Cav’s Corner: Interview with artist and photographer Georgio Sabino III
Cavana Faithwalker talks with fast moving and emerging artist Georgio Sabino, who recently was featured in X-Africa: The African American Experience exhibit of works at the Cleveland State University Art Gallery. He’s also a fashion photographer living and creating in the artist live/work space in the experimental Tower Press Building, where rent subsidies are available to artists who pass a juried review process.
I caught up with Georgio who is a ground floor tenant. His studio is small but exceedingly spacious, with a room divider that separates his sleeping quarters from the rest of the studio. Inside, paintings and fashion design illustrations covered every inch of wall space, and this creative disarray gave the studio an exotic quality found in movies like Casablaca or Girl with the Pearl Earring. Behind the Japanese screen-like dividers, the bedroom area was absolutely hit; apparent clothing designs in various modes of completion cast among sheets and bolts of material, drawings and sketches formed an intertwining pyramid. Light flooded in from the outside, toasting the air in my mind’s version of this reality as I sat at a small table.
Cavana Faithwalker: How long have you been here and how did ya get in?
Georgio Sabino: Since June 2003 all the artists got juried to be here and “they” got a grant for this to happen; it’s all artists which is a wonderful thing: painting, sculpture, fashion design, filmmaking and other arts.
From what I understand it’s subsidized but still very costly, since rents run from $625 for 600 square feet to $2200 for about 1,950 square feet
It’s expensive but it’s downtown, exposed brick, T-1 enabled, high ceilings, lots of light. You have that lifestyle you wished for, so it’s not bad.
How often do you interact with other artists?
I interact with everyone in the building. As I told you earlier I am publishing a book about the artists here, which allows me to have a reason to interact. I am attempting to do an ArtNews or Art In America upscale type magazine for this building in addition to the quadrangle. Eventually I’d like to cover all of Ohio.
Who says regionalism is dead?!
And I want my efforts to be put into a hardbound book.
What will the content be?
The artwork of course, and the subsequent conversations that go on.
The personal success stories and failures?
Well yes, as they pertain to things of interest to working artists, collectors and art lovers. So if a story has a strong human interest slant, that slant should contain how the success or lack thereof pertains to movements in art; you know, being behind or ahead of the curve.
Are you doing this as a promotional tool?
It’s promotional, but…everything that was supposed to happen in the building didn’t happen. So I’m watching other artists like Hector Vega, Kathy Skerritt and Bruce Conforti; these guys are really making it, and really doing it and living their dreams. It is beautiful to see, and I want to do that and expose that to others. So, I said let’s put it all in a book. The elder artists along with the emerging guys. We were supposed to have a group gallery space in the building and a place to do lectures, and that didn’t happen; this is one of the elements to replace that. Even if people don’t buy artwork and they walk out with the book, well they know Robert Banks is a nationally known if not internationally known filmmaker alive and well and living in Cleveland. This book is meant to acknowledge these artists, and as you suggested, to promote their work and to share their talents with the Greater Cleveland community and the collecting public.
How are you paying for this?
I’ll speak on it when everything is in stone.
Are there other collaboratives going on in the building?
There’s some between Robert Banks and myself and and Bruce Conforti. Hector and Kathy [Skerritt] are going to work with me also, so it’s happening.
Any competition going on in the building..over clients or resources?
I don’t look at it like that. There is a guy here who just sold $10,000 of work; and I feel bad that they didn’t buy from me, but I’m so happy that those people are shopping and that they’re in my neighborhood purchasing art. One of the things I can do is give them some information about me, show them my studio, and ask who they think would possibly buy from me.
Let’s get back to what is not happening.
A co-op involving the people who were brought in here to be jurors, plus common gallery space and lecture rooms…I thought, “How can we make this work?” We need a grant writer, The Plain Dealer, and the District to try to get a co-op art gallery open here; I don’t understand why that is not happening. I can see some of the issues make sense with the developers trying to get the exact type of space that they want. However, we have a space none of us can use and that was part of the allure that inspired us to move in, and/or bring the community in: Yo Cleveland, Cleveland School of the Arts, Virginia Fashion. I was looking forward to having that space part of the time to work with these groups and others as well.
What percent of the artists in here are civic minded? When I had a studio at the Hodge there was just a handful artists putting their resources into the community, Kahlil Pedizisai, Lovelace, a couple of musicians, etc.
I bet it’s about 25%
Wow! I think that’s pretty good
There are many who aren’t necessarily reaching out to ‘the community.’ However, even they are aware and also want to help the ‘arts community.’ You know that community of aspiring artists, and want to expand and educate the community of art lovers, too.
Are you trying to create an incubator? An artists incubator?
I think that’s appropriate, but there is a better word that is not coming to me at the moment.
Maybe to put that out there is overstating the obvious. You are trying to just have the ideal environment for healthy, thriving arts.
Maybe. A while ago the Ohio Arts Council brought in an artist from Chile. He was here for 6 weeks and had a show at SPACES. So to go back to what you said…it’s appropriate but I think it was more along the line of communication and synergy than “let’s structure an incubator.” Sorry, the right concept isn’t coming to me right now. I look at Hector Vega. He does at least three things I think are important: he shares information, he coaches, he purchases other people’s art.
Have your thoughts turned toward how to work with the business community, how to work with the Small Business Association and to obtain a model of how they make money.
The Mayor’s office is really accessible, and people like Joe Cimperman are available all the time. I go to COSE and I go to the Foundation Center. At COSE the conversation has been entrepreneurship in the arts. Stuff like how to write a business plan, what is the environment like, what would be your niche market. I had an MBA workin’ for me to make sure we got positioned correctly for monies that were available at one time; trying to find grants, trying to write grants and looking for fellowships.
How do you see the arts scene here is Cleveland?
Well, what we are trying to develop is a collecting public that will support the arts. My thought is, “Quit buying Monets unless you’re buying the original.” Why spend X amount of dollars on art work that is highly inflated? I mean, a lot of times you get a decent frame but you could own some really sensational local art by living artists. And not just Cleveland; in my opinion, we have regional and national artists as good as any you care to mention.
You have any idea how much of that is going on?
In my painting world we have sales…my photography world I live by…my fashion world I need to go to New York. So I have my clients. It’s small scale and I’d love to make it huge. We’ve gotta make Cleveland, Ohio and anything around like you have in L.A.’s collecting public.
I was at someone’s house a few months ago and it was really great to roam around their house; there was original art everywhere. I saw a Chuck Close original and a pretty famous national photographer, whose name escapes me right now, and in between these international artists were original pieces by local artists and they held up well. I guess I never thought about Cleveland being a collecting town because I rarely see it. But there must be a lot out there. I mean, beside Progressive and it doesn’t look like there will be anymore collecting there anytime soon. And University Hospital…they’re kinda workin’ on it and Kaiser has been working on building a collection of mostly local art.
Yeah you have a few that are here but I was thinking more in the direction of the new gallery hop ya know, that type of thing.
Why aren’t they more successful?
I can’t tell you why people aren’t collecting…
Well I’ve started to turn this light on myself. In my house I have local art into the double digits. But most of it was given to me by artists for helping them with their careers. So I was helping with my essence, but not making major purchases. I think I could skip certain things for a few months…skip coffee for a week and have enough cash to purchase something. Also, if I was admiring some expensive stuff and the artists said 3 words “EASY PAYMENT PLAN” I would have more purchases. No one has ever said that to me, but I’m sure it would work. They’d have to add a nonrefundable deposit, huh?
That’s interesting, and that’s marketing.
Deidre Vodenoff: If artists would talk more about their art when people came into their galleries, at point of sale, and at libraries and so forth, it communicates to the public the art’s value. If the art buying public were educated about the value of the art, then it wouldn’t seem so unaffordable.
‘Debbie McCamm of Cultural Exchange has a reading program called, Read Baby Read” and at the culmination of each book project, the youth do an art project. I thought it would be so cool if they could also get a piece of artwork, maybe a print or even a small piece of original artwork. It wood be in a frame, it would be wrapped and it would send a message that this is something special, something to be valued.
The message to me would say you’re creating a collecting public, and getting them understanding art.. that’s beautiful! That would be great and people could have a chance to be a part of a collecting public.
You know, every time the Indians and the Browns play we get huge crowds, I think we should tap into that as artists, and have some huge after-party presented by the arts community at those events directing the public to go to art selling venues and look at art. I know it’s a beer drinking crowd, but still, people are also buyers and I think beer drinking and appreciating art are not mutually exclusive. You may not get the [stereotypic] beer drinking, couch potato guy, but you get the guy with bucks who not only has season tickets, but also goes to Severance once a week or Cleveland Public Theatre.
Five years down the road, where would you in the context of this [Tower Press breeding ground] like to be?
I’d like to have my own small retail gallery here in the building, or be a curator. Also I want to work on expanding my level of expertise to further tap into my creativity and be compensated more for what I do.
And for the artists in this environment?
I’d love to have all these artists interact more. In general, a lot of people don’t do anything until they see it catch on. Sometimes artists see what I’m doing, and they see me as competition. I hope this will dissipate, but I don’t know. This whole thing is still in the working, and the the co-op is still evolving. In five years, I want to be in a world where we all collectively work together, and make this a city where visitors come and say, “we wanna see you.”
That would effectively end competition and territorialism.
That would be beautiful; it’s an attitude all artists should have.
During the interview, Hector Vega dropped in and I could see an instant camaraderie between the two, with mutual respect and admiration between monk and grasshopper. Hector told me later that looking at Georgio was like looking at himself when he was younger. I say incubator.
Interview by Cool Cleveland contributor Cavana Faithwalker
Photo by Georgio Sabino (:divend:)