First Person: Sullivan Goss Gallery’s Nathan Vonk

 New Sullivan Goss Gallery owner Nathan Vonk is flanked by his colleagues and fellow curators Jeremy Tessmer and Susan Bush.

New Sullivan Goss Gallery owner Nathan Vonk is flanked by his colleagues and fellow curators Jeremy Tessmer and Susan Bush. Courtesy photo.

Preserving the Legacy, Embracing the Future

By Leslie Dinaberg

The link between Burning Man’s annual bacchanal festivities and Sullivan Goss Gallery’s 30-plus-year legacy of celebrating important 19th-, 20th– and 21st-century American art may seem tenuous, but it was a visit to Burning Man that first sparked Nathan Vonk’s interest in art and the friends he made in the desert that first brought him to Santa Barbara.

Armed with a master’s degree in post-modern literature theory, Vonk taught night school at Ventura College and walked dogs during the day. He eventually bought out the owners of the dog business, ran it for a few years and then sold it for a profit, right before the market crashed in September of 2008.

Now fully enmeshed in the Santa Barbara scene, Vonk contemplated going back to school and getting a doctorate in art history or curatorial sciences and asked Sullivan Goss curator Jeremy Tessmer if he “could volunteer some hours at the gallery, so I could see if it was something that I wanted to do in graduate school.” Vonk laughs, “I came in and volunteered for the week, and on Friday, Frank [Goss] offered me a job. I never went back to school, and I’ve been there ever since.”

He continues, “I was the one guy in the whole country who got a new job in October of 2008. When everyone else was going on unemployment and Bear Stearns was crashing, I was one of the luckiest people in the country. I’ve been at Sullivan Goss ever since, and I couldn’t be happier.”

So happy, in fact, that when Goss told the team (which includes Tessmer and fellow curator Susan Bush) he planned to retire after 2016, Vonk bought the gallery because he wanted to make sure the legacy continued, with its staff intact.

If you think of arts in Santa Barbara as an ecosystem, the part that Sullivan Goss fulfills—if that goes away, the whole ecosystem suffers greatly and it’s not a part that someone is going to step in and fill that void. That was a large part of my motivation to take on the risk of running a commercial gallery,” says Vonk.

He and his wife, Erin Smith, have a son, Lowen, who, Vonk says, “has been to more art shows at age 2-1/2 than I think the average Santa Barbaran probably has.”

Part of what Vonk loves about Santa Barbara is its casual, egalitarian nature. “I think we all understand how lucky we are to work in a gallery like this, in a town like this. Shortly after working for Frank, I had the opportunity to go to New York and visit galleries…the whole vibe there is so different than it is in Santa Barbara. If you don’t look like you can afford it, they don’t give you the time of day.…It kind of left a bad taste in my mouth about the whole situation, and it made me all the more excited to come back and work for Frank, because we don’t operate that way. In part we can’t, because the man or woman who comes into our gallery in shorts and flip-flops could very easily be a billionaire, and I don’t know that. So I have to treat everyone like they are billionaires, and I like that.”

Vonk views part of his art-dealer role as acting like a sort of docent, saying, “What we sell are not just pretty pictures; they are pretty pictures that come with a history and a provenance and some other interesting part of them that, hopefully, people who are interested in buying them will understand that if they buy them, they are only going to be a small portion of that object’s history.”

He also clearly loves the work. “One of the great things about Sullivan Goss is that I was sort of an academic, and I loved studying and writing essays and we do all that.… We’ve written four or five books…all the things I wanted from going back to school I got. Plus I got to stay in Santa Barbara so it was even better.”

Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

100 GRAND, 2014: (100 WORKS FOR $1,000 OR LESS)

Sullivan Goss 100 GrandIt’s that time of the year again: the sixth annual 100 GRAND exhibition at Sullivan Goss.Featuring 100 quality works of art for $1,000 or less, the exhibition has become an incubator of emerging talent, an entryway for beginning collectors and a holiday celebration in the art community.

Last year, almost a thousand people attended over the course of the evening.  December’s 1st Thursday at Sullivan Goss has become one of the area’s must-attend events of the year- a chance for artists and collectors to get together, network, and celebrate the accomplishments of another year in art.

The exhibition runs from December 4 to February 1, 2015, and features paintings, drawings, photographs, assemblage and sculpture by emerging and established artists that are priced to sell and sized (for the most part) to fit into smaller spaces.  For this year’s exhibition, Contemporary Curator Susan Bush was able to secure work from many of last year’s best-selling artists, but there are also more than 20 new artists who have never before shown with Sullivan Goss.

Since its first come first serve, buyers are encouraged to arrive early and to act fast.

ARTISTS INCLUDED:  Meredith Brooks Abbott, Benjamin Anderson, Scott Anderson, Ken Bortolazzo, Aron Bothman, Liz Brady, Lisabette Brinkman, Phoebe Brunner, Pat Calonne, Chris Chapman, Dorothy Churchill-Johnson, Connie Connally, Jeanne Dentzel, Mehosh Dziadzio, Naneki Elliott, Kathleen Elsey, Pamela Enticknap, Peggy Ferris, Kee Flynn, Jon Francis, Valori Fussell, Nancy Gifford, Dane Goodman, Robin Gowen, Amanda Grandfield, James Taylor Gray, Ruthy Green, Bay Hallowell, Holli Harmon, Tracey Sylvester Harris, Derrek Harrison, Wyllis Heaton, Cynthia James, Jow, Scott Kahn, Philip Koplin, Mary-Austin Klein, Marilee Krause, Elizabeth Ladacki, Dan Levin, Mark Lozano, Laurie Macmillan, Larry Mcadams, Virginia McCracken, Susan McDonnell, Svetlana Meritt, David Molesky, Zoe Nathan, Lisa Pederson, Angela Perko, Chris Peters, Hank Pitcher, Ian Putnam, Erik Reel, Maria Rendon, Brad Reyes, Joan Rosenberg-Dent, Blakeney Sanford, Caren Satterfield, Susan Savage, Marie Schoeff, Susan Shapiro, Lanny Sherwin, Elena Siff, Leslie Lewis Sigler, David Skinner, Nicole Strasburg, James David Thomas, Susan Tibbles, Dug Uyesaka, Taj Vaccarella, Sarah Vedder, Deborah Veldkamp, Tom de Walt, Nina Warner, Vani Winick, Roe Ann White, Monica Wiesblott, Abigail Zimmerman and Michele Zuzalek.

The opening artist reception is 1st Thursday, December 4 from 5 – 8 p.m. at Sullivan Goss Gallery, 7 E. Anapamu St. in downtown Santa Barbara. To see a video about the exhibition click here.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on December 2, 2014.


Rincon Peak From Mission Ridge by Lockwood de Forest

Rincon Peak From Mission Ridge by Lockwood de Forest

Don’t miss “Lockwood de Forest’s Santa Barbara,” a new exhibition of  24 paintings of Santa Barbara, Montecito and Santa Ynez by Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932) on view at Sullivan Goss Gallery beginning April 3, 1st Thursday, from 5 – 8 p.m. The work will be on view at the gallery, located at 7 E. Anapumu St., until June 29.

Painted between 1903 and 1922, these works relate a vision of the vast and undeveloped landscape that was once Santa Barbara.

Born to an old and prosperous family in Manhattan, de Forest began to draw from nature when he was just a boy. As a young man he trained under his cousin, Frederic Church, who was likely the most admired American landscape painter of his day. Returning home, de Forest decided to pursue a career in art and design and spent vast amounts of time reading, designing, and painting at Olana, Church’s home in the Hudson River Valley of New York. He also took up studio space in New York’s storied Tenth Street Studio Building, where he worked near luminaries like Albert Bierstadt, Winslow Homer and William Merritt Chase.

Subsequently, he married and embarked on a celebrated career in Orientalist design, though he never stopped exhibiting his paintings. At the dawn of the twentieth century, de Forest began spending months of the year in Santa Barbara. It was then that he refocused on his painting career.

De Forest retired in Santa Barbara and his son, Lockwood de Forest III, became a famous landscape architect in the area.

In 1994, Sullivan Goss began to buy and sell the paintings of an artist who was, by then, somewhat obscure. In the twenty years since de Forest has again become of the most recognized and sought after names in early California art. It has taken seven books and numerous museum shows on both coasts of the U.S. to reacquaint the world with the art of Lockwood de Forest, but at last, his star has reached its former brilliance.

Coming on the heels of the recent exhibition, Luminescent Santa Barbara: Lockwood de Forest, at Santa Barbara Historical Museum, Sullivan Goss will present 11 published works and 13 never-before exhibited paintings.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on April 1, 2014.