FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Paul Van Ginkel
March 1, 2016
Most struggling artists, I'm told, don’t make a living at their art as a full time pursuit.
If someone has been a full time professional artist for thirty years, garnering considerable acclaim and success – he’s built his brand – perhaps he’s not struggling quite so much anymore. How does this happen, and who is Paul Van Ginkel?
One-man show. In terms of all things he does in and around his business as well as ‘doing his business’, he is clearly a one-man band. Seems he’s well supported in the spouse department too. More about that later.
Drawing since he was nine, he didn’t paint his first oil painting till he was twenty. He drew in high school but wasn’t a standout. A self-described introvert. Really? His reputation – and my encounter with him – being considerable evidence to the contrary. Ebullient might be slight overstatement, but his social skills and marketing acumen seem to be straight out of some A-type personality manual on how to be proactively effervescent. “I had to develop – to bring in clients, to sell my work”.
Where is the future of his art? “I don’t think about it, or worry about it. There will always be room for a painting on a wall. What I do, painting on canvas, has been done for six hundred years – and that isn’t going away.”
Oils, watercolours. Cowboys. Horses. Flamenco dancers. A book. He sells the book, but if you buy a painting, I think he gives you one of those. Signed by the author …
His dad wanted him to join the family construction business (concrete) but he was already marching to his own drum …
I’ve heard about him – he’s a well credentialed and well promoted man-about-town type. Yes, I see some hype, but if you can’t promote yourself, who will? It turns out, a well worked rolodex of clients/collectors who admire his work have and continue to deliver the goods – and it seems there’s a steady supply of new works coming out of his studio.
The poster – not his claim to fame but probably the first time I heard about him being a big-deal in the Calgary art scene, was in 2006 when he was commissioned by then Calgary Stampede President George Brookman to paint the Calgary Stampede 2007 poster. His piece ‘Loyal Friends’, a cowboy and his horse’, representative of a prominent theme I saw in his gallery (open to the public on Saturdays – the rest of the time he’s painting. In advance of this interview I was given a tour of his Inglewood digs – gallery and studio. His new works, oils mostly, are hung proudly. Mostly large ones. Water colours and prints at the back. Displays are sprinkled with some older work, pieces on consignment (from collectors wishing to sell) – so it is easy to see his style and subjects haven’t changed radically through his career to date.
Where, and how, did that begin?
Born in Winnipeg. His mother, of Belgian/French stock was born in Winnipeg. Dad came from Holland with family – twelve siblings, and formed Trident Construction along with family members. When a big contract for the AGT Tower (now TELUS) was landed, Paul’s dad move his family from St. Boniface to Calgary. Paul, third of five children, was thirteen at the time. An ‘average student’, Paul graduated from Bishop Grandin High School and went on to the Alberta College of Art - a four year program. He started a fifth year to improve his grades - but then dropped out – to take a job at the Calgary Herald as an Editorial Illustrator. All the while, painting for hire part-time.
January 1st, 1990 – Paul quit that job and began his freelancing painting career full-time from an apartment spare bedroom/studio, much to the chagrin of his first wife who was in the law school at the time. A year later he’d earned more painting than his admittedly good salary at the Herald. The career lasted. The marriage didn’t.
“I began showing my work wherever I could. Coffee shops, galleries. I went after a lot of things. I’ve gotten my share.”
How does he do it? In terms of work process? “One at a time.” I found that unusual – I expected painters (perhaps like writers ….) have several projects on-the-go at any given time. I learned that while future projects are ‘in mind’ or planned, that his work is focused and concentrated on one painting at a time. I guess, in practical terms, that saves on easels …
His work with multiple galleries – has been curtailed in recent years. He sells his work in Santa Fe, New Mexico through a gallery there and an annual show – and from his gallery/studio in Calgary. Our conversation mostly skipped over his five-year ‘Vancouver’ period/phase as a developing artist. In short, he was busy professionally and socially – but returned to Calgary in 2001, coming home. He re-met/re-visited acquaintance Kristin Bell. They married in 2004. They have a daughter, Isabella, who poses annually for her ‘birthday painting’ and it seems she’s taken up a brush already …
Why are you successful? “I have the ability to pursue my calling, my dreams, every day. I’m a good painter. I’m a good businessman – good at controlling my product, the quality of my product. I paint things. I love to do it.”
What has held you back? “I have no complaints or excuses. I fantasize, ‘if I didn’t have to pay the bills – what would I paint?’ … and I think I might attempt larger pieces, more ambitious work.”
Social media is one of his primary marketing outreaches – you can find him on Facebook or on Linkedin. Also, plugging his friend/client Pat Ward at Painted Pony Petroleum – they’ve been doing an annual calendar to raise funds for Support HOPEthiopia. So far, since 2012, they’ve raised $600,000 .. and counting.
How do you see your business – as a painter – going forward over the next quarter?
… word in the industry is that it’s bad and going to be bad. I expect my business to be impacted too. Art is a luxury product. I cater mostly to people – clients/collectors – who generally speaking don’t have to worry about their jobs or their mortgages.
And over the next five years?
… artistically, I think I’m still scratching the surface of what I can do, and what my business can do. It’s going to continue to be fun, satisfying and rewarding. In terms of the economy, I believe recovery will happen!
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I should probably shop more. I’m loyal. I like to do business with people who operate as I do – it’s personal, full attention, they’re not desperate for the transaction.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Paul Van Ginkel, and why do they do business with you, why have they commission you or buy your work, over your competitors?
… my reputation, people can see and get to know my work. I’m always working on my technique. Credibility, referrals. It’s a relationship thing. Some of my best friends began as customers. I’m mindful of the privilege of having my art in their homes.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I don’t worry about a thing. What am I concerned about? The economy, the health of my family. I believe I can get through anything that comes my way.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… I had cancer. On my lower back, malignant melanoma in 2009. I couldn’t work for a year. Doing that Stampede poster was pivotal. Marrying Kristin. I’ve always had an attitude that ‘I’m successful because I’m happy – and I’m happy because I’m successful’.
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… huge! I don’t like to work in the evenings - I used to be a workaholic.
… exercise, golf, we’ve travelled lots. Those travelling experiences, and images, have often found their way into my work. [on their recent trip to Venice - 6,500 photos – reduced, vetted and distilled to sixty which Paul is planning for a series of sixty paintings. As for comments on his retired accomplished architect wife Kristin Bell – he tells me she’s taken up painting. She's done a series on doors. He's sold every piece and has customers for more! Like Paul, it seems she's got plenty of career ahead too ... He says, "She has a good eye."]
What do you read?
… artist biographies. I’m a news junkie – newspapers, magazines.
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