JOHN NEWSOM: Hello Patrick, it’s good to hear your voice. How have you been?
PATRICK PAINTER: I’ve been sleeping really wacky hours because I’ve been trying to close this Warhol painting for nine million dollars, and then um… trying to sell these four Gerhard Richter paintings he did for Documenta in 92’. You know those four panels?
JOHN NEWSOM: Yes.
PATRICK PAINTER: Which oddly enough is a second time around for me on that. I had them like twenty years ago when I was in Japan. I’m in Japan, and I think I’ve got them sold, then I get back to Vancouver where I was living at the time, and two weeks later I realize, “Oh shit, they don’t know how to say no!” So then I had no deals, when I thought I had killed it.
JOHN NEWSOM: And I’m sure being able to coordinate and finesse the negotiations of artwork like that originated somewhere.
PATRICK PAINTER: Well, I didn’t finesse it very well the first time. Although I thought I did. We’ll see how I do the second time around. It’s not often you get a second chance at a picture like that.
JOHN NEWSOM: That’s true.
PATRICK PAINTER: I always call it ‘the real plague’. (Laughs) “Try again kid.”
JOHN NEWSOM: So, how did you discover art? What was your ‘eureka’ moment?
PATRICK PAINTER: Well, when I was 28, I was living in Paris, and I was working for an insurance company, Metropolitan Life. One day I said to myself, “I don’t know anything about art, so I’m gonna start looking at art.” It’s not like I wanted to, it just seemed appropriate. You know what I mean? I mean what else are you going to do in Paris? You can’t go to Disneyland and shit. You know what I mean? You can’t go surfing.
JOHN NEWSOM: True. That’s very true. You can’t go surfing in Paris.
PATRICK PAINTER: So I’m looking around the Pompidou, and I’m seeing Cy Twombly and I’m seeing all these artists, and I’m just hating it dude. I saw many things there that disturbed me, but one in particular was this Gilbert & George. Now… I’m from Long Beach, California… I went to military school… which is kind of like a big gang fight to begin with, and then I got kicked out of military school and really went to gang school. So you know, I had these kind of street instincts, by necessity not by desire. Also, the surfing and the skating in the early 60’s. So when I saw this Gilbert & George, they’re standing there with their fingers in a ‘V’, which I had no idea that in England a ‘V’ meant ‘fuck you’. But at the bottom of the picture it said, “Fuck You” in case you didn’t know what it meant.
JOHN NEWSOM: And this is at the Pompidou…
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, at the Pompidou. And so now I’m not thinking if someone put it there or anything like that. I’m just suddenly in a street-fight with this thing. I mean I’m telling you, I was out of my mind. If I could have punched that damn picture I would’ve.
JOHN NEWSOM: (Laughs) And this is your first experience going in?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yep. Going in. Hated it. Wanted to punch out. Just nasty.
JOHN NEWSOM: Right.
PATRICK PAINTER: So then I went back the next day… and I like hated it for another hour. It’s kind of a weird thing to do. You know, sitting on a little bench they had in front of the picture, a little off to the side. Then I went back a third day to hate it, and then I thought… maybe I like it.
JOHN NEWSOM: Aha.
PATRICK PAINTER: And I was like, “Oh shit.” My sister became a schizophrenic at 28, now I’m 28 so I’m a schizophrenic. In the Pompidou I realize I’m a schizophrenic. And then I’m thinking, I still have sibling rivalries, but at least I KNOW I’m fucking crazy. And so then I went back the next day to see how fucking crazy I looked.
JOHN NEWSOM: This is the third day?
PATRICK PAINTER: Fourth day. So now I’m looking at people and they aren’t looking at me strange, and I’m thinking I guess I must be maintaining, like when used to drop acid. So then on the fifth day I went to the Left Bank to all of those galleries… like forty of ‘em. Really, it was like my mission for the day.
JOHN NEWSOM: Wow.
PATRICK PAINTER: And I was like, “What about that Gilbert & George, pretty great huh.” And they’re like, “Yeah.” And I go, “What do you mean?”
JOHN NEWSOM: (Laughs)
PATRICK PAINTER: And I go, “Didn’t you just say it was great?” I mean there’s me and my crazy self, “And what do you think?” And at the end of the day I was like, “You can like this? That’s awesome.”
JOHN NEWSOM: So you were basically doing open heart surgery on yourself.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, pretty much. Then I never looked back because I was totally obsessed and was like “Wow.” Because having strong feelings about anything is gonna awaken some deep shit in you.
JOHN NEWSOM: Very true, that’s very true. So after you had that epiphany, what did you do after Paris?
PATRICK PAINTER: Well, when I was in Paris I was going out with this girl at the time named Winnie Fung, a really great girl whose Dad was a billionaire. I was telling her all about all of this stuff that happened, and she was like, “You seem to really like this art thing, so why don’t we go out and buy some art?” And I was like… “Okay.” You know, like as long as somebody’s got the money. (Laughs)
JOHN NEWSOM: So you went shopping.
PATRICK PAINTER: Right. So the first thing we bought were three Schnabel paintings from Leslie Waddington. And right after that I happened to be at The Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles.
JOHN NEWSOM: Coming back from Paris?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, back from Paris, just bought the pictures, had to go to The Bel-Air Hotel because I figured out I had to sort myself, went back to California to figure out this whole art thing. But I knew I wanted to get the Schnabel pictures because they looked cool.
JOHN NEWSOM: And you got those in Paris?
PATRICK PAINTER: No, Leslie was in London. I didn’t see the show, just a catalogue and said, “This one, this one, and this one.” And so Julian happened to have been staying at The Bel-Air Hotel. And for me I don’t know… I’m following Nietzsche’s code without even knowing it. Like, if you want to know the truth inquire. But I don’t know that, and I don’t know anything about the rules of the art world. Like I just didn’t have the handbook. So I call him up, and Julian goes, “Hello.” And I say, “Hey Julian. Is this Julian Schnabel?” And he goes, “Yeah.” And I say, “Hey, I just bought three of your pictures.” And he’s like, “No you didn’t.” And I go, “Sure I did.” Now I’m gettin’ kinda like, “What?” And, uh, you know what I mean? (Laughs) “Could you say that again, you got three of my pictures?” So then he goes, “Let me call you back.” So he calls me back and says, “Well yeah, Leslie sold you three pictures because you’re opening a museum and all of this stuff.” And I was like, “Nah, that’s not what they said. They said get the money there in twenty-four hours and they’re yours.”
JOHN NEWSOM: Right.
PATRICK PAINTER: And he’s like, “Uh, meet me in the lobby, meet me in the lounge.” And I was like, “Okay.” So I met him in the piano bar, and he was like… he was pretty cool about it in the end. You know, at the start I kind of shook his shit a little bit I think.
JOHN NEWSOM: Sounds like a Sinatra story.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, pretty much. I did see Sinatra one time.
JOHN NEWSOM: Really?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, in Germany. It was like death-metal guys on one side for a band staying at the hotel, and Sinatra fans on the other side.
JOHN NEWSOM: I’ve never heard you tell that story.
PATRICK PAINTER: My annual pilgrimage to see Polke and Richter.
JOHN NEWSOM: Okay, now that’s really key because that’s like Germany… and Germany is a big part of your story.
PATRICK PAINTER: Anyway, it went on like that… buying art with Winnie… she was the first major Chinese collector of Western contemporary art. Like she had ten major Naumans, ten major Ruschas, and Schnabels, and Gobers, and on and on and on and on, Mark Tansey, you name it. And I really enjoyed building that collection from top to bottom. Then I went back pretty quickly. I rented an apartment above Christie’s on Park Avenue.
JOHN NEWSOM: So now you’re back in New York?
PATRICK PAINTER: Right above the building. And there’s a great deli right around the corner. I forget the name of it. Then I went to see Leo, because I began to know him through acquiring art for Winnie.
JOHN NEWSOM: Leo Castelli.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah. And then I go, “Hey Leo, do you think I could be an art dealer?” Our relationship was starting to get weird, because all he was doing was dealing art, like 24/7. So it was kind of like pissing him off, like it would anybody.
JOHN NEWSOM: Do you remember when you met him? Did you meet him for the first time in his gallery?
PATRICK PAINTER: No, the first time I met him was at Ed’s retrospective in 1990.
JOHN NEWSOM: Okay, Ed Ruscha?
PATRICK PAINTER: Right. No… that’s not true, the first time I met him was at his gallery for the first time. That’s where I met him. But whenever he saw me, like in a line of people or something, he would always slap me in the head.
JOHN NEWSOM: (Laughs)
PATRICK PAINTER: Which I could never figure out if it was good or bad.
JOHN NEWSOM: Maybe it had to do with electrons or something… like a natural attraction.
PATRICK PAINTER: He’d always say, “Youuu” and smack me in the head. So at this point, pretty quickly, I have this kind of relationship with him. And then I was like, I can’t be an art dealer–because it seemed pretty quickly that this Winnie thing was gonna hit the road. No check, no art world, know what I mean? Not that I was with her for those reasons. I’m just being practical about my chosen career. And Leo said, “Yeah, I think you could be an art dealer.” I said, “Yeah, but will you show me how to do it?” And he says, “Yeah.” And I say, “Okay.” So the next morning I was at 420 West Broadway bright and early. And you know, he told me some great shit. Like the first time I met him he said, as a mentor situation, he said, “You always have to treat everybody the same because you don’t know who’s going to become what. And I’ve seen some people who I thought would never be anywhere run stuff.” And he said, “Always trust your artists. And trust your artists, I mean buy your artists.” He said, “I just sold a Jasper Johns for like fifteen million that I bought for a thousand dollars, because no one wanted it out of the first show. But if I hadn’t had bought it, I wouldn’t have had it to sell.”
JOHN NEWSOM: These are things that obviously you’ve carried with you till this very day.
PATRICK PAINTER: Right. And he said, “Always keep your word.” And then I said, “Okay, let me get this straight, the way you talked about buying stuff…” He said, “Often the stuff you don’t sell will make you.” And I said, “What do you mean by that?” And that’s when he told me the story about Jasper and the painting… know what I mean?
JOHN NEWSOM: Yeah sure, like early Richard Serra or Bruce Nauman, or something like that too.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah. One of the biggest things for me was when Leo had a Bruce Nauman animal show. I think it was 1989… you can look it up. So Leo calls me and says, “Be at the gallery tonight.” And I go, “Okay.” Never tells me why or anything. So we’re buying art from him, he’s mentoring me, it’s kind’ve a combo deal. So I knock on the door at 420 West Broadway, and Leo opens the door. And most of the lights are off, everyone’s gone, he’s the only one there, it’s like seven o’clock… eight o’clock, something like that. He goes, “Pick whatever you want.”
JOHN NEWSOM: Wow.
PATRICK PAINTER: I go, “What do you mean?” And he goes, “You don’t understand ‘Pick whatever you want?’”
JOHN NEWSOM: (Laughs) That sounds like you talking.
PATRICK PAINTER: Right? (Laughs) So I walk around and I buy the four cast aluminum caribou bodies.
JOHN NEWSOM: That’s fantastic!
PATRICK PAINTER: But that feeling was so amazing… to just walk around and get whatever you want.
JOHN NEWSOM: Can you describe that a little bit more in-depth, that feeling?
PATRICK PAINTER: I guess… like the essence of VIP. Yeah man, I mean especially Bruce Nauman. It’s like, who gets to pick first on a Bruce Nauman show anywhere?
JOHN NEWSOM: And were you in town for the opening? Were you able to make it there and say you got the piece?
PATRICK PAINTER: Nah, then that was kind of it for me. I didn’t go to the opening. I was kind of like, I did my deal. I didn’t want people like throwing hate my way, because I was brand new in the art world. You know what I mean?
JOHN NEWSOM: So I think Mike Kelley might have taken a cue from you, knowing that he didn’t show up to his own opening at The Louvre, and it being the first exhibition there ever given to an American artist.
PATRICK PAINTER: (Laughs) Yeah. I remember the first show of Mike’s I saw. It became apparent to me that he does his
shows up to the minute. I mean to the last second he’s changing shit.
JOHN NEWSOM: Do you remember the first show that the two of you worked on?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, it was this show where he kind’ve turned movie stars into sex dolls. He felt that in the future people would get plastic surgery to look like the famous movie stars they want to be. So he did it with cut-outs of their face on these pillows. He did another with E.T.’s head on top and made a little hookah room for E.T. to get loaded in.
JOHN NEWSOM: Didn’t you use that piece in the ad?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah. That was a great show.
JOHN NEWSOM: So… you were living above Christie’s, you were working with this kind of like apprenticeship-type of situation with Castelli, and how long did that last? How long did that type of education last for you?
PATRICK PAINTER: That lasted for about six months, then I could tell it was getting a bit tight with him… like it was starting to bug him. Like, “Time to fly on little bird.” But then it picked up with Walter Hopps, because I used to see him in Houston, and Walter took me on.
JOHN NEWSOM: Hold on, let’s trace this thread a little bit.
PATRICK PAINTER: Walter was living in Houston doing the Menil collection. I just called him up and told him I wanted to meet him.
JOHN NEWSOM: You actually went to Houston?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, I went to Houston. Dominique de Menil spent the day showing me her collection at her museum and her house, like just one on one. She had Cornell boxes in her library in between books, and her drawing collection, and her watercolor collection. She had this enormous closet, and she said, “We have to go in here to see it…” It was a little creepy the way she said it.
JOHN NEWSOM: It was like her cabinet of curiosities.
PATRICK PAINTER: (Laughs) It was like, “Gotta go in this dark room.” And I’m like, “Okay baby.” She had a solitary light bulb she had put in there with her watercolors.
JOHN NEWSOM: And that’s where you found Walter?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, no, I found Walter in Houston and he said go hang out with her for a day. Now, Walter wasn’t an A-B-C-1-2-3 type of dude like Leo. Know what I mean?
JOHN NEWSOM: Yes. Which seems more in tune with you actually, or your style.
PATRICK PAINTER: (Pause) Yeah, I guess. He was like a speed freak and you know… incredible guy.
JOHN NEWSOM: And what did you learn from him?
PATRICK PAINTER: We would be talking about how he got a Twombly painting out of Twombly for the Menil Foundation, but he would mime how he went about it. He’d say, “I’ll show ya.” Then he would pretend he was in Cy’s studio, and he would like sit in a chair and look at a painting, and Cy would keep walking and he would keep walking. And then he told me he would say to Cy, “Do you mind if I just sit here for a while? Would that be alright?” And Cy was like, “Sure.” Then Walter would say, “I could just sit here all day.”
JOHN NEWSOM: That’s so poetic… very poetic approach.
PATRICK PAINTER: You know what I mean? And then I was like, “Did you get the picture?” And he was like, “Hell yeah I got the picture.” (Laughs) Because Walter started out as an art dealer. He was the first one to show Duchamp on the West Coast, and Andy Warhol for that matter.
JOHN NEWSOM: So when did this all come together in terms of you putting your gallery together?
PATRICK PAINTER: Well first I had the editions company, and I was trying to figure out what my handle was in the art world. I found myself on my Mom’s couch in Vancouver, Canada.
JOHN NEWSOM: Were you still staying in touch with Leo and Walter?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah! I was talking to them and stuff. So I was saying to my Mom, “Mom, I got this idea for the art thing I want to do in the art world, but I need to borrow like a hundred thousand dollars.” Which is about what she had. And she sat down and wrote a check. And I go, “Don’t you want to hear the idea?” And she said, “I don’t care.” And
I go, “Ma! Let me tell you the idea at least.” And she goes, “Does this involve you moving out?” “Yeah it involves me moving out.” She goes, “Then you need to look for a place to live.”
JOHN NEWSOM: Right.
PATRICK PAINTER: So I moved out that day. (Laughs) About a quarter of a mile from Jeff Wall’s studio in like the worst area of town.
JOHN NEWSOM: In Vancouver?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, in Vancouver. Because when I got back from Leo’s and Walter’s I was asking a lot of artists to pace on a lot of things. And a lot of really great artists helped me out… like Paul McCarthy, and Mike Kelley, and Jeff Wall, Dan Graham… I mean I could go on. The thing is, if you’re really innocent and honest that you don’t know stuff, these people respond to you like that.
JOHN NEWSOM: Absolutely. Did you know Jeff Wall at the time when you were moving into your new place, or did you meet him later?
PATRICK PAINTER: I met him a few months later, because I just called him up, like anybody. Because see back then the ArtDiary used to have everybody’s real phone number in it. So I could just call up anybody. I remember, I called up… God his name escapes my mind… Brice Marden. I call Brice Marden and wanted to just chat him for a while, which I did. And I said, “Why don’t we do some etchings. Have you ever been to China?” “No.” He said, “I’ve never been to China.” And I go, “Really? With that whole Cold Mountain thing, you’ve never been to China?” He goes, “No.” I go, “Well, would you like to go?” (Laughs) Because I assumed he went to China anyway. And that really didn’t work out.
I called Robert Ryman once and he was kind of game, but then what am I gonna do, a white piece of paper? My only test for doing an edition was that I had to want one, and it had to look like the artist’s normal work or not pegged as an edition.
JOHN NEWSOM: But you hadn’t really formulated the plan yet on the gallery?
PATRICK PAINTER: Well, I formulated the plan for the editions when I got back to Vancouver and I was on my Mom’s couch. The idea was… like back in the early nineties, like 1991, everybody was talking about this cinematic notion of making art. And I was like, “Well where is the producer in all of this?” So I decided that I would get things made the best
way possible, and kind of edit the artists’ minds. That’s why edition makers are called ‘editors’ in Europe, which I always thought was a more elegant term. And then what I would do is kind of have them just talk about their ideas.
JOHN NEWSOM: And what was your first edition work when an artist said yes to you? What did it feel like when the artist agreed to take on the project?
PATRICK PAINTER: It felt normal. The first artists were Rodney Graham and Larry Johnson, at the same time… Richard Prince soon after that. Jeff Wall after that. I picked up the Bas Jan Ader estate around then, at the very start. You see what happened was, I went to Marian Goodman’s gallery and they had some Thomas Struth photos, these museum photos. You remember those?
JOHN NEWSOM: Yes, of course… absolutely.
PATRICK PAINTER: So they go, “There’s ten of them.” And I go, “So it’s an edition of ten?” And they’re like, “Well, not really.” And I’m like, “Not really?” Then I went over to Matthew Marks and saw some Gurskys and they said, “There’s six of them.” And I go, “So it’s an edition of six?” “Well, not really.” So I go, “I’m gonna go home and make a bunch of ‘not really.’v Only I’m gonna call it an edition.” You know what I mean?
JOHN NEWSOM: Yes.
PATRICK PAINTER: Because ‘edition’ seemed to be a dirty word at this point, like I don’t know. But my editions were editions of 3, editions of 5… I even made an edition of 1 once.
JOHN NEWSOM: And no one had really done that before.
PATRICK PAINTER: No… no, or since. As far as I know.
JOHN NEWSOM: And one could say that’s a major contribution to the lineage of this thing.
PATRICK PAINTER: I think it’s a good contribution. Jeff Wall told me he thought it was going to change the idea of uniqueness a little bit.
JOHN NEWSOM: That’s very interesting.
PATRICK PAINTER: Which I know sounds a little bit crazy, uniqueness– uniqueness. Then, I wouldn’t sell one in the same country.
JOHN NEWSOM: That’s interesting too.
PATRICK PAINTER: So if I had five I’d sell one in the US, one in France, one in England, you know what I mean, one in Germany, one in Canada… like that. So there was a really slim chance of someone walking around saying they’ve seen it. And then I started using other galleries as movie theaters. So the last year before I opened my gallery, I had twenty edition shows around the world.
JOHN NEWSOM: And those exhibitions were in cooperation with various galleries?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, like Lehmann Maupin, and… all kinds of places. Simon Lee gave me my first edition show in England.
JOHN NEWSOM: And that would be in London. Do you recall what you showed there?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, we showed Paul McCarthy, these big masks… and these big legs Paul did. I mean it was very early on… Anish Kapoor. It was an awesome show. It was a Yves Klein show and Patrick Painter Editions.
JOHN NEWSOM: And were you at the opening? Did you travel to London for the opening?
PATRICK PAINTER: Oh yeah, I went, hung the thing, did the whole deal.
JOHN NEWSOM: So at the time, you’re traveling to a lot of these places as well and doing business.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, I’m going to Europe like every two weeks. And I’d gotten to know Kippy in California. I remember when I made my first big museum trip to Germany, when I had a little bit more money and I wasn’t staying in the coatroom at The Chelsea Hotel next to Kippy. That’s where he used to sleep. And I used to take the plane trip that was the cheapest, like seven stops. One time a tornado came up in Memphis and we got diverted to Nashville… and the plane in Nashville started lifting off the tarmac. So I call Mike Kelley from the plane while it’s being lifted off the tarmac and I say, “I’m in a fucking tornado dude!” And he goes, “I know. I saw that. People are dying.” I go, “What?!” And he says, “Listen, I gotta go, I’m having a dinner party. I gotta go.” And I was like, “What?!”
JOHN NEWSOM: Lucky you made it out of the tornado. Speaking of which, ‘Kippy’… that would be Martin Kippenberger.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah. And I had a telephone back then, you know, one of the bricks with like about ten batteries. And the thing is, you could actually maintain a phone call by switching batteries if you go at it like Bruce Lee style.
JOHN NEWSOM: Cool.
PATRICK PAINTER: Like if you were that fast you could keep your call.
JOHN NEWSOM: I can just visualize it.
PATRICK PAINTER: Anyway, Kippy started calling me ‘The man with the telephone’.
JOHN NEWSOM: It sounds like one of his paintings.
PATRICK PAINTER: (Laughs) Yeah, right. So, and apparently he was telling people about me in Germany, which I didn’t know till later. We were at the bar one day and he says to me, “I gotta go look at this one collector’s painting.” And I go, “Why?” And he says, “Because it kind’ve turned to schputz.” And do you remember those condom paintings he was doing?
JOHN NEWSOM: Yes.
PATRICK PAINTER: The big latex kind. So apparently one had kind of been in the sun and kind of liquefied. So I said to Martin, “What are you gonna do?” And he said, “I don’t know. I gotta get over there.” So then I said, “Okay, well I’m meeting you over here afterwards again for drinks.” So in the afternoon when I meet him back there again for drinks I say, “What happened?” And he goes, “Yeah, it turned to schputz.” I said, “So what did you do?” He said, “I told him that I intended that.” And I was like, “Okay.” (Laughs)
JOHN NEWSOM: You know, Kippenberger and I arm wrestled each other in a bar once.
PATRICK PAINTER: And I bet you won.
JOHN NEWSOM: And I won. (Laughs)
PATRICK PAINTER: (Laughs) And you’re a big guy John.
JOHN NEWSOM: I know that you and Kippenberger were good friends, but did you ever actually work together on a project?
PATRICK PAINTER: Nope, never. We were just friends. He was hanging a show of his at the Pompidou. You know… of his books, and posters, and everything. And we were in there drinking and he would say things like, “Polke, Richter, Baselitz… grabbing all this money, ridiculous!!” (Laughs)
JOHN NEWSOM: (Laughs) I can hear him saying that.
PATRICK PAINTER: I’m not saying it’s true. It’s just what he said. (Laughs)
JOHN NEWSOM: Yes, of course.
PATRICK PAINTER: I don’t even think he believed it. I think he just loved shock- rock.
JOHN NEWSOM: ‘Shock-rock’… that could have been the title of his retrospective.
PATRICK PAINTER: So every year I would go to Cologne to hang out with artists. And while I was there I would go to Sigmar Polke’s house. Polke had this little house by a construction site at the time. And then I’d light up a cigar and be like, “I’m not leaving till you come out!” And then of course he would never come out, so there you have it. So I’d do this every year for about five years.
JOHN NEWSOM: But you have done an exhibition of Polke’s.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, yeah I was lucky enough to get that done.
JOHN NEWSOM: That’s great.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, these large amazing watercolors.
JOHN NEWSOM: So things are rolling, it’s the mid-90’s, you’re back in Vancouver, this is like on the verge of you opening the gallery in Los Angeles?
PATRICK PAINTER: Right. Now that happened because Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy called and said they wanted me to open a gallery in L.A., and I go, “I don’t want to open a gallery in L.A.”
JOHN NEWSOM: And why did they call you in particular?
PATRICK PAINTER: Because they liked what I did.
JOHN NEWSOM: So did you guys get together and they convinced you to do it?
PATRICK PAINTER: They were pretty much like, “We’re not gonna show at a gallery in L.A. anymore unless you do it.”
JOHN NEWSOM: So then what did you do?
PATRICK PAINTER: I was like, well we’re about the same age, we’re all Irish American, that’s where I’m from… maybe I’m supposed to do it. Because I was doing pretty well financially.
JOHN NEWSOM: And did you begin looking for a space?
PATRICK PAINTER: Well, a friend of mine named Burnett Miller, who showed Charles Ray, and Franz West, and you know, really great people… He had a heart attack happen to him and wasn’t quite right after that, something about the anesthesia or something. So he was closing down his gallery and I was like, “I’ll take yours.” He said, “Okay, cool.” So I had a gallery in probably like two days.
JOHN NEWSOM: It was meant to be.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, you know, and then it’s never stopped.
JOHN NEWSOM: So you still had the editions company based in Vancouver?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yes, still had the editions company based in Vancouver, going back and forth.
JOHN NEWSOM: And what did you open with? What was your first show in L.A.?
PATRICK PAINTER: My first show was Harmony Korine. It was the first official show, and the studio paid for it. And it was like the premier for ‘Gummo’. And so Marilyn Manson came, and Gus Van Sant, Chloe Sevingy, and all these people. So they had a big tent for entertainment, and my Mom was like hanging out with Twiggy and Marilyn Manson.
JOHN NEWSOM: Who were you hanging out with?
PATRICK PAINTER: I was hanging with Matt Dillon. He and I used to be roommates. And I said, “I’m not even going over there.” And Matt says “Sounds like a good idea.” (Laughs) So afterwards I go, “Hey Ma, what did you think about Marilyn Manson?” And she goes, “I think he’s a really nice boy. He’s from the mid- west. He seems to have his head together pretty good, and I really like him.”
JOHN NEWSOM: Welcome to the art- world. Your Mom and Marilyn Manson.
PATRICK PAINTER: Right. (Laughs) It’s like, they were pumping air-conditioning into the gallery, we had a red carpet, a press-line. I don’t think anybody’s ever had a gallery opening like this before.
JOHN NEWSOM: And what could possibly follow that?
PATRICK PAINTER: Robert Smithson and Dan Graham was my third show, and surprisingly no one had ever done that show before. Which I thought was weird because they were really good friends who grew up together.
JOHN NEWSOM: And how was the reception to it and how did you feel? Your first couple of shows and your openings…
PATRICK PAINTER: We didn’t sell anything for like eight shows.
JOHN NEWSOM: And you’re showing these iconic artists.
PATRICK PAINTER: Right. It’s like Stuart Regen, who was a good friend of mine, he used to say, “In New York when you open a gallery everyone’s down the first weekend. In L.A. it’s the reverse. You kind’ve got to be open a couple of years before they believe you’re really gonna be open.” Stuart was a really great guy and I miss him terribly. He was an important dealer for Los Angeles.
JOHN NEWSOM: So here, wouldn’t you say that this is the real formation of the core foundation of the Los Angeles art scene after original people like Kienholz, Walter Hopps, Feres Gallery, etc? This is like the frontier of Los Angeles were talking about here.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yes, right. Like Max’s Kansas Ciry was either Mike Kelley’s house or Ed Ruscha’s house. I mean you’ve been over to Ed’s house for a party, it’s all cowboy boots and you know.
JOHN NEWSOM: You bet, you bet.
PATRICK PAINTER: I mean you fit in there more than I do. (Laughs)
JOHN NEWSOM: That’s true. (Laughs)
PATRICK PAINTER: God damn if these Oklahoma people don’t have their own way. (Laughs)
JOHN NEWSOM: Well that’s what is so fascinating speaking with you, because you are such a pivotal and important figure in all of this. The majority of people I speak with here in New York are either leaving for L.A. or are just returning from visiting out there. And you predicted this would happen.
PATRICK PAINTER: Well, I felt that there had to be enough room for two major art centers in The United States. I mean, if Germany can have them then why not America?
JOHN NEWSOM: Right.
PATRICK PAINTER: I mean they have Berlin and Cologne. Cologne dominated for a long time, but now Berlin does. And because of the economics of studio rent and so on, I thought that L.A. would do a little better. Although that has not is nowhere near what the New York collector base is. And everyone likes to buy something from where they’re not from. Which in a weird case helps me out because I get to call someone in New York and they say they bought it in California, Los Angeles, that kind of thing. But you make out how you make out.
JOHN NEWSOM: You’ve always been an international gallery though, and an international dealer.
PATRICK PAINTER: Right, yes. Nevertheless, it’s like after I had my spinal surgery a few years ago, I finally came out of my shell again, and then I started sleeping in shifts because in between California and Europe you got some hour difference.
JOHN NEWSOM: Absolutely.
PATRICK PAINTER: Like nine hours, it’s kind if crazy.
JOHN NEWSOM: So how do you feel about your current situation, and what are you doing?
PATRICK PAINTER: Well, I like what I’m doing. We picked up Rinus Van de Velde this year, and the guy’s on fire. He’s had four museum shows in a year and he’s like 30 years old. Also, my wife Soo-Jin helped me to get sober and stuff. Which is no easy task, to get on the bull and ride it. She and I donated a million dollars worth of art to The Hammer Museum, and then a further $450,000.00 worth of art after my spinal surgery, which was done at UCLA.
JOHN NEWSOM: That’s really really great.
PATRICK PAINTER: It’s funny about my name ‘Painter’, you know. Because it sounds so made up. But it’s not. Ed Ruscha told me I should make up a new name. He said it’s too weird. (Laughs)
JOHN NEWSOM: Wasn’t Ed the best man at your wedding?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yes, he was. Ed and Danna Ruscha have always been really supportive of me.
JOHN NEWSOM: That’s excellent. And also, like we were discussing earlier, a lot of New York galleries are starting to open up in Los Angeles.
PATRICK PAINTER: Oh yeah.
JOHN NEWSOM: Like things seem to be taking hold in a new and real way.
PATRICK PAINTER: It’s true. I remember Juan Munoz twenty years ago telling me to open in Hong Kong. Because I lived in Hong Kong for five years. And he predicted the whole Hong Kong thing.
JOHN NEWSOM: It’s true internationalism at this point.
PATRICK PAINTER: By the way, The Smithsonian Museum just called me and they want my gallery and my gallery papers in The Smithsonian now.
JOHN NEWSOM: Wow, congratulations.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, right? They led off by saying, “Leo Castelli gave us his papers.” And I was like, “Yeah, okay, you got me.”
JOHN NEWSOM: Right where they belong.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, we’re starting that in the next few weeks. It’s going to be a long process. But they’re going to be on-line and that whole thing. It will comprise a video of me talking about the history of the gallery, correspondences between artists, drawings for installations and exhibitions, things like that. It seems like I hit 60, now everybody wants to know about it.
JOHN NEWSOM: A long way from your first art fair.
PATRICK PAINTER: During one of the first Gramercy fairs, Sarah Watson was my gallery Director.
JOHN NEWSOM: This is the beginning of what would lead to the second incarnation of The Armory Show?
PATRICK PAINTER: And I’d been out partying with Cecily Brown all night, so I went into the bathtub to sleep. And we shut the door, and I was snoring like crazy. And some collector goes, “Oh I love that sound piece. How much is it?” And she goes, “Well, that’s actually Patrick taking a little nap.” And I said, “You should have sold me. You should have said, if you can afford him you can have him.”
JOHN NEWSOM: Now wait, who’s talking? Who’s conducting the transaction?
PATRICK PAINTER: Sarah Watson, my gallery Director.
JOHN NEWSOM: And she had the opportunity to sell you as an artwork?
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah.
JOHN NEWSOM: Damn. (Laughs)
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, I know. (Laughs) I was like, “All you gotta say is, if you can afford him you can have him.”
JOHN NEWSOM: Man, that would have been one lucky collector.
PATRICK PAINTER: I don’t know about that… (Laughs) You know, because of how I learned about art, I would ask anybody any question. I remember being with Jeff Wall and Allan Sekula, and I had just seen the Titian retrospective in Paris. Only
I thought you called him Titan. So I’m standing there and Jeff Wall goes, “Yes, Titian certainly was a Titan.” And I go, “Is that how you say his name? Titian? Man it looks like Titan. Okay, cool.” (Laughs) So anyway, what would happen with these academics, like A,B,C grade academics… A-grade academics like Thomas Crow, or Harold Szeemann, or Jan de Bont. They would throw it down academic style and then I would throw it back street style. You know what I mean? Because we were talking ideas it was a total flow, it was fine.
JOHN NEWSOM: Like two tribes who knew each others’ languages.
PATRICK PAINTER: Exactly. You know, I was bringing it back to where I was from, and they were taking it back to where they were from.
JOHN NEWSOM: That’s one thing I’ve always liked about your style.
PATRICK PAINTER: Thanks. Anyone can understand art the way I tell it.
JOHN NEWSOM: Right.
PATRICK PAINTER: When I first started I was going like, “What’s ‘discourse’ man?” “We already got a word that means all of that. Why do we gotta go an invent another word that no one knows?”
JOHN NEWSOM: That’s a good point.
PATRICK PAINTER: So if I got a B-grade academic, not like Harold or someone, they would be acting like something was wrong with me, like I was mentally deficient. They would like try to explain it to me over and over and over again. And Harold would be in the booth at the fair, or Jan, or Tom, or whoever, and they’d be smiling like crazy. Because that’s all he’d get to hang onto is the words.
JOHN NEWSOM: Well, they enjoy the words.
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah, that’s all they’ve got, is just the verbiage. So that’s why I enjoyed the A-grade academics.
JOHN NEWSOM: One of my favorite shows that you have ever put on at the gallery was your Picabia show, and I was fortunate to have been able to fly out to L.A. for that opening.
PATRICK PAINTER: It took me fifteen years to get it.
JOHN NEWSOM: And going back to Walter Hopps bringing Duchamp to L.A. and exhibiting his work there for the first time. A line can be drawn between that moment and your Picabia exhibition, no?
PATRICK PAINTER: Well, I guess we both supported French culture. (Laughs)
JOHN NEWSOM: It’s kind of like your payback to Paris!
PATRICK PAINTER: Yeah. (Laughs)