A SMALL B.C. TOWN WAS DELIGHTED TO HAVE A NEW GALLERY SELLING HIGH-END ARTWORKS — UNTIL IT CLOSED, LEAVING MANY LOCAL RESIDENTS, ART DEALERS AND ARTISTS FURIOUS, HOLDING UNPAID BILLS.
ARTISTS, TRADESPEOPLE FUMING AFTER BANKRUPTCY
Marlowe Goring’s art gallery was the talk of the town when it opened in 2013 in the retirement community of Qualicum Beach, B.C.
The gallery featured the works of aboriginal artist Norval Morrisseau — “the Picasso of the North” — and various West Coast artists. There was talk of incorporating a chic wine bar.
But about a year and a half in, the gallery went bust and residents in this normally staid town are said to have become furious with Goring over unpaid debts and unaccounted-for paintings. “Everyone was knocking on his door,” said Dan McLeod, a local builder who helped construct the gallery. While some people wrote off their losses, others set lawyers on Goring, posting angry blogs and even calling police in a bizarre series of disputes that illustrates the sometimes-ugly underbelly of the art world.
Goring, who has since filed for bankruptcy and moved to Victoria where he works as a framer, told the National Post he always assumed he could “sell my way” out of his debts, which was a mistake.
“I did a lot of things wrong, lost what little money I had, and most of my friends,” he said. “It was a shit-show of my own making.” Goring, who had previously run a frame shop, chose an old Home Hardware location to open a gallery called Art Worx.
Goring turned to Ontario art wholesaler James White to supply him with a number of Morrisseau and other paintings. Under a consignment agreement, each time Goring sold one of White’s paintings, he was to pay White the wholesale price before pocketing the rest. When White learned in July 2014 the gallery was shutting, he went to B.C. to try to recover his paintings. Goring turned over 13, but 22 pieces — with a retail value of $221,000 — were unaccounted for.
“We have been friends for years, our families have stayed with each other and I believed we were close,” White wrote to Goring after his visit. “That is why I have tried to believe in you and refused to accept that you could steal from me and create a story of lies.”
“I have been sitting here, knowing that this moment would come and I have dreaded this more than anything in my life,” Goring replied. He blamed sluggish sales, high overhead costs and unpaid taxes. And then he cut to the chase: “I have no money and I also have none of your art.”
White asserted in a December 2015 statement of claim that Goring had either “stolen most of the missing paintings” or had “traded away (White’s) paintings in exchange for services or for money received which was not reported.”
Goring never filed a response and in an April 10 decision, Ontario Superior Court Judge Joseph Fragomeni found that Goring had committed civil fraud and breach of trust and awarded White $170,000 in general damages and $10,000 in punitive damages. The judge also gave Goring 90 days to account for each of the missing paintings. Goring told the Post he was unaware of the lawsuit and assumed he had resolved the dispute when he let White put a lien on his mother’s estate. Nevertheless, he promised to “own my responsibility in this.”
Aside from one or two occasions when something might have “slipped through,” he denied selling other people’s art without paying them.
As word of the Ontario judgment spread, many of Goring’s detractors on Vancouver Island began to speak out.
McLeod said he and several tradespeople who helped construct the gallery were out tens of thousands of dollars.
He said Goring tried to pay off some of that debt by giving him three paintings. However, when he learned those paintings — plus two more he bought off Goring — belonged to White and that White hadn’t been paid for them, he immediately worked to settle things with White by paying for two more of his paintings. McLeod said several tradesmen received paintings as payment.
Goring said he felt “intimidated” by McLeod and so he gave him a handful of paintings. He said he couldn’t recall gifting paintings to anyone else.
Port Alberni artist Brad Piatka, who died in 2016, had a long-simmering feud with Goring, said Piatka’s friend, Rob Longeuay.
One day in 2014, the two visited Goring to check on Piatka’s paintings and discovered about five were unaccounted for. After pressing for answers, Goring said a couple were “on loan,” Longeuay recalled. Concerned that Goring wasn’t paying Piatka properly, they decided to return and gather up all of Piatka’s remaining work.
Longeuay followed up with a stern Facebook message in late 2014. “Brad is waiting for his $1000. … Just pay up and return his paintings!” Days later, he filed a complaint with the RCMP. Despite assuring the officer that the $1,000 debt would be paid, Goring never paid up, Longeuay said. Goring confirmed that some of Piatka’s art was used temporarily in show homes but that they were returned. He insisted the $1,000 debt was paid.
Goring insists he’s not trying to play the victim, but says he can’t help but feel “let down” by the arts community. “The moment everything went bad it was just like, everybody just — I was left there alone with no support after I supported all these people,” he said.
“I know this is going to sound crazy, but I’m an honest guy.”
I HAVE NO MONEY AND I ALSO HAVE NONE OF YOUR ART.
Paintings by celebrated Canadian artist Norval Morrisseau are among those that James White, an art wholesaler in Ontario, says he consigned to Marlowe Goring and that remain unaccounted for.