By James Dungeon
A stoic Easter Island idol, a mesmerizing wind turner, a classic Greek statue — there’s something everywhere at Sean Goté Gallery. And that’s just the outside.
Inside, the doors to the building on 702 W. Gurley St. yield to a cavernous room filled with more treasures. Here a life-size lion. There a bust of Dante. And then there are the paintings. From realistic ravens to imaginative mountains to … is that Sideshow Bob/Mayor Terwilliger?!
Sean Goté Gallery hasn’t been in Prescott that long, but its eclectic, stylized art and décor is already making an impression. Owner and resident artist Sean Hart discusses how he and his wife, Dolores, came to Prescott and reflects on painting, commerce, and community. …
Sean Goté Gallery seems to have just materialized out of nowhere. How long has it been here and where were you before this?
We actually purchased the building in September two years ago. We’ve been here for a year and a half and officially opened in November of last year. We had a gallery-slash-bar-slash-restaurant in Laramie, Wyoming for 20 years prior to this. I’m Wyoming born-and-bred from a little town of 1,800 people in Big Horn County called Greybull. Dolores, my wife, is from Texas.
Why move to Prescott? And why this building?
After 20 years of Laramie winters my wife said we were no longer doing winters where they suck. We looked at a lot of places. The final three were Bend, Ore., Grand Junction, Colo., and Prescott. We hated Bend and couldn’t make anything work in Grand Junction. When we came to Prescott, the first thing we did was look at this building, and that was it. It dates back to 1977, when it was used for the manufacturing of glass doors and windows. Since then, it’s also been a supply space and a furniture store. It’d been vacant for about three-and-a-half years before we got here. … We put a lease option on the building so we could go back to Laramie and sell our business to move down here. But as luck would have it, we went back and sold the building within a week and had 30 days to move out. We literally packed up everything — the restaurant, the bar, the art, all our personal stuff, and spent a month doing nothing but hauling it all down here. Once we were settled, it was four giant rooms full of boxes and chairs and furniture. You know, we didn’t want to be downtown. It’s a lot busier there, and we wanted to have a more intimate space, a destination where people find out who and what we are and what we have. If people are interested, they’ll find us. We’re only two minutes from downtown.
A lot of the paintings on the walls are yours. How long have you
been creating art?
I was such a rotten little kid that my mother stuck me in the corner all the time and I always had a crayon and a book to color in. I’ve been doing art since, well, forever. I’ve always painted but I could never make a living at it, which isn’t all that unusual. I have, by my count, three or four thousand paintings wandering around in people’s homes and collections. Twice in my life I saved up enough money to take a year off and work on being the next Van Gogh. Both times, six months later I was looking for a job. But I’ve always kept doing art. No matter where I’ve been, I’ve always set up a little painting space. Sometimes months pass between paintings, but I keep going. It’s something that’s always thrilled me and given me a sense of self-satisfaction and accomplishment.
You’ve got quite a range — from realistic to abstract, from animals to scenery to people.
Are you saying I have no style? Well, I don’t. I forgot to have any lessons along the way, but I’ve always painted and it’s like anything else in life: It’s a growing process. Now that I’m here in Prescott, I paint almost daily and my paintings improved even more. … When you’ve painted for 50 years, you’ve tried just about everything. For me, portraits are the hardest. I do them, but they take me forever. I’m my own worst critic and can’t move on until I’ve made absolutely everything perfect. From abstract to modern to contemporary painting, it’s all just whatever I feel like painting. My last month was all ravens. I painted six ravens that month, and of those six, four sold.
I see them every day. They’re tricksters and they’re magical. I’ve always been interested in them and, when I was painting one recently I got so many comments on it — “Ohh, I like ravens” and things like that, and then that one sold before I even finished it — so I decided to paint a few more. They got bigger and better and now I’m going to do something else.
You’ve got portraits of characters and scenes from “The Simpsons.” What’s your connection to that show and subject matter?
I remember when they first came out. Me and two friends got together every Thursday night to watch “The Simpsons” and “Twin Peaks.” It was a weekly thing that I couldn’t wait for. Of course, now it’s been on for 28 years. I’ve painted 17 of the characters and as far as I’m concerned, they could take everything else off of TV.
Why pair the gallery with home furnishing and garden décor?
We took the best of everything we learned while we were there. It’s hard to be just a gallery and consistently make money, but when you add antiques and oriental carpets and stain glass lamps — plus the outdoor garden stuff, the wind chimes and wind turners, the fountains and sculptures and things to put on the wall — no matter who comes in, they can find something they like. When you’re putting all that together, it’s got to have a flow and a blend. Within the gallery, itself, there are six magic spots that no matter what we put there people are attracted to it, so we’re constantly rotating things around those spaces. The flow and balance, though, after you’ve done it so many times, it just comes naturally. … One of the other things we learned from having a business in Laramie for 20 years was that nothing sells art better than two martinis.
Much of the jewelry that’s on display here is by your wife, Dolores, correct?
She’s very talented in a lot of ways. The thing she’s the best at is cooking, really, as you can smell right now, but what she really enjoys is making jewelry. Pearls are probably her favorite. She’s been doing it for 20 years or so, now. It’s fun and doesn’t take up a lot of room and she can work on something and walk away from it. It doesn’t dry out and waits for you to come back and finish it. I think I can speak for her that the most important thing is that feeling of accomplishment. I get the same thing. There’s nothing better than that feeling when someone buys one of your paintings, wether it’s a $50 piece or a $300 piece.
Pretty much everything in here has a price tag. Is it difficult to live with some of these things as fixtures in your life and then sell them?
I’m Buddhist in nature about it. I’m not particularly attached to things. I do have things that are favorites, but if someone wants to buy my favorite thing, it’s gone and I have new favorites. It’s not a loss; it’s a gain on several levels. Over the years, I’ve sold a few things that weren’t really on the market but somebody wanted them. I sold Dolores’ anniversary present one year. I haven’t heard the end of that, and that was a long, long time ago. It’s a part of what we do and what we’re about. At our age, part of it is giving back to the community. That’s a big reason why we have artists set up parking lot shows for free. We want to give back and to help Prescott grow. We want to be a part of the community. It helps unknown artists get known and get to meet people and see their reaction to their work. They can sell some art, too, hopefully. It works on several levels.
Given your ability and range, how do you choose something to focus on?
I’ve been doing this so long that it’s all pretty natural. If I decide I want to paint a snake or a mountain or a house, it’s just a matter of getting out the brushes and doing it. I try to draw or sketch the basic idea of what I want it to look like. I tend to go more toward wilder colors. I like brightness and the interaction between colors. Doing the ravens was exceptionally fun because it started out so small and turned into a 4′ x 4′ painting of just a head. And then I was done. I love to do clouds and mountains. I like to be creative and just make them, but I’ve done a couple actual mountains, too, like Mt. Fuji in Japan. Usually they’re just fun and whimsical, though. That’s true of a lot of my art.
Quite a bit of your art is rather whimsical.
I’ve always been a bit of a jokester and I like humor and have a lighthearted attitude. We try to create that same sort of atmosphere in the store. We want to make sure it’s not a super serious place, that it’s fun and whimsical. I like things that bounce off of each other and and can stand on their own. And the cats. Almost everybody likes cats. And the fish. They’re everywhere, here and there, throughout the place. We find things in our travels, buy them, then put them in this space. I can’t keep clowns in, for some reason. Everybody likes clowns, apparently. It’s fun to look for things and to share them. If I can have a business doing that, that’s even better. I like to have a major change in here every two weeks or so. Sometimes things look better in different rooms.
Why do you paint under the name Sean Goté?
I don’t want to get too specific on that, but my last name is Hart and I’ve never liked how that looked as a signature. It’s no Van Gogh. I guess I had a girlfriend back in my 20s who kind of played with my signature and turned it into Goté. I loved how it looked and it felt right. “Sean Goté”: There’s no other name that I know like it, and it’s stuck ever since. There are thousands of paintings with my Goté signature on them. Certainly, I’m not going to change it now.
What about Prescott has proved different from what you expected? Any surprises?
Well, I can tell you the most enjoyable part about Prescott is the people. You walk into the store or walk by someone on the street and they smile. I’ve had people wave at me and honk while I’m out working. It’s kind of like, “Welcome. We’re glad you’re here.” That makes moving to a new place a lot easier. It’s a lot easier to be part of a new community when you feel wanted and liked. What we’re trying to create here is a little unusual, but I think people want that. We’ve found notes on the door from people saying thank you, that we’re a welcome addition to the neighborhood. I can’t think of anyone who’s not come in and not left here feeling good, just in general. This is not about how much money I can make. It’s about making our own space and encouraging and rewarding other artists and helping people with decorating and helping them find cool stuff. … It’s been nice to come and go as we please, too. If I want to go horseback riding, I can just put a sign on the door that says “gone horseback riding.” There’s one right here on the counter I used recently. Here, it says, “Gone to catch a raven. Be back by 1 p.m.” I like that it feels free here.
What are your plans for the gallery for the future?
One of the things we’re doing is making this space available for private events like birthday parties. We can easily seat 20 people. For my birthday, we had over 70 people in here and a surprise gift — belly dancers. We also have a 15′ movie screen and a small stage. We’d like to bring in some local music, just to add some more fun and adventure to the place. Now that the weather’s better and the outdoor garden is open, it’s the perfect place for a private cocktail party. There’s a lot of room for people to wander around and enjoy the sights and sounds. We’re still looking for musicians and want people to contact us. It’s a paying gig. We’re also looking for more artists who’d like to set up on weekends. We do a lot of this to please ourselves and make our own lives more fun. You know, I can’t wait to get up in the morning. I have so much to do, and that’s exciting. At 72, my life is getting shorter. I’ve got a lot to give back and to share and to enjoy. The days aren’t long enough any more. When you’re able to do something you love and enjoy and find rewarding, it makes every day of life full. It makes it a joy to be alive.
Sean Hart’s art is at Sean Goté Gallery, which is open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. or by appointment or coincidence at 702 W. Gurley St., 928-445-2323. Find out more at SeanGote.Com and via Facebook.
James Dungeon is a figment of his own imagination. And he likes cats. Contact him at JamesDungeonCats@Gmail.Com.