Gallery Spotlight: Exclusive Interview with Gary Pressman of Copro Gallery

by Nastia VoynovskayaPosted on

Today, Hi-Fructose proudly introduces our new bi-monthy feature, “Gallery Spotlight,” where we will be interviewing the owners and directors of galleries that play a vital role in the New Contemporary Art Movement. We hope to give our readers a more in-depth look at the art spaces that have shown many of the artists that have graced the pages of our magazine and the front page of our blog. For our first installment of this feature, we spoke with Gary Pressman, the director of Copro Gallery in Santa Monica. Copro Gallery has been in existence for almost two decades and has shown the likes of Mark Ryden (cover artist of our latest issue, Hi-Fructose Vol. 28), Christian Rex van Minnen, Laurie Lipton, Travis Louie, Kris Lewis and many more. Read our conversation with Gary below and check out some photos from Copro Gallery as well as Gary’s extensive personal art collection.

When did you get involved with Copro Gallery? What lead you to pursue a career in the art gallery world?

I helped curate shows with Copro / Nason at my brother’s club “Billboard Live” starting in the early 1990s. I was a collector and in the travel business so it was just a hobby at that time. In 2001 the Gallery Director job at Copro Nason Gallery became available so I took the job and learned the business through trial by fire.

How have you seen Copro Gallery evolve since you started?

When I started, Copro showed mostly classic lowbrow artists so I tried to show the new and upcoming artists and seek out new artists who hadn’t done gallery shows. That evolution has led to us to still being on the same mission but with many more opportunities.

Tell me about some of the most memorable exhibitions at the gallery over the years.

2001 – Mark Ryden did an Illustration art show of small works on paper that filled up the gallery.

2003 – Sas Christian and Chris Mars was one of the first super successful shows I curated at the old gallery in Culver City.

2006 – Audrey Kawasaki and Lori Earley did a show together with some really great work when we first moved to Bergamot Station.

2012 – Twin Peaks FWWM group exhibition will always be my favorite theme show since I’m a huge Lynch fan and the most exciting opening we’ve had. You can’t beat dead people showing (Laura Palmer).

Installation from Mike Shine’s show

What does your role as gallery director entail?

I do everything from designing postcards and advertising to running the business however my most important job is booking the schedule and finding new artists.

Manuel Ocampo sculpture in Gary Pressman’s private collection

What’s in your personal art collection? Do you have any favorite, interesting or special pieces you’d like to tell us about?

My favorite and most personally memorable piece of art is the first painting I bought in 1991 which is a Joe Coleman piece called “Portrait of Jack Ruby”. I also really love a small R. Crumb piece I have which is a favorite strip from a comic that I remember reading in junior High school with the basic jist being “Eat Fork, Fuckface.” I also have a 7’ sculpture of a hooded man with a robe holding a gun and cross by artist Manuel Ocampo, which I love.

Joe Coleman in Gary Pressman’s private collection

What excites you about the contemporary art world today?

Seeing this art movement’s history develop from the “Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s” group exhibition at MOCA in 1992 to what it is today still boggles my mind. There are so many great artists around these days and so much to see that there’s never a dull moment. I feel like I missed a lot from the ’60s like Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol so I want to be sure and experience everything that I can with contemporary art and always remember being there at the front seeing it all develop.

Painting by Anthony Ausgang in Gary Pressman’s private collection

Where do you see Copro Gallery going in the next 5 years? 10 years?

We’re celebrating Copro’s 20th anniversary this year so 10 years from now I’d love to see our 30th. If I had a time machine I could tell you but even then the future is always changing and unknown, so I’d love to revisit this conversation in 2023.

Basil Wolverton Drawing in Gary Pressman’s private collection

What do you see as Copro Gallery’s specialty in terms of the art it exhibits?

It’s very hard these days to be different since every gallery is sharing many of the artists. Our specialty is giving upcoming artists a chance and having a very wide spectrum of styles that we exhibit. You never know what’s next with us!

Chet Zar paintings in Gary Pressman’s private collection

What sets the gallery apart?

Since we’ve been around so long we have a lot experience and know the ropes. We have a lot to offer artists and only work with a small number so they get a lot of personal attention.

R. Crumb in Gary Pressman’s private collection

Anything else you’d like to share?

I love what Hi-Fructose has done to promote this movement and help galleries, so thanks! I want to thank my girlfriend Erica, who works with me at the gallery and has helped build Copro Gallery and Greg Escalante for hiring me. Both of them have been great influences and between the three of us we manage to run the gallery and keep it going!

Glenn Barr painting in Gary Pressman’s private collection

Luke Chueh painting in Gary Pressman’s private collection

Robert Williams piece in Gary Pressman’s private collection

S. Clay Wilson in Gary Pressman in private collection