How Not to Get into a Gallery

I don’t think I was quite 20 years old when I “hit the pavement.” I had no clue as to how to get into a gallery. Completely ignorant, I walked all over Los Angeles to each gallery, door to door, annoying everyone in my path.

Armed with some of the worst photographs you’d ever laid eyes on, I also made sure I had a few originals in my car–just in case anyone wanted to see any paintings in the flesh. Ha. My photos were taken indoors with poor lighting and no tripod, so they were somewhat blurry. None of the paintings were centered. You could see parts of my apartment in the background, and I wrapped the stack of pictures in a rubber band. The situation couldn’t be more unprofessional. I was laughed out of every gallery I went into.

Okay, not every place. A few gallerists had enough pity on me to tell me I was going about it all wrong. They either told me with some compassion or sheer disgust. I learned I needed slides instead of photos (this was a long time ago), and to never come in without an appointment.

When I couldn’t get an appointment over the phone, I marched right back in there to make one in person. They didn’t appreciate that either. But all I wanted from them was feedback. I wanted them to look–just look at the work. I wasn’t expecting a show. I was hoping for advice.

Well, my slides still stank even though I was having them processed at a place in South Hollywood called A&I where all the pros look their film. The place was surrounded by benches with lightboxes and loops. I’d sit down to look at mine, and they were always yellow. Then one day, I sat next to a photographer and asked him questions about what I was doing wrong. He gave me some good advice about white lighting, but I still had to figure out a lot on my own–like how the best white lighting was the sun, not white light bulbs. And I started using Ektachrome, which is blue-heavy, instead of Kodachrome, which is redder. He told me to use a tripod, and that made all the difference. I would have never thought of that on my own.

Galleries wanted me to send slides through the mail with a resume and a bio, which I didn’t have. I didn’t have an exhibition record, so I sent in slides with a short statement about how I was trying to change the world with my art. If I didn’t hear back from them, I’d go in there and ask what the status was with my slides–also not the way to go about it. They wanted me to send a self-addressed stamped envelope for the return of my materials, but when I did that, I’d get a form letter rejection without any feedback, which just pissed me off.

So I went back in. I’d go to targeted galleries, unannounced, and started dragging in original artwork. Most of the people threw me out, but a few didn’t. A few couldn’t help but see the work because it was in their face, and it wasn’t on tiny little slides. And all I was asking for was five minutes of their time, which I now see was a lot.

The galleries that gave me a minute of their time, gave me the tenacity to try again and again, even though I could see their eyes rolling as I’d come back again. But if I had new work with me, I wanted their feedback. I guess I didn’t let their irritation get to me. I felt like I had to try.

The first gallery that finally gave me a chance was Orlando Gallery, a partnership located in Sherman Oaks at the time. I went there five or six times. They were the oldest gallery in Los Angeles, having moved a couple of times. I’d been there multiple times, well before I ever dragged photos in there–looking around and admiring all the eclectic pieces, as they also dealt in authentic African art and artifacts, as well as primitive contemporary art.

Finally, one of the owners decided to take a couple of my paintings on commission and put one of them in a group show. I was ecstatic. I even made my own postcards announcing that the one painting was going to be in an exhibition. But I remember when they first gave me their feedback, the two of them spoke among themselves about my work as if I wasn’t even standing there. They called it “naive.” I was so offended at the time, I butted in and asked, “Is it really that bad?” They laughed, and then one explained that it wasn’t an insult. It was a genre–a style of art. I still had no idea what they were talking about. I guess I was just glad the work was going into their gallery. It would be years later when I’d understood what naive art was, and it was definitely me.

Over the next seven years, they represented numerous paintings of mine. I was very grateful for that start.

In the meantime, I was able to get three pieces into a gallery frame shop in Encino. They even framed the pieces and displayed them on the wall. They said they’d call if any interest arose, but I didn’t hear back from them for six months. I called and they said that one had sold on a payment plan. I was welcome to pick up the other two, so I did. They said they’d call when the last one was paid off.

Meanwhile, I got into another gallery in West Hollywood, Verve, probably because I was beginning to annoy the owner because I’d gone in there with originals so many times. I’d also get pretty good advice and feedback from other galleries as the months went by and I started to learn things.

But as the months went on, I never heard from the frame shop, so I called. Their phone had been disconnected. I went there, and the store was empty–a FOR LEASE in the window. I found the management company who told me the two women skipped town, owed four months of back rent, and took $100,000 worth of art with them. No one could find them. One of the artists had hired a lawyer and a detective, but no one knew where they were.

Then, about ten years later, I got a phone call from one of the women that owned the shop. She asked me if I remembered her. Ha! As if. She’d recently became a Scientologist and wanted to return my painting that she never really sold because now she was some kind of good Samaritan. She said she found me through some Scientology artist’s list. She seemed to expect my forgiveness, but I was still pissed. I said, “Yeah, if you have my painting, give it the fuck back.” She came right over and dropped it off on my doorstep. It was damaged. She never mentioned that on the phone.

At least I got it back.

More adventures later. This is all you get for now.

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