FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Audrey Mabee
March 5, 2015
Audrey Mabeewelcomed me into her home – and her home studio in an unassuming Oakridge home. Inside I found a studio with much work in progress and a bright sunny kitchen for interviewing. She’s been selling her art through galleries in Calgary, Vancouver and San Francisco – but like most prodigious artists, there was a path and there is a story …
Before I met her I did a little searching on the internet – and quickly found a style, look and feel of her art which is unlike any I’ve seen before – and a reputation I clearly had little sense of, how prodigious she is and what a cornerstone of Calgary’s art scene she’s become.
Audrey Mabee makes art, sells art, teaches art – she thinks art, she lives and breathes art. She’s been doing it long enough and well enough to be as much an authority as anyone – for a very long time she’s been a doyen of the Calgary arts scene – she’s been artist and merchant, teacher, mentor and figurative head of her field at the helm of ACAD as well as having been its first Alumni President.
Would you know her art on sight? I would now … Every morning in her home studio, she’s making more. Who is this Calgary art enigma, what is she doing now? More importantly, what made her into this tour de force?
“It keeps me in money and pleasure – which means it is a pleasant way to make my money”.
In the beginning … Audrey Belmass (her family traces back to the Clark’s shoe manufacturing firm), she wanted to be a veterinarian. But family, circumstances and geography sent her on a different path. Born in Moose Jaw, left at age five for Vancouver and then Calgary. Her dad was an electrician – a cable splicer. Mom worked to support Audrey and her younger sister after her parents divorced. High school in Calgary (she was captain of the cheeleaders). She admits to being a ‘high average’ student and class clown. Her post-secondary art school (Provincial Institute of Technology & Art) was a three-year diploma program followed by a stint in the Advertising Department at Woodward’s Department Stores doing illustrations. Teaching art at Strathcona Tweedsmuir School. Painting. Retailing art.
She’s divorced, re-partnered. Her son Rob Mabee is a PR sensation (and she’s obviously very proud of him). He previously worked for Audrey and her partner in a long-running retail venture in Calgary called the Croft which she sold in 1996. Retailing took away from art production because it only allowed two days a week for painting.
What has contributed most to your success? “What I do is a passion – not a job. A lot of support from all kinds of people who have encouraged me and bought my work. Being able to maintain a studio at home – so I have 24/7 access.”
What has held you back? “I didn’t have ambition to do more.”
Clearly she’s been networking from long before it was cool to be, she’s been consistent and unrelenting, prodigious. And, did I mention charming and kind? She’s working hard on her next show – Halos and Haikus – coming this month! The show opens at Gibson’s Fine Art Gallery on May 23rd…
I asked Audrey how she sees her business “making and selling art”; I asked her ‘how’s business looking, going forward over the next quarter?’
… it’s been really good. I have a show coming up and I’m nervous about the economy. I do ‘feel good paintings’, I want to make you smile.
And over the next five years?
… the art world is cyclical. Abstract art is coming on strong and I expect this is a five-ten year trend in the making. I’m disappointed with what is coming out of ACAD in terms of paintings right now.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… everybody has a style. I look for good looking design, things that are modern and clean. Otherwise, I rely on referrals from friends …
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Audrey Mabee and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… because I’ve been around a long time! I’m a ‘go to’ resource. Because of the art. Because of ACAD. Because we have a more sophisticated buying public in Calgary. Being part of a group of 16 women who’ve been meeting once a month for 29 years.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… not a whole lot. Worry is a waste of time.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my friends are my best blessing. Good things happened to me all along. Things just dropped in my lap.
Work-life balance, do you have it?
… yes. I paint every day.
… water colours! (oil painting is my job), writing short stories.
What do you read?
… I’m a big book reader. The New Yorker. I’ve kept a record of every book I’ve read for 28 years and I’ve kept a diary of memorable passages …
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