike often manifest their work within a sacred privacy. Our greatest fears of being “naked on stage” and exposed is interpreted as a violation of this privacy. Often, a piece of art reveals a side of the artist that even they haven’t yet discovered, awaiting a critic to unveil it and dissect it. These fears can feel like an assault on our creative expression, leaving us paralyzed with our story untold.

The goal of having my first exhibition had been on my artist’s bucket list for some time, but the idea of actually achieving this goal seemed intimidating. As I was wrapping up my first series of oil paintings The Universe granted me with the opportunity to display my work in Sweden. After taking this offering I was overwhelmed with a mixture of feelings. I felt grateful to finally get the break that I asked The Universe for, but the existential dread of releasing my work for public display was overpowering. I knew I had to embrace uncomfortableness of The Unknown and face my fears.

My first exhibition “Once Upon a Time in The West” was a tribute to my love for films. Since my childhood the stories from film and TV were always a big part of my life, eventually leading me to pursue a career in the film industry in Los Angeles. During the pandemic the industry had shut down. I had also lost my father who introduced me to the world of film and art. Feeling lost and having too much time on my hands I returned to painting, a passion that had burned out years prior. Not knowing what to paint or where to start I began painting scenes from my favorite films and portraits of my favorite characters. During this time, I would create over 25 paintings, that became more than just a tribute to my favorite cinematic moments but also a tribute to my late father.

A display of oil paintings from Christopher A. Rymer.
Artwork from "Once Upon a Time in The West" by Christopher A. Rymer. Photo courtesy of Richard Ekman.

My intention was to tell this story through in my exhibition. Being that my premiere showcase was going to be in Sweden, and I was living in California I had a logistical challenge. I had to get my collection of art across the Atlantic, but that wasn't the only thing. I had also been booked to paint a live portrait of a bride and groom at a wedding less than a week before the opening.

Arriving to Sweden, jetlagged and with little sleep, I hit the ground running. I quickly understood that I was going to have to make some compromises to my plan. My gallery’s host ensured me that things would be okay, and to let my art tell its own story. He was able to fill in any blanks with visitors that he was able to engage with, but by the end I knew I could have done a better job of building some context behind the theme of my work. Disappointed, I was still able to reflect and ask myself “How would I do things differently next time?”. I was invited to have another exhibition the following year and once again The Universe was offering me another opportunity, but this time a chance for redemption.

I found from “Once Upon a Time in The West” that many visitors wanted to know more about me, my process, and motivations behind my work. So, during my second exhibition I made a point to address these elements with storytelling techniques within my gallery. Some of those elements included:

  • Making signs with written text and images that explained my own story in relation to the themes of my work.

  • Attention into the layout of these signs in association with my paintings. I used Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as a storytelling framework. I Noted the pathway visitors would walk through my exhibition. I wanted to direct how the story would be told in each section of my gallery.

  • QR codes that would link to a digital storytelling experience. Visitors could scan the codes with their phones and watch videos showing the process and my thinking behind each piece.

  • Incorporating “props”, items from my studio and workspace.

  • Focusing on refining my website. Visitors who wished to know more about my story could follow up online and share my site.

  • Most importantly, I made myself available to each visitor to tell them my own story in person. There’s nothing more powerful than meeting the artist behind the work.

There’s research into a major link between memory and stories. Being an artist who has the intention of selling his work I want to be memorable. I want viewers to build a connection with me and my work. During my last exhibition I had a returning visitor ask me about one of paintings from the previous year. He recalled the story I told about it better than I could remember. He showed me pictures of the piece on his phone that he had saved. He told me that him and his wife had been discussing on whether they should purchase the piece all year. When I offered him a business card to contact me about possibly doing a custom commission for him, he pulled out one of my cards from last year that he had been saving in his wallet. This experience revealed to me a powerful element to storytelling that I had overlooked. The final step is to invite your customers into your story to tell their own. It's at this climactic intersection where the strong connection between artist and audience is made.


Thank you for letting me tell my story. If you’d like to hear more of the lessons I’ve learned from my first art exhibition, please subscribe to my newsletter and blog if you haven’t already. You can also follow me on TikTok, X, and Instagram where I share stories in short form on a daily basis.


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