Backed by 16 years experience in the framing industry, Steve Morkotinis says the plight of the starving artist has some truth to it.
“It’s very hard for artists to get into galleries and it makes it difficult for them to actually make a living because they have to pay a lot of them for the space and advertising,” he says.
This inspired his new art gallery, White Wall North, on Lawrence Avenue East near the Don Valley Parkway.
He aims to create a risk-free space for the artists by personally paying the bill for all marketing costs like the invitations, food, drinks and entertainment for opening receptions and having a commission rate that’s lower than the industry standard.
“All you have to do is paint and bring your paintings in,” he says. “One of the reasons we’re doing that is we’re trying to attract quality artists that wouldn’t be able to afford to get into a show because it costs too much.”
White Wall North’s gallerist Martha Johnson, whose art is also displayed in the gallery, says she first met Morkotinis several years ago when she started using his framing services.
“We started to sniff around the idea of putting together an art gallery and doing it with the Framing Depot as the primary business,” Johnson says. “The bread and butter is the framing business and it is supporting what we are doing here as a gallery.”
Being located inside Morkotinis’s existing shop helped him save on the cost of having to rent new digs at a different location.
Another benefit of running the gallery with the framing business, Morkotinis says, is the amount of traffic they get.
“It draws a lot of people in, students, artists, photographers, all types of people who actually bring art to frame so we kind of have an advantage at that point,” he says. “We have people coming in every day and all day so there are potential customers right there in front of us without even looking for them.”
However, he says it also comes with the downside of having to reject some clients, even those he’s worked with for a decade, if they ask him to display their artwork after he frames it and it isn’t the right fit for the gallery. He says this is why he prefers to hand over the reigns to Johnson, since she isn’t directly involved with the framing aspect.
As for what gets picked to adorn the walls, they say it is a collaborative effort even though they have somewhat different opinions on what works.
Morkotinis says his main goal is saleability and he judges the pieces on whether they are commercial enough for someone to want to hang up in their home.
“Not necessarily the masses, but I don’t want people to look at it and try to understand it,” he says. “I personally like to see a person look at it and love it.”
“I think it’s got to have that it factor,” Johnson says. “It’s got to have that excitement if you’ve gone to see a show you have to wake up in the morning thinking about it.
“It has to make your heart pound a little bit, but that generally translates into saleability.”
In addition to their network of contacts, they also put out a call for submissions from artists in various magazines. Johnson, who also teaches at Avenue Road Arts School, says they usually rotate the art every six weeks.
The next exhibit, Plein Air Trio, opens on Oct. 15 and features work by John Joy, Sam Paonessa and Giuseppe Pivetta, who are all known for painting outdoors.
“We’ve been talking about how to work that outdoor painting angle … to tell people a little bit more about what that experience is like to be painting out of doors in November, it’s really cold,” she says. “So I think we’re going to bring in some pieces … to engage people in the work and educate them how the paintings took place.”
As for the name, Morkotinis says he liked how north conjures up images of Canada as well as their geographic location uptown. He says they also registered the other cardinal directions so they could expand and open up more galleries in the east and west-end in the future.
Along with a piece of artwork, he hopes people come to their shows and take away an enjoyable evening.
“We don’t want people to come here to support us because they know us, we want them to come and enjoy the atmosphere, the drinks and the food and the entertainment, the artwork and enjoy the night just like going to a bar or a restaurant, but for free,” he says. “That’s pretty much what we want.”
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