The dog-head sculpture on display, made of high-fire clay, looked interesting enough until Russell Phillips brought a small fan to place opposite the sculpture.
Phillips turned on the fan, which blew the strands of hair atop the dog-head. Maria Kuchinski, head of the ceramics department at the College of DuPage, concocted this two-piece set of artwork, on sale for $650.
That’s the key to OnView, a two-year-old gallery at 139 N. Northwest Highway: quality work produced by Chicago-area artists. And if the truth be known, gallery proprietors Phillips and Cynthia Crampton, married 27 years and 21-year Park Ridge residents, don’t mind at all giving fellow artists from town prominent display.
There were two big paintings from Andre Lidgus. Mini-galleries were produced by Tom Dieschbourg and Brian Franczyk. And two felted silk scarves were the handiwork of Bettina Donaghy.
Owners are artists, too
It certainly takes an artist to know one.
Phillips is a photographer, with a specialty shooting architecture. Some of his color work is on display in a back room at OnView. He also makes tables.
Crampton is a visual designer. She also is fiber artist who has dabbled in cermanic sculpture.
“We know a lot of really good, mature artists who haven’t been represented,” said Phillips. “So there was an opportunity to work with people we knew.”
But there are standards the couple expects their exhibitors to meet, and relationships don’t always carry the day.
Friends’ art rejected if not compatible
“We have to look at art based on the integrity of the art,” Phillips said. “We have friends that we don’t accept their art because we don’t feel it’s quite fitting for what we have as a venue here.
“Putting art into a gallery is the easy part. Getting it to go out the door is the hard part.”
Thus for Phillips, Crampton and countless other creative types, artists becoming business operators is as big of a challenge, if not more so, than applying talent to canvas, sculpture or film.
Learning the business end
“We’re learning the business end as we go,” said Phillips. “Artists are a group of people that are always forced to be very diverse in what they do. Survival as an artist is tough business. We are in the process of cracking the nut. Galleries are having a hard time surviving.”
OnView faces the same challenge. Phillips and Crampton said business is not as good going into the holiday season as when they opened the gallery in Nov. 2010.
“Our first holiday season was nice,” Crampton said. “Our first spring (2011) was great. Last year’s holiday season was nice. But 2012 has really been a tough year. I wonder if it had something to do with the election. For us the hardest thing is getting people in here. We don’t necessarily rely on stop-in traffic.”
Storefront readily adapted to gallery
Phillips and Crampton were fortunate their storefront already was partially compatible for a gallery.
“We were lucky because the space had been previously an interior-design company,” Crampton said. “We’re both free-lancers and Russell also teaches at the College of DuPage. The opportunity came up. We both have our free-lance businesses. We’re not making our living off the gallery.
The couple had their own conception of a gallery’s composition based on others they frequented over the decades.
“We didn’t want to make it an exclusive gallery that just shows one artist at a time,” Crampton said. “We didn’t want to make it ‘gimmicky emerging artist.’ We wanted people who had established, mature artwork. And we also wanted to have a big variety of art.”
In turn, those “mature” artists also have a business sense when marketing their works.
“All of whom are willing to keep their prices in a range that makes it affordable for the art buyer who is looking at budget,” said Phillips. “We certainly don’t pick based on the monetary value of something.
“But we are careful not to pick things that are sort of out of the range of what we think is potentially feasible of what we are or what we’re doing. We’re looking at…a middle-class opportunity of some very quality art, art that can become part of your legacy as a person.”