Guillermo Presents: Bridget Thompson
[Jessica Bell painting on paper behind us, Small above my head, Michael Belmore, Below window - Craig Leonard cork piece, On floor, unknown artist]
This is the 3rd art collector conversation from the series "Guillermo Presents".
This time I would like to introduce you to Bridget Thompson.
I have known Bridget for about 8 years. We met when she was interested in purchasing some of my prints (they were a couple of large poster-size prints of two wrestlers). I had shown these prints during the second ‘Chinatown remixed’, at a store on Somerset Street that doesn’t exist anymore. I have to say that I loved those prints. Particularly for the kind of joyful quality that they had, but mainly for the naive style. I am not saying that my current art practice doesn’t bring me joy, but I can feel how my work is more mature now and how my own expectations about art production are completely different.
Bridget and I met for that reason but our connection increased as the years passed, especially because
she and her partner Danny Hussey are a power couple of the arts in Ottawa. They co-own, Central Art
Garage framing studio and art gallery, one of the most interesting spaces in the city for contemporary
art exhibitions, and definitely the house of the finest handmade frames. Bridget is also a big supporter of
many art organizations and probably the only “civilian” that I know that has looked over budgets of art
institutions! That definitely shows commitment! Not a surprise she is also a collector of art and design.
- Guillermo Trejo
Bridget, thank you very much for participating in this interview.
Hi Guillermo! Thanks for interviewing me for this series. I remember very much that first art purchase from you. I immediately loved the prints but was concerned I would dent them if I carried them around while exploring the rest of Chinatown Remixed. I was disappointed (and mad at myself) when I returned and you were sold out. A classic art market lesson! I was very happy when I found out you had a couple more you could sell me, and now we’ve enjoyed them for years.
I always find it interesting how people become interested in the arts. At one point I believed that
interest in the arts was natural, something that grows with no need of enforcement. However I’ve learned
that art appreciation really start after an experience or from someone else; it could be a family
member, teacher or travel.
Is there someone or something in your past that started your interest? Do you remember a moment
when you started to feel like “you like art”?
People always find it crazy when I say this, but I think a big influence on my appreciation of art was a high school job at a card store that I got through my friend Katie. Organizing the shelves resulted in my repeatedly seeing images of various famous artworks and I learned the basics by reading the back panel of the cards and calendars.
In terms of being exposed to a home that had an art collection, Katie’s home was very memorable. Their house was filled with original artworks and antiques. It was obvious that a lot of time and thought had gone into the collection. I loved one piece in particular, a large painting of skaters on a river, and I’d often make a detour to go into the formal living room to see it. Many years later, while looking at an installation at the Ottawa Art Gallery, I realized that piece was by the artist Molly Lamb Bobak.
When I lived Toronto doing my Masters, my friend artist Amy Thompson lived there at the same time. She introduced me to commercial galleries and artist events. I remember one evening in the late 90s following Amy to an event and wondering where she was taking me as we walked past boarded up storefronts and a business selling used appliances on Queen St. W. Of course the destination was Katherine Mulherin’s amazing space, and I believe this was my first introduction to a commercial art gallery. So really, I would say I have been influenced by my friends and I have been very lucky in this regard.
When remember you have mentioned to me that you work as a palliative care doctor suddenly it makes a lot of sense that you have an interest in the arts. I am not sure if you agree with me on this, but I think that dealing with the dying at that intimate level gives you a relatively different perspective of the world? Do you agree with me? If yes, how does art get involved here? Do you believe art can be therapeutic?
Yes, I’d agree that my job gives me a different perspective on the world. Having cared for a lot of patients who were diagnosed with terminal illnesses just as they were planning to ‘enjoy the good life’ in retirement has made me believe strongly in a good work-life balance. I’m lucky to work with a great group of physicians that shares this philosophy. We put a priority on each of us having time off and that lets me pursue interests outside of medicine. Since I do house-calls and care for people in their homes, I do get to know patients and their families in a very intimate way. People surround themselves with what is important to them, so I get a sense of who they are much more deeply. My patients want to be in their homes, to be with family, but also to be surrounded by the objects that they have accumulated over their lives; these provide comfort and remind them of the life they have lived.
I have seen art to be therapeutic in this manner.
I recently cared for a patient who lived in a very sparse apartment, she literally owned only one glass, but she did have one large painting that she loved and it provided her a great deal of solace. For her, the piece represented a happy time in her life when she raised animals, and she said that the artist had captured the spirit of the animal perfectly. Discussing the artwork and why it was important to her revealed more about her history and deepened the therapeutic bond.
I have been lucky to visit your home several times (especially for the legendary wine party!). And one thing that always impressed me is that the art is not only on the walls. You have a fantastic collection of mid-century furniture. Is design also part of your interest or this is mostly Danny’s influence?
I certainly had many design pieces in my collection prior to meeting Danny, mostly mid-century reproduction pieces. When Danny and I met we were both in transition phases in our lives and needed some new pieces of furniture. We were no longer interested in picking up the easy and trendy item but in putting in more time, more research and finding pieces of quality that we loved. For example, I had a particular idea of the type of bed frame I wanted; a queen teak bed frame with floating shelves, and it actually took years before I found the right one. I found it on Kijiji in Toronto and we picked it up on a trip there. Amazingly we just managed to fit it in my small car. Danny had to drive as I sat squeezed in a very tiny space left in the back seat behind the driver’s seat. An uncomfortable trip, but worth it!
Top - Michell Wiebe drawing, Lower - Ursula Johnson performance ephemera, Far wall- Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch, Screenprint, Below that Josee Dubois drawing, Barry Ace, mixed media
This question is connected to the previous one: How much has your collection and your personal aesthetics been influenced, or should I say have evolved, because of your partner? Now when you collect art do you decide together as a couple, or do you each have your collection? As an artist and husband, I know that I “tend to curate” the art at my place and I just take over the whole art house… (Sorry Justine), it is hard to find a middle point for us. But in your case, it seems like both of you have similar aesthetics, which must be really handy when you are interested in collecting art and decorating a home. Is that a good description?
We both came into the relationship with our own art collections, but mine was based on aesthetically liking a work and buying it to celebrate life milestones. Whereas Danny’s was based on being part of the arts community for years.
When I first started dating Danny, I went on a trip to NYC and I texted him from the MOMA ‘What’s the deal with this painting on a quilt?”. He surprised me by texting back a very long answer about Robert Rauschenberg and his influence on art history. When I got home I continued to pepper Danny with questions about art history and started doing research on my own. I started with ‘7 Days in the Art World’ by Sarah Thornton, and ‘Lives of the Artists’ by Calvin Tomkins, which are very approachable books.
I would say Danny has influenced me in my approach towards art that I don’t immediately like or understand. Whereas previously I might have said ‘I don’t get it’ and walked away, now I am willing to put more effort into understanding a work of art. If an artist has studied art and art history for years and is using their art practice to make a commentary on society, it’s absurd to think you will grasp the full meaning with a quick glance. You will need to put in some effort as well. I’ve found that having a deeper knowledge of the artist and the meaning of the work can lead to a greater appreciation of the piece.
We collect as a couple now, and our collection is mainly focused on artists that we know well. The pieces I most cherish in our collection are from artists that I know very well. When I look at the piece, I don’t just see the artwork, I see the artist, a person for whom I care deeply.
Stimson and Lahde, You can also see a Rita Letendre screenprint in the hallway
As someone that has had the chance to know the arts from both sides, as a business-owner, and as a collector, what do you think is needed in order to bring the local arts community to the next level? I am talking mostly about the independent spaces. I think that the institutions are having a kind of renaissance with the new OAG and the new direction at the NGC, but at the same time, commercial art galleries are closing. What you think we need in order to reinforce the gallery sector in Ottawa?
When I travel to different cities I’m often fascinated by their cultural community and wonder how we could transplant some aspects to Ottawa. I’ve often observed cultural hubs, and would like to see more in our city.
In Pittsburgh, I enjoyed a street where many residential apartments’ first floors, or even just the front rooms, were being used as small commercial art spaces. The zoning permitted this, and it allowed small artistic businesses to incubate. There are a few areas in Ottawa where this happens, think of spaces like Anne Dahl Jewelry and Wiseman & Cromwell along Gladstone, which has main street zoning. Interestingly, there has been a recent change in zoning on some central residential streets (Rochester, Armstrong and Marier), which allows for small businesses to be run out of the houses. I’ve yet to see anything really happen with this but it’s an interesting opportunity.
We’ve also noticed in NYC that galleries and artistic hubs cluster around subway stops. Could something similar happen here with the LRT? Those industrial spaces south of the Cyrville LRT stop look pretty interesting, and as the LRT moves further east the business park that includes Dominion City Brewing, this has lots of industrial spaces.
The opening of Studio Space Ottawa on Kaladar, which is a reaction to the impending loss of the EBA space, might be a start of a new arts hub in the city. I’m excited to see how this develops.
Do you have any advice for people that are interested in starting to collect but that are not sure how to start or where to start?
You can certainly head out to a commercial gallery to see and purchase art. I would also recommend any young collector get out to events, meet people in the arts community and learn! You don’t understand a reference that was made in a talk or conversation? It’s okay! You can ask or look it up. I do this often. I’ll enter a reference into my phone at events so I can look it up later. As a non-artist I have literally watched Youtube videos to understand the difference between the different types of printmaking.
In Ottawa we are blessed with so many great institutions with public galleries and artist run centers. The Ottawa Art Gallery and the National Gallery have many lectures and events. Check out Saw Gallery, AxeNeo7, Gallery 101, SPAO, The School of Art, Possible Worlds etc. These events can help you figure out what art interests you. It will also let you meet and get to know artists.
Maura Doyle painting on paper, Guillermo Trejo painting
Do you have any advice for young artists?
I’m not an artist, so I’m poorly qualified to give advice in regards to an art career. However I can say from my experience that it is really important to be able to discuss your art practice. Many times my impression has been modified after an artist talk, formal or informal. I may spend quite a bit of time interacting with a work that I might have not noticed previously or I may become a fan and advocate of an artist that I had never heard of before.
Do you have any final comments?
Thanks for the conversation! I would like to highlight how much being involved in the arts community has added enjoyment and interest to my life. I really encourage other professionals who have an interest, even if they feel overwhelmed or undereducated in this area, to come out to events. There really is nothing like learning about an artist’s practice, seeing the world through someone else’s viewpoint.
Danny Hussey, screenprint on Lorraine Gilbert photo
All Photos: Julia Martin