WALK­ING THE PLANK

A lead­ing au­thor­ity on con­tem­po­rary marine art, the gallery owner knows the power of the sea to in­spire

Soundings - - Contents - — Grace Trofa

J. Rus­sell Jin­ishian, a lead­ing au­thor­ity on con­tem­po­rary marine art, talks about boats and the sea as cre­ative in­spi­ra­tion.

What do you show­case at your epony­mous gallery in Fair­field,

Connecticut? I con­cen­trate on work by con­tem­po­rary marine artists, but I also have a col­lec­tion of 19th-cen­tury marine art. Ev­ery­thing I have is con­signed to me ei­ther by artists or by col­lec­tors look­ing to sell. In that way, I’m able to keep nearly 1,000 works in the gallery cov­er­ing a wide va­ri­ety of sub­jects, styles, me­dia sizes and prices.

What is the price range? You can find some­thing for $100 or $350,000 or any­where in be­tween. It’s a very eclec­tic col­lec­tion.

What’s the sta­tus of the marine art mar­ket? I think pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions were more into col­lect­ing. Now as they di­vest, I see more work com­ing back into the mar­ket­place than I have wit­nessed in years. With all the de­vel­op­ment in tech­nol­ogy, the idea of col­lect­ing is not as prom­i­nent with this gen­er­a­tion. There was a time when you didn’t watch TV at night. In­stead, you de­voted time to a hobby or in­ter­est.

Why do you think marine art has such a loyal fol­low­ing? The artists are very pas­sion­ate about what they do. It is very spe­cial­ized sub­ject mat­ter. Aside from the dif­fi­cul­ties of paint­ing wa­ter—which is one of the most chal­leng­ing things to paint, par­tic­u­larly when you have to make it look as if it is mov­ing—there is a lot of spe­cific knowl­edge you need to cor­rectly paint boats. Col­lec­tors don’t buy marine art be­cause it is the hottest thing. They buy it be­cause they like it and it gives them a great deal of plea­sure, whether it is a paint­ing of a place they have been, or a boat they are fa­mil­iar with, or even just the ocean. As a re­sult, it is a very steady mar­ket­place. Prices don’t fluc­tu­ate wildly.

How can new col­lec­tors en­ter the mar­ket? Most peo­ple don’t think of them­selves as col­lec­tors, but ev­ery­thing you own is a re­flec­tion of you. Look around. The ob­jects you see re­flect who you are and what you like, and art should be the same way. Start with what ap­peals to you. When you get to value, you need a gallery or dealer you can trust, just like you would with a stock­bro­ker. You want to work with some­one who will guide you to what is good qual­ity and will hold its value. It has to do with the rep­u­ta­tion of an artist. Some­times it is a young artist who is just be­gin­ning his ca­reer, and a gallery can help you iden­tify that per­son, or a well-es­tab­lished artist in the mar­ket­place.

Do you of­fer a con­sult­ing ser­vice? It’s how I spend my day, look­ing at art and re­search­ing the mar­ket. I don’t do it for a fee or any­thing. A buyer tells me he would love a scene of New­port Har­bor, for ex­am­ple. I keep it in the back of my mind. It may take me a year, but you will re­ceive a call that I found what you were look­ing for.

What do you have in your col­lec­tion? I have paint­ings, ship mod­els, sculp­ture, scrimshaw, prints and draw­ings. We also carry a small amount of sport­ing art hav­ing to do with hunt­ing and fish­ing. We rep­re­sent artists who have been at it a long time: the top tier like the late John Me­cray, who spent a ca­reer paint­ing; the mid­dle tier of artists, which is the ma­jor­ity; and then there are some young peo­ple com­ing along. There is ev­ery­thing from the most photo-re­al­is­tic to the ab­stract, and ev­ery kind of style in be­tween.

How do you choose artists for your gallery? The artists I rep­re­sent, I have known per­son­ally for years. The work must be ac­cu­rate, well con­ceived, and the crafts­man­ship must be done well. As I men­tioned, it’s a chal­lenge to paint mov­ing wa­ter. If you look at a boat on the wa­ter, the wa­ter has to be cor­rect. The boat has to be drawn prop­erly in a dif­fi­cult per­spec­tive. The wind has to be right. The sails have to be set right. The sky has to be be­liev­able. If there are peo­ple in the paint­ing, they have to be to scale. There are many el­e­ments in­volved. The peo­ple in my gallery are the best from around the world, and all the el­e­ments are con­sis­tently done well through­out the whole paint­ing. Is James But­ter­sworth con­sid­ered the most

fa­mous artist in marine paint­ing? In 19th­cen­tury paint­ing, I would say But­ter­sworth and Robert Salmon were the fore­fa­thers of marine paint­ing in Amer­ica. When they came to the U.S., English­man But­ter­sworth moved to Hoboken [New Jersey] and be­came fa­mous for his paint­ings of boat races in New York Har­bor, while Salmon, who was from Scot­land, moved to Bos­ton and painted the city along with im­ages of Eng­land and Scot­land. At the time, we did not have any art school; we were too busy build­ing a na­tion.

Have you ever thought about putting

paint­brush to can­vas your­self? Yes, I went to the Cor­nell School of Art and Ar­chi­tec­ture. I worked in oil paint­ing and sculp­ture, but I dis­cov­ered as I went along that I had other skills. I do think that ex­pe­ri­ence helped me un­der­stand what I am look­ing at more thor­oughly, and I un­der­stand also what is the strug­gle of an artist’s life. Peo­ple fo­cus on the as­pects of liv­ing with­out a boss, but the fact is artists spend most of their day alone. No one is giv­ing them a pay­check or health in­surance or a pro­mo­tion. It is a very dif­fi­cult life. Hav­ing that train­ing helped me un­der­stand that and build my re­la­tion­ships with my artists and col­lec­tors.

When did you re­al­ize you’d rather pro

mote other peo­ple’s work? When I got out of school, I did a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent things, and even­tu­ally I ended up work­ing for about four years at the Sil­ver­mine Guild of Artists in New Canaan, Connecticut. It’s the coun­try’s old­est art guild and is still in ex­is­tence. I did some writ­ing for Art New Eng­land, then I heard they were start­ing a marine gallery at the Mystic Sea­port mu­seum. I grew up in Green­wich, sail­ing in Long Is­land Sound, so I thought, I like boats, I like art, let me see what’s go­ing on. I ul­ti­mately be­came the di­rec­tor and ended up there for 12 years.

That’s quite a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It was a great place to work with won­der­ful peo­ple. I got to meet some of the best marine artists, boat de­sign­ers and boat­builders. Then, I ac­cepted an of­fer to set up a group of gal­leries called the Big Horn Gal­leries, but man­ag­ing four lo­ca­tions, each ex­hibit­ing dif­fer­ent art, was a bit much. In­stead, I de­cided to open a small gallery of what I knew best, which was marine art. That was in 1997.

And did you write a book in 2003? Yes, it was called Bound for Blue Wa­ter. It was an over­view of the marine art world. But then I was think­ing: I talk to artists ev­ery day and watch the mar­ket daily; I should do some­thing with that in­for­ma­tion. So, I started a mag­a­zine, Marine Art News. I made 20,000 copies and sent it out world­wide. I did it for 13 years, by my­self. I may start it up again. I know that peo­ple go on­line and read back is­sues, so there still re­mains an in­ter­est.

It seems like your pas­sion re­mains strong for the work. Most peo­ple who are in the arts will tell you that they knew what they wanted to do from an early age. That was me too. Since I was in grade school, I knew I wanted to be an artist. I may have done some­thing else, but hope­fully I have helped a lot of artists. When you buy art, you have some­thing that you can en­joy each day, but also your pur­chase al­lows the artist to pur­sue their pas­sion and skill and raise their fam­ily. It is a very pos­i­tive equa­tion in the world. It is not just a trans­ac­tion. Look­ing back now af­ter 40 years, it has been a great ca­reer choice.

Jin­ishian keeps up to 1,000 pieces in the gallery.

Minia­ture replica carv­ing from an 18th-cen­tury ship

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