Ten years ago, John Grazier was a struggling, self-taught surrealist, driving his 1966 GMC Handi-van (which also served as his sleeping quarters) 220 miles from his central Pennsylvania rental to the addresses of Washington’s elite to sell his paintings.
The eccentric artist had worn out his welcome with District art dealers and struck out on his own — peddling his work door-to-door to law firms and entrepreneurs — when reporter Darragh Johnson shadowed him for a 2001 Washington Post Magazine story. He swung from bouts of homelessness to pulling in $100,000 commissions.
Grazier’s income is still erratic, and until recently he was still going it alone. Now 65, he plans to move to California and is recommitted to sprucing up a 1948 Greyhound Silverside bus to put on a one-man, cross-country art show — a “great PR hook,” he says.
Grazier found a rundown version of the bus on the Internet several years ago. “It’s a 20,000-pound piece of art deco jewelry ... that’s sitting dead in storage” just north of San Francisco, he says.
He previously restored two such buses but lacked the money to maintain them adequately. This time, Grazier says, he has a business plan. But he lacks the full $100,000 he estimates he’ll need to modernize the bus and rent warehouse space to store it.
A 1948 Greyhound Silverside bus has always figured prominently in Grazier’s life. As a toddler, he rode one home to Pennsylvania after his family dropped off his deathly ill dad in Florida to live with Grazier’s grandmother. The bus resurfaced on the 18 airbrushed murals for the former Greyhound station at 1100 New York Ave. NW that Grazier created.
Although Grazier’s dad died long ago, a hotel he owned in Pennsylvania stood until it was recently demolished to build a highway. Grazier says he plans to return to that spot, which he sees as symbolic of all he lost. “I’m searching for my dad, ’cause I didn’t have a father and I needed one” growing up, he says.
In an effort to get the project moving, the artist has partnered with a dealer for the first time in years. There’s great interest in Grazier’s work, says Andrew Haley, owner of Haley Fine Art in Sperryville, Va., which is displaying three of Grazier’s paintings.
Grazier is still skeptical of art dealers as a whole. “It’s a new relationship,” he says. “We still have to prove to each other how committed we are.”
That means the artist hasn’t given up his door-to-door sales pitches. “I want to have profound success. … To sell, you have to be confident and aggressive at marketing. I don’t think anyone is going to be as determined as I am.”
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