Written by: Frank Iacono
As Canada’s only gallery specializing exclusively in Quebec artwork, the Thompson Landry Gallery, which officially opened in March of 2006 by Joanne Thompson and her partner Sylvain Landry, has gained international recognition for its unique ability to provide a space in which the spirit and culture of Quebec is encapsulated.
Housed in the heart of Toronto’s Historic Distillery District, The Thompson Landry Gallery, an impressive 7,000 square feet in total, is comprised of two distinct spaces: The Stone Distillery Building and The Cooperage Space. Each gallery offers a dynamic and exciting ambiance that pays homage to the work of both the very best contemporary artists and the Great Masters from the province of Quebec. Appropriately deemed “The Temple of Quebec Art” by the Toronto Star, the Thompson Landry Gallery is the only location where you can find the talent and diversity that Quebec artists have achieved in their work.
Each gallery space simultaneously reflects their architectural history and boasts unique backdrops that emphasize the artwork on display. Painting, sculpture, glass work, and photography are all set against the original limestone and exposed brick and plaster walls. The juxtaposition between the artwork and the rawness of the spaces creates an extraordinary experience for the viewer.
Always on the leading edge of the artwork coming out of the province of Quebec, the Thompson Landry Gallery pushes the boundaries to find work that is both innovative and exceptional.
In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joanne Thompson and asking her about her early art influences, her background, her specific style of art, her favorite artists, and her passion for being an art dealer.
The Creative Spotlight: How and when did you decide to embark in your profession as a gallerist? And, what made you decide to set up shop in the historic Distillery District in Toronto, Ontario Canada?
Joanne Thompson: In 2004 my partner Sylvain Landry and I decided that we wanted to open a gallery in Toronto. The key was finding the perfect place for it. We wanted something that was spacious and had a lot of character. Not something cold and sterile, but a place our clients would feel at home.
The Stone Building at the Distillery District had all those characteristics. I could also design and finish it the way I wanted. We knew we had to build our clientele, so opening in a walking arts district with other galleries, a theatre and one of a kind shops (the Distillery District) made sense to us. It took two years of planning, and we also needed to wait until the Distillery finished the building (late 2005) so that we could move in and finish our space. We finally opened our gallery in March 2006.
JT: My background is in set design and stage management for theatre. I also worked as a scenic artist in the art department for film and TV. I have always collected artwork, and contemporary Quebec artwork in particular. Artists from Quebec continually asked for my partner Sylvain’s and my opinion on where they should be represented in Toronto. We tried to help them out, but there was never a perfect match. That was when we realized that there was a place in Toronto for a gallery that specialized in the works of contemporary Quebec artists.
TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Joanne Thompson or the Thompson Landry Gallery, please share with us your education, certifications, training, and/or additional qualifications that you possess?
JT: I graduated in 1993 with an Honours BFA in Theatre – specifically in set design and stage management. That training helped me to be able to think of the design of a room as a whole, and stage management taught me how to be ridiculously organized and deal with pressure. Hanging an exhibition is just a little like producing a theatrical production. I do not have any formal training in curatorial studies or art sales. Being able to visualize a space where the work is to be displayed in three dimensions is of upmost importance to creating a well curated hang.
I was drawn to Contemporary Quebec artwork in particular because the artists continually push and manipulate the boundaries of their artwork. You can find this in so many ways: in their subjects, their use of mediums, their fearlessness in their approach to their artwork. Nothing supersedes the passion that you can find in their work, and that is something that I truly believe in.
TCS: Can you specifically define what educational path one would take to become a curator?
JT: There are some great universities in Canada that have curatorial and art history courses. For post grad, Sotheby’s Institute of Art has locations in NYC, Los Angeles and London which is a very good way to learn more of the business side of the art world. I believe that interning at an auction house, commercial gallery or museum to get some hands-on experience is always a good idea. Obtaining as much diverse experience as possible is what I would recommend. I would also say that life experience is key. Travelling, visiting galleries, exhibitions and art shows will help to give a better overall perspective of what is happening in the world of art, and will open your mind to new ideas.
TCS: How have your experiences as an artist shaped your approach to running a gallery?
JT: Coming from a design background I have an appreciation for the time and creative effort it takes for an artist to put together either just one piece, or a full exhibition of works. I think it helps me to understand their process and it makes working together enjoyable and stress free.
TCS: Was there a specific artist that you were most excited about bringing into the Thompson Landry Gallery? And, tell us how you determine which art and artists you will showcase?
JT: I think that the artist I was most excited about bringing onboard at the Thompson Landry Gallery when we first opened 10 years ago was abstract artist, Jean-Pierre Lafrance. He had 35 years of experience and his masterful abstracts are some of the best in Canada. I had collected his works, and respected him as an artist, for many years.
There are several determining factors to choosing artists for the gallery. The first, and most importantly, is we need to love and believe in what the artist does. We always look at whether the artist has something original to say, and do their works consistently share that with the viewer. Finally, it is important to look at whether their works compliment the roster we have already created, and do they add a new perspective and something exciting to the gallery as a whole.
TCS: Share with us some of the highlights from the Thompson Landry Gallery 2016 Exhibitions? And, describe for us what we can expect in 2017?
JT: 2016 was a very exciting year for us as we celebrated our 10th anniversary of the gallery. We had an enormous exhibition featuring 19 of our painters and sculptors creating over 100 works that were displayed in both galleries. The exhibition was widely attended and was one of the most remarkable displays we have curated to date.
In 2016 we also had very successful solo exhibitions for Marie-Josée Roy and André Pitre.
2017 is proving to already have a thrilling start for the gallery. From January 27th through March 12th we are featuring 2 of our artists, Laurence Nerbonne and Ognian Zekoff, in our Cooperage space in celebration of Light Fest at the Distillery District. These two artists are masters of light and shadow, creating dramatic and emotion filled figurative works.
Also in 2017 we have a fantastic line up of very talented, internationally renowned artists:
- May 18th – June 4th: Danielle Lanteigne and Dominique Fortin
- June 22nd – July 9th: Jean-Pierre Lafrance
- September 6th – 24th: Stikki Peaches
- November 9th – 26th: France Jodoin
TCS: Describe for us what you think sets the Thompson Landry Gallery apart from other galleries?
JT: At first glance, when you walk into either of the gallery spaces, the work takes your breath away. The pieces on the walls are dynamic, colourful and created with a passion that exudes from the works. The artwork is lit by a professional who makes sure that the works are experienced at their very best. The spaces are welcoming and invite people to stay for a long period of time and enjoy the artwork. Whether someone walking in is enjoying the gallery for the first time, or if they are a versed collector, they are treated with upmost respect and courtesy. The most important thing for us is that our clients are comfortable and have a very enjoyable and memorable experience.
Also, having 2 separate spaces enables us to have a solo show in one gallery while we exhibit our other artists in the other gallery. This means that there are no lengthy times when artists are not being displayed.
TCS: How has the Thompson Landry Gallery evolved over the years?
JT: After three years of having our first space at the Distillery, we opened our second, Cooperage Space. That increased our square footage from 2700 square feet to 7000 square feet.
We have evolved with the artwork that we represent. As the artwork coming out of Quebec changes, we change with it. We want to stay current and always have something new for our clients to discover at our gallery.
TCS: Looking back over the first 10 years of operation, what do you consider the most successful exhibit?
JT: A very difficult question because it depends on what you mean by “successful”. Some exhibitions have been very financially successful while others are received incredibly well by both the press and by clients, but maybe do not sell as well.
We held an exhibition called GAIA in August 2012, both inside and outside the gallery. It was comprised of 30 pieces inside and 60 large scale works outside around the Distillery District. The works were photographs taken of the earth, by Guy Laliberté, during the time he spent 11 days in space circling the globe 220 miles from the surface of the earth. These photographs were not colour adjusted in any way, as he wanted to show the earth as it really is. All the proceeds from any sales of these photographs went directly to ONE DROP. ONE DROP is a non-profit organization founded by Laliberté to fight poverty worldwide by ensuring access to clean water now and in the future.
This was a very proud moment for the gallery. We were very happy to be part of such a great cause and such an artistic achievement in large scale photography.
TCS: As an art dealer, what’s the gallery’s greatest achievement?
JT: I believe that the gallery’s greatest achievement is the reputation we have built over the past 10 years. Not only with our clients, but with the artists from Quebec. We treat our artists with the upmost respect. This is very important because the relationship between gallerist and artist is hopefully a lifelong one. I am happy when I can make my artists happy.
My proudest moment was probably at our 10th anniversary celebration last September when I could look around at 19 of our artists and know that we have worked incredibly hard but together we have made the gallery a success.
TCS: When the Thompson Landry Gallery is closed do you visit other art galleries to look at the work of specific artists?
JT: The life of a gallery owner is not glamourous. It means working 6 to 7 days per week, during both the day and night. My one day off tends to be on Mondays which is a day that all other galleries in the city are also closed. That, sadly, makes visiting the other galleries quite difficult. My partner and I do travel quite a lot and visit many galleries in cities all over Europe. We also take the time to visit galleries and studios in Montreal and Quebec City to see who is being featured, and to find artists that we may not have known about before. We are always keeping our eye open for something new and exciting.
TCS: Do you collect? What artists – aside from the ones you represent – are of interest to you?
JT: Yes, collecting is what created my path to owning and operating a gallery.
I love the following international artists: Sophie Ryder, Jean-Pierre Ruel, Desiréé Dolron, Jonas Burgert, Simon Casson, Nicolas Hicks and Quebec artists: Paul Beliveau, Kevin Sonmore,
I also like to collect the lithographs of Marc Chagall and Jean Cocteau
TCS: What piece of artwork has affected you the most and why?
JT: I do not think that there is one particular work that has affected me more than others. I enjoy and appreciate many forms of artwork and to choose just one is impossible for me.
TCS: What is your mantra and, how does it sum up your life?
JT: Eleanor Roosevelt — “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Jump into everything you do with equal amounts of passion, intelligence and conviction. Live life to its fullest and don’t be scared to try something new.
TCS: Being a successful art dealer requires both “art” and business skills. What do you think is the optimal mix? Has your opinion on that changed in the past 10 years?
JT: Having business skills are definitely essential to owning an art gallery. That and being able to relate to people, whether it is your clients or the artists you represent. 10 years ago, I didn’t know that being the Director of an art gallery, I would create such long and close relationships with both my artists and my clients, many I now call my close friends. You need to be able to read people and what they need from you.
Having “a good eye” in order to create a hang is where I mostly use my “art” skills. This also comes into use when going into a client’s home and advising them in terms of pieces, size and location.
TCS: What advice do you have for young artists who want to make a living through their art?
JT: Work hard and just keep at it. Find your visual language and the message you want to send into the world and sick by it. But, don’t be scared to try new things. When you are ready to find a gallery to be represented at, do your research and find a gallery that you trust and will well represent you. It is a two-way relationship that will hopefully be very long term.
About Frank Iacono
Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.