An artists builds success on perseverance – International Artexpo New York February 26-March 1
Hessam Abrishami, better known as Hessam, wanted to know one thing, “Is this going to be about business?” He asked this in response to questions about his two-year old company, Studio Fine Art, which debuted at last year’s Artexpo New York. “I’d rather talk about art,” he said.
Hessam isn’t one to gloat over his fame or his meteoric success. Neither is he one to complain about his struggles in his early days to be recognized in the United States–to the point of nearly giving his work away. But ask Hessam about his art, and he has a lot to say:
“I just let the brush go around the canvas and the colors fly,” he said. “My work is coming from my heart, I put all of my feelings into it. If I’m happy, it shows. If I’m sad, that’s in the painting, too.” It’s no wonder he prefers to talk about art, because it’s his Matisse-like colors, joyful subjects, sensuous couples and raw emotion that turned him into an international art icon.
“It was always my dream to be an artist” said Hessam. Born in Iran in 1951, the young artist had won first place in his country’s National Painting Competition at age 18. He continued art studies in Iran and then traveled to Italy, where he obtained a master’s degree and showed his paintings in museums and galleries in Europe and Asia. In 1984, curiosity prompted him to try something else–moving to Los Angeles.
Until then, Hessam had found selling and exhibiting his work relatively easy. He experienced just the opposite in California. “It was really hard,” he recalled. He showed his work to one gallery director after another. They liked what they saw, but wanted to know who his collectors were. He admitted that he had none–at least not in the United States. One after another turned him down and told him to come back after he’d become famous.
He saw this as a conundrum. How can an artist become famous if he can’t show his work? Determined to be successful, Hessam took his paintings to street fairs and a few galleries that were willing to take a chance on him. Still, Hessam wanted more exposure.
In 1989, he purchased a booth at Artexpo California. “I knew my work was good,” he recalled. “I just didn’t know how to present it.” He didn’t know how to sell it either. When offered a third of the asking price for one of his paintings, he took it. At least he had sold something, he thought. It was some measure of success, though the only sale at that show.
Ready to try again, Hessam purchased a single booth at Artexpo New York the following year. At the time, Artexpo was in the main hall of the lower level of the Jacob Javits Center, and exhibits spilled out into smaller halls. To Hessam’s dismay, he ended up in Hall D, a small room away from the main crowd. Worse yet, his name was misspelled in the show’s catalog. It was an ominous start. However, Hessam’s art attracted attention, and he sold enough paintings to pay all of his expenses. Plus, the contacts he made proved invaluable.
The next year, when Hessam returned to Artexpo New York, he brought a sales-person with him. By the end of the second day, he sold everything in his booth. “Overwhelmed with excitement, he was inspired to create,” said Charles Hampton Ray, account executive with Studio Fine Art. “Hessam found himself scouring all of Manhattan, at eight in the evening, looking for painting materials.”
On the brink of fame, Hessam was approached by two major publishers who wanted to represent him. Not knowing which offer to take, he turned to an industry friend, Kimber Moulton of Collectors Editions for advice. He, instead, presented him with a third publishing offer, and in 1992, Hessam signed with Collectors. “Signing with his publisher obviously was a milestone in Hessam’s career as the support mechanism and resources for the sale and marketing of his works made him utterly ubiquitous in the fine art market,” said Ray. Over the next decade, Collectors Editions would sell millions of dollars in Hessam’s prints and paintings.
In 2002, Hessam formed his own company, Studio Fine Art, and placed his son, Kaveh Abrishami, in charge. At the company’s first Artexpo New York, in 2003, it sold 83 percent of the original paintings and limited-edition bronze sculptures it brought. Adding fine art reproductions this year, Studio Fine Art anticipates even better sales.
But that’s business, which Hessam would rather not discuss. Those questions, he would prefer Ray or his son to address. “I built this business, but I supervise it from afar,” said the artist. As he sees it, it’s his job to paint.
Visit Studio Fine Art at booth No. 2158 or www.studiofineart.com.
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