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Interview >> Patti Dibski of Gibson Fine Art on Art Collecting

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We sat down with Patti Dibski of Gibson Fine Art talk to all things art collecting. Her gallery represents over 40 emerging and established Canadian artists who work in a range of media. Gibson Fine Art is focused on Alberta artists and provides art consultation, art placement, appraisals as well as installation and fine art rentals. We asked Patti about becoming a gallery owner, how she recommends people approach the purchase of fine art and a little bit about what drives her. This is our interview.

How did you became a gallery owner?

When I had my second child I was like, you know, this corporate world doesn’t really fit my lifestyle.

I was in a mom and babies group with this lawyer and we were getting our pedicures done and she asked, “Would you ever want to buy a business?” and I’m like, “What? No.”

Then it sat with me and percolated. I came back to her and I said, “Would you … you know, would you be interested in having a partner in buying a business?” and she’s like, “Yeah, totally.”

My partner lasted a whole year and then she was, like, “You know what, I just can’t do this.” So she left and I bought her out. So then I ran the gallery from 1994 to today.

And what was that like?

I was in marketing at CN Rail. So I converted a ton of my rail clients into art clients. When I bought the gallery I called them up and I’m, like, “Hey, so I’m not selling you rail freight anymore. It wasn’t very exciting. Can I come and talk to you about art in your space?”

At first it was how am I going to legitimatize myself, right? How am I going to prove that I know something, and I can sell it. But I figured out rail freight and coal in seven years and that was really hard, right? So this was like kindergarten in terms of the complexity.

Yeah, yes.

I did art history as part of my studies in my undergrad. So when we bought [the gallery] we hired this tutor named Christopher Willard and he’s still at ACAD. He came once a week and tutored us in fine art.He was from New York, so he’s very critical of everything in Calgary, and he was awesome. It was like getting an MFA in six months, right?

Yeah, with your very own private tutor!

When I’m in, I’m all in. I’m reading and [my husband] and I went to Paris and we did this whole tour just to learn all the fundamentals So, yeah, it was easy because I loved it. Super easy. I never was like, “I don’t know what to do.”

So, building on that, why do you think owning original art is important?

Oh, that’s interesting you ask that because I’m just running a campaign now, have you seen it?

Yes, I’ve noticed it.

It’s very cheeky. Original art is important because it’s created by one hand. It's hand-created. It’s authentic. It’s not just stuff, it’s a unique product that was made by somebody. It was crafted in their mind and put out in some way on some substrate or through some media.

And when you see it, I think original art brings a level of joy to people that you can’t get with something that’s reproduced.

Do you have a regional focus?

I do have a regional focus.

What about that resonates for you and how did it develop?

I sat on the board of Calgary Arts Development for six years and that’s the city’s arm for setting arts policy. As I was sitting on that board, and even before that, I really wanted to support our local arts community. I think that it’s really important to plow money back into the community. And, certainly, there’s a ton of really great national artists or even artists outside of our provincial region. But, it was important to me to directly support our local community.

And I think I’ve said this to you before, I didn’t do this purposely, but I have a ton of female artists. I believe in not just supporting our local arts community, but supporting female artists, especially emerging artists. So every year I pick up one emerging artist and they’ve all been women. And that’s not even strategic in that I’m only going to choose women. It’s just that that’s how it works out for me.

And now I sit on the Board of Governors of ACAD and so that’s, again, my contribution back to the arts community. And so now I’m hoping to get more involved with ACAD as a gallery owner to partner with their visual arts program and promote those artists.

What do you recommend people consider when they’re starting or building up an art collection?

Buy art you love.

Okay.

At this level or price point anybody who tells you that you’re buying art as an investment, I just don’t agree with that statement. To buy art as an investment, I believe the art needs to already be up the curve. It already has to show a pattern of sales in both the primary and secondary market.

And you never know what’s going to happen to an artist. So I can tell you buy blah and that artist is going to appreciate, but I don’t know that because that artist could stop painting. That artist could change careers. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s like a penny stock, right? You’re going to roll the dice.

Yes, okay.

There’s certainly people who can pick those artists, collectors, and just have this uncanny ability to pick, but a lot of it’s just luck.

I always say buy what you love and something that speaks to you, something that resonates with you on an emotional level, something you and your partner both are happy about.

Are there common mistakes that collectors make?

No, I don’t think so. I think if you’re buying what you love and you can afford it … like, you don’t want to leverage yourself to buy original art and be charging everything on your credit card so you can’t pay it off. I mean, that would be a problem, but I never see that.

Yeah, okay.

Everybody that I see is very careful, right? They’re measured, they take their time. You know, it’s the reason I love what I do. I was at a house yesterday, for example, and we took this big sixty-by-sixty piece into her house. And when we put it up in her house it looks like oh, my God. It’s like the painting was made for her home. She was so happy, her husband was so happy. It’s like this joy or satisfaction you get from original art that I think you can’t get from stuff.

Okay. How can people get the most impact from their purchases?

I think you want to put your art in a place where you’re going to see it every day. When you first start collecting, I think you want to buy art for your key areas. Maybe that’s your bedroom, because some people spend a lot of time in their bedroom, some people spend a lot of time in the kitchen. It’s wherever you can sit and most enjoy that piece. I think you want to choose your most visited or frequented places.

There are certain places where I advise on the type of art you put into a space. I would never put glass above my bed because I’m always worried: what if there’s a mini earthquake, or a tornado, or something, and the glass falls on your bed. And, in your bathroom, I don’t put art behind glass, because of all the steam condensation.

What’s the most unusual installation you’ve ever done?

That’s a tough question. I’ve done so many. You know, the most unusual installation I ever did was in a home in Eau Claire. It wasn’t my piece, but she had this huge Toller Cranston, and she had a giant baseboard and casing. And it just fit by like one inch. We had to get it onto its hooks so that it sat perfectly between the ceiling and the baseboard. And it was just a game of angles. It took three hours to try to figure that angle out and it was so heavy. It was, like, a hundred pounds.

Oh, wow. Excellent. Is there a particular artist or piece that’s on your wish list?

That’s a really hard one for me to answer.

Does it change?

Yeah. Well, it does and then I … like, I have favourites, right? I can’t really do that. It’s like my favourite child, I can’t really say that publicly.

Yeah, okay.

So I love them all.

Fair enough. I’ll ask you an easier question then. Red or white?

White.

What in your mind is worth spending more to get the very best?

Like, besides art?

Besides art, outside of art. Things.

Things. I love good running shoes. I’ll buy really good running shoes.

Like, I’m not a handbag person. I love shoes but I won’t spend a thousand dollars on shoes, but I will spend a lot of money on my running shoes. Sunglasses. What else do I spend good money on? Cars. A laptop. Devices that I need to work and function. It’s kind of boring.

I do buy nice shoes, but not crazy. Like, I wouldn’t buy Prada shoes but I do buy good shoes. I love workout gear. It’s nothing for me to drop, $200 on a Lululemon top. I don’t even look at the price. But to go buy a $200 shirt for work? I don’t do that as easily.

Where is your best place in Calgary to people watch?

Banker’s Hall.

Oh, that’s interesting. Why is that?

It’s like so much industry is there. I feel like Banker’s Hall is the original epicentre of Calgary. And, of all the towers I go in I find Banker’s Hall is still the most dressed up. Men are in suits and the women are very dressed up. I don’t know why that is, I think there’s a lot of law firms in there.

So, yeah, I like sitting in Sunterra in Banker’s Hall and watching people walk by.

And what about your favourite patio?

My favourite patio … Murrieta’s. Yeah, because you can watch all the people walk by.

I like that one, too. Just to wrap up, I wanted to ask you if there’s anything about buying original art that we didn’t talk about and should.

Well, I think it’s important when you buy original art to really understand the artist. So we always talk to the potential buyer about the artist, because I think that makes the piece more interesting. So when you go to look at a piece of art we like to give you the story of that artist. You know, where they’re from, what inspires them and a little bit about the style, how they paint. You always want some background, you want some history, a narrative on the piece. So it’s always important to ask those questions.

Great. Thank you.

Interview was completed in June 2018 and has been edited for length.