Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Good design leads to magical things...and people

Recently I walked to Union Square in San Francisco, musing on how long it had been since I shopped there. After six months in eastern Canada, I am appreciating the sophistication and the "world class shopping" atmosphere. White and gold beckon from Neiman Marcus - brilliant light drawing me into the rotunda. I feel quite the naive girl from the provinces.

A beautiful blonde woman about my age stands behind the AMOREPACIFIC skin care counter, front row center orchestra. She seems to appreciate my sense of wonder and asks me a lot of questions. I'm thinking this is probably pretty tough real estate to acquire at NM; this woman must be pretty sharp to command this "world class shopping" spot. The packaging is very simple: a lot of white, gold and silver. There is something different about these Korean products; they seem to separate themselves from the endless objects competing for my attention in fragrance land.

AMOREPACIFIC, according to the branding literature, "respects the profound wisdom contained in Eastern approaches to beauty. More specifically, we believe in the holistic perspective that humans are inseparable from nature and our body from our minds. We study and research women and their lives as well as their skin to gain a balanced understanding of their skin and beauty. The AMOREPACFIC brand is the culmination of our ongoing efforts to help women from all walks of life realize a beauty all of their own.

AMOREPACIFIC products are formulated with extracts of root plants that retain the bountiful energy of the earth. The ingredients are encapsulated in nano particles about 1/1000 of the size of skin cells to ensure quick and deep absorption, and formulated according to our unique beauty regime based on the Eastern concept of the 5 crucial elements of the universe."

Now I'm not exactly sure how water, metal, fire, earth and air connect to this formulation but something is working - Big Time. The skin care system works around this fine bamboo mist that you spray on your skin before applying the lotions and serums...and that alone sends you into this altered state of well being and contentment. I can't explain it scientifically, but I can tell you that Pamela Murphy, the beautiful blonde Sales Queen, has amazing skin and a countenance that draws you toward her. And this Eastern spritzing and softening attracted a few classmates to me at a recent party in New York.

So it's no surprise that a few weeks later Pamela and I are sitting at Piperade, my favorite San Francisco restaurant around the corner from my gallery talking to the owner Gerald Hirigoyen about stopping by the gallery to buy a piece of art.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

How It All Works

The single most common question people ask about the gallery is "How do you find your artists?"

It's all about serendipity and filters. That magical chance encounter with the artist and falling in love with the art is the beginning; then comes the longer filtering process. It usually takes a year from the first artist meeting to the arrival of the art shipment at the gallery. And short-cutting the filtering process is a surefire road map for disaster because it's like a divorce when artist and gallerist part company. It's a personal and intense experience for both - the artist invests so deeply in the exploration and puts it all on the line; the gallerist champions for the artist - an evangelist.

But first, serendipity. In the Summer of 2003 I was sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Halifax, Nova Scotia, doing what Canadians do really well - drinking, talking and laughing which quite often leads to business. Just don't approach the social activity with that as the end goal, and you'll be fine. My cousin Fred is losing a game of "who can identify the most people walking down the street" with his buddy Dave who seems to know everyone and is very quick on the draw. Dave just happens to be a stand-up comic as well as a postal carrier, so it's really not fair anyway. Between the best dog attack story and his running commentary on the state of the world, we can hardly breathe let alone blurt out "Joe!" "Sally!" "David!".

My cousin gains a point - "Aron!" Who is Aron? Oh, his mother is an artist, you gotta meet him. I immediately think lobster pots, lighthouses and seascapes and dismiss this as not quite the sort of art that I represent in San Francisco. And it's time to return to California so I don't get to meet Aron's mother yet. Back in San Francisco I look at her web site and let out a whistle. Large scale abstract paintings in luscious colors and what a resume. We talk on the phone, she sends me some tiny paintings and then enough work to do a Solo show for her in 2004.

Her name is Leya Evelyn. Her home and studio sit on the shore of a spectacular lake near Halifax. She teaches at the famous Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, has international galleries and leads an artist's life that should be the envy of many. A serious painter who works hard creating complex abstract imagery that hides personal pictures and writings beneath the surfaces of the paintings.

She keeps passing through the filters that are important to me as I review new artists: spiritual depth; intellectual capital; professionalism; consistently strong and beautiful work that keeps evolving; and strong resonance with my collectors.

This Christmas I visited a long-term friend, also Linda, in Halifax. She is restoring an exquisite colonial home on a hill overlooking the Northwest Arm of the Halifax Harbor. Looking for a dramatic touch for the new house, she jumped at the chance to make her first studio visit to see Leya's work. It just happened to be a full moon so we didn't need headlights as we drove through the forest to the silver lake - a mystical night for an adventure.

Linda has natural style and despite her insistence that she was "inexperienced" with high-end art, I noticed she quickly and instinctively chose one of the finest examples of Leya's new body of work - a brilliant orange canvas with a shocking red slash through the middle of the image, erotic and exciting and setting a new direction for the artist. Linda's aesthetic sense is matched only by her contractor and partner who loved her choice for the new dining room. He kept remarking "I was wanting squares in this house, there weren't enough squares!!!"

Gallerist, artist and collector all choosing each other to create a series of magic moments.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

I know, everyone thinks Mark Bittner is this really famous writer who wrote about his years living in North Beach as a homeless person trying to find "right way" in the true Buddhist sense and not get all tangled up in the distractions of modern life. Well, as I see it Mark is just an artist.

I've spent my whole life attracting artists. I've had an extraordinary life as a result of that passion, but it's been a pretty rough ride as well. It's tough making money in the arts, particularly in San Francisco, where just about everyone thinks art should be free. So I just keep promoting the artists I love and spend hours educating people about art...sometimes I feel like a nuclear physicist wondering how I could ever explain the depth of my knowledge and just shut up mid-thought.

And, of course, on my journey working with artists and selling art, magical things happen. Like what happened with Mark. I attracted another artist 4 years ago, the "Society" pianist Alan Choy, who was playing at the Ritz on Nob Hill at a fund-raiser. I have a gorgeous Steinway and am actually one of those people who actually likes to hear the piano as opposed to using it for a place to park a wet glass, so Alan and I tuned in pretty quick. He then started playing the Steinway at art gallery events and hanging out. And he's also just this guardian angel who looks out for ALL artists ALL the time and connects all the promoters and the art producers so everyone can keep eating and hanging out and staying alive doing this wonderful thing we call Art.

One day Alan says, "Judy Irving really needs some money to keep going with this documentary she's doing about Mark Bittner and those wild parrots on Telegraph Hill". So of course, it takes me a New York minute to plug in to that one and before you know it, I haven't exactly come up with enough money to do anything like find 25K to get her 16mm converted to 35 mm film, but in my own small way I figure out how to do something useful. In February of 2004 I have a big party for Mark's book launch - Harmony Books has just published his non-fiction masterpiece - and Judy's film is ready for prime-time screening so hey, let's have some fun.

We sold 130 books (and I'm not exactly a bookstore) and screened the film in the boardroom. We filled little white paper bags with popcorn and thought people could wander in and out and watch snippets of the film...well, that isn't exactly what happened. Hours later many people that had been packed into that boardroom emerged from the full screenings - peals of laughter coming out of that room, first shift wandering out to listen to Alan play in the Big Room and have Mark sign a book.

So now Mark and I are on a new art journey and Judy's right there with us. Mark and Judy got married this year at her birthday party; I missed it as I spent most of this year in Nova Scotia, but now that I'm back in Baghdad by the Bay we're starting something completely different. I'm selling Mark's parrots photographs in my gallery, and I don't have a clue where this is going to take us. But I know how it started and here's what has me really excited.

Mark says it's OK for me to do what I do really well - the visual part, the curatorial part, the merchandising part (because let's face it, there's a lot to figure out about this archive of thousands of bird pictures and how we'll let the flock out of their celluloid cage and when). And Mark says he's "really a writer not a photographer" - don't believe everything you hear.

And I've never really been a writer, more of a visual person actually. And here I am writing my first post on my brand new blog and thinking this is fine.

But do me a favor and read those little captions next to each of Mark's photographs.