Donna Seager and Suzanne Gray

Q&A with the Seager Gray Gallery: Sheltering in Place with Donna Seager and Suzanne Gray

UPTAKE checked in with Seager Gray Gallery’s Donna Seager and Suzanne Gray to hear how things were going at their art gallery during the Covid-19 shut-down. While the gallery has been closed for general foot…

UPTAKE checked in with Seager Gray Gallery’s Donna Seager and Suzanne Gray to hear how things were going at their art gallery during the Covid-19 shut-down. While the gallery has been closed for general foot traffic, the gallery provides many opportunities for art appreciation and collecting:

Private tours by appointment are available for viewing specific works of art.

The Influence of the Earth exhibition features a selection of work curated by Suzanne Gray, celebrating nature and how it sustains our well-being during stay-at-home orders. You can see the art in an online catalog, and a video tour of the gallery by Douglas Sandberg, photographer of many of the greats in art, provides background on each piece.

Art of the Book exhibition: The gallery had planned to celebrate the 15th anniversary of their annual themed show but pivoted to provide a virtual experience.

Emily Payne: Burst exhibition will be hung in the gallery when it opens up to the public again. Part of their ongoing stable of artists, this Mill Valley native and Berkeley resident installs paintings and wire sculptures that relate to each other and engage the gallery’s space, including rafters, ambient light, and shadows. In the meantime, the artist has provided a pre-exhibit sneak peek from her studio via YouTube.

The following interview excerpt provides additional background on the gallery:

What is the Seager Gray Gallery point of view?

Donna — We have a tagline: Art that has content but with a mastery of materials. We focus on materials and artists that push materials to a different level.

You have a long list of artists on your website. Do you represent them all?

Donna —  Some artists in our stable show here every 18 months. We include other artists in our thematic exhibitions – our Art of the Book, Material Matters shows, and the summer/objects exhibition.

Suzanne — The summer group show focuses on smaller works. People love that show; it is very tactile. The materials are curious and mysterious. We look forward to a time when we get back to a place to examine things closely.

Donna —We’re also known for our catalogs. We do one for every show. An artist works on a show for a year before the exhibit, and then the show comes down. The catalog keeps the show alive.

Suzanne — We work hard to promote our artists. The exhibition comes down, and we want to get the work outside the gallery into buildings, lobbies, and showrooms. We also use Artsy, 1stDibs, and social media. We lay out the gallery with sections, which allows for smaller shows within the space. Curating is a creative expression for us.

Donna — We often find ourselves staying late to brainstorm exhibition ideas.

Tell us about your thematic show The Art of the Book.

Donna — The Art of the Book includes handmade books, altered books, and book-related works in many mediums. But we stretch it as far as we can. Sometimes a work is a painting of books; it touches all genres.

We made an effort to make it special this year. We wanted to make it into an exhibition because it is one of the shows where people do touch the merchandise, or we touch the books to demonstrate the flow and how a handmade book is so special. People can get a sense of what an art book is. The show includes both limited editions and one of a kind books.

This show has a special audience, people who love books, who never miss the show. We have sold several pieces from the show currently online.

We look for book work when we jury other shows. For example, We have brought book artists into the gallery from Marin MOCA’s Altered Book Show.

How does your gallery inspire collectors?

Suzanne — It is interesting to introduce the artist to collectors who may only be visiting the gallery for something to hang over the sofa. It’s exciting when someone comes in. The other day, we had a woman come in. She wanted to see several paintings we hand-installed in the gallery for her to view. While she was here, she saw the Jane Rosen (glass sculpture entitled Black Tail Wall Bird). She said, “I’ve never collected anything like this…” This statement starts a conversation. The way the gallery is hung now prompts people to consider other mediums.

Black Tail Wall Bird, 2015 by Jane Rosen (Sculpture 16.5 x 5.5 x 4.5 inches hand blown pigmented glass) included in The Influence of the Earth exhibition.

Donna — They (the collector) get to see how you can add dimensionality into space. If you have walls with paintings hung on them, you add a three-dimensional object, and all of a sudden, the art is talking all over the place. Rather than just in a box, it creates amazing energy, which is why we got into doing the shows focused on materials.

This work interacts with several images of leafy scenery and landscapes that are hung in the gallery. This combination adds dimension to a rooms’ space.

Collectors learn something about themselves when they are attached to a particular work of art, similar to when they’re attached to music. When you find something you like, it lights up something that is a part of you.

Suzanne — Collecting also inspires curiosity: a mystery, a longing to know more.

Do you have any suggestions for an emerging artist?

Donna — We do a lot of exhibition jurying around Marin, including portfolio reviews. First, the artist needs to find their own view. I tell them to stay with it and work with their materials until something uniquely theirs emerges.

Suzanne — I suggest artists apply for juried exhibitions. We see artists again and again. Then, we see something of interest.

Donna — We do studio visits frequently, but we don’t always have a lot of time to go through emails. If an artist sends emails, I suggest they put a compelling image in the body of the email. This image may grab our attention.

Suzanne – Artists can send us announcements for shows. Sometimes the work will fit into a show we were assembling.

Donna — Artists should look for a gallery whose work, and collector base, tie in with what they do. We understand that it’s hard, and artists need thick skin. Keep in mind that our gallery only has 12 shows per year. That’s a lot, but there is not much room for new artists. And sometimes we have to let go of an artist because the work isn’t selling to our collectors. 

Suzanne – We use our Material Matters, Art of the Book, and summer group shows as a way for artists new to bring us something new. These group shows provide us with a potential for exploring a relationship with them.

What is next at Seager Gray?

Donna — We plan to open with a solo show by Emily Payne. We didn’t want to solely show her work virtually, because there is such interaction amongst the various pieces. She draws the shadow of her wire sculptures in her paintings, so they are interactions. In her last show at the gallery, she drew a shadow on the wall. People could experience her doing that when they came to the gallery. She’s very interested in having the work interact with the space around them. Our gallery has skylights and ambient light that throws shadows.

Suzanne – It is such an Alice in Wonderland experience. The sculptures are hung on rafters to create an environment. She now has a commission to draw on the wall in the home of a collector.

Examples from the gallery:

Donna — We had to shelter in place, but Marin has the natural world that we can escape to out of our shelter in place. We were honoring this nature. We started the curatorial process with Kristen Garneau’ Fencepost.

Fencepost, 2013 by Kristen Garneau (painting, 72 x 66 inches, oil on canvas) included in The Influence of the Earth exhibition.

Donna — Henry David Thoreau was the original social distancer. As people have sheltered in place, they seem to have a deeper appreciation for nature. They are planting gardens, paying attention to birds. Look at this piece behind me. There is a couple up the tree. Even before the pandemic, there was this painting with this mysterious couple.

Cascade II, 2019 by Devorah Jacobe, painting, 60 x 72 inches, oil on canvas with charcoal) included in The Influence of the Earth exhibition.

Donna — This made of the tiny headbands on the tops of books. The artist has sewn them together in a way that they look like an ancient textile.

Resist 1, 2020 by Kerith Lisi, (textile, 12.25 x 12.25 inches or 14 x 14 inches framed) included in Art of the Book exhibition.

Pamela Coddington is a writer and editor. Full disclosure: She is a big supporter of the arts in Marin County and has done work with Youth in Arts, Image Flow Photography Center, di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Smith Andersen North, and Headlands Center for the Arts. Pamela is a graduate of New York University with a B.A. in Art History, and holds a post-baccalaureate degree in writing from U.C. Berkeley. Pamela lives and works in San Rafael with her family.