Coffee with Guppy: Taking Care of Artists

Nancy sits down with gallery owner Gail Gibson.

Gail Gibson owns G. Gibson Gallery in Seattle. Initially specializing in 20th century photography, Gibson has since expanded to include contemporary artists working in a variety of media. After 25 years in Pioneer Square, she relocated to a new space in Lower Queen Anne (104 W Roy St.) last fall.

What’s the most important thing about running a gallery? You have to make sure you’re compassionate and working well with your artists because they make your business spin. You have to take care of them.  

What does it mean to “take care” of an artist? Making sure people see their work. Sometimes it’s an art fair. Sometimes it’s a corporate collection. Sometimes it’s an individual collector. If I don’t get an artist’s work out into the world, I’m not doing my job. 

Gail Gibson opened her gallery in 1991. Photo by John Vicory.

How has the gallery business changed since you started? The internet. There’s way less walk-in traffic into the gallery. Over 50 percent of our sales are now on the web.

Is buying and selling art a good way to make money? (Laughs). No. You do it because you love doing it. 

Can you explain the impact that art has on a person? It’s about making you think. If you go to a gallery or museum and see one work that hits you, bravo. You may not like the show, you may not be into the artist, but if one piece has staying power — you think about it when you walk away, three weeks later, maybe 15 years later — that’s big.

Describe what it feels like to discover an artist. Exciting! Kind of like a first date.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about going into an art gallery? That you’re expected to buy something. People will pause at the door and say, “Is there an admission?” The answer is, “No — it’s free and it’s a great way to see art!” 

Is there a particular vibe you strive to create? I want it to be a clean and inviting space, with good light, where you can really focus on the art. We also have part of my personal chair collection here. There are way too many in our house so I brought a few in and people use them. It’s great.  

When you decided to open a gallery, was it a slow decision or more of a “click”? Definitely more of a click. It was 1991, my birthday, and I had dinner with a group of artists and I asked what they thought of my opening a gallery. The response was good and the idea was born. But it’s important to note that it came out of asking a group of trusted friends. 

What four artists, dead or alive, would you like to invite over for dinner? Louise Bourgeois, Agnes Martin, Vija Celmins and Marina Abramović — to keep us on our toes.  

If you could ask your favorite artist one question, what would it be? “Why do you need to make this?” 

As an audience member, what turns you on? Freshness. Difference. To get shaken up by something I’ve not experienced or seen before. That’s exciting. And that’s what life is about.

You’re stuck on a desert island and can have one record, one food and one book.  The Doors’ L.A. Woman, a nice plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and one of my Buddhist books. 

What quality do you like best in other people? I’m really attracted to outgoing people because they’re fun and unpredictable and aren’t afraid to say what they want. 

Pie or cake? Cake. Chocolate.  

For more on the lives of entertainers, artists and entrepreneurs, tune in to Art Zone with Nancy Guppy on the Seattle Channel (  

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