Ryan James is all too familiar with the adage, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Only in James’ life, the “doing” refers to creating art (which he can’t), and the “teaching” is more akin to cultivating. James, owner of Ryan James Fine Arts, will be the first to admit he has zero artistic abilities of his own, but he’s never doubted that he’s got the eye to spot the best of the best.
As a young child growing up in Minneapolis, James enjoyed the many trips he and his family would make to the Walker Art Center, where they would gaze at contemporary paintings and walk through the center’s serene sculpture garden.
These visits, in part, sparked something in James that stuck with him through 12 years of working in the retail industry, most recently at Michael Kors in Bellevue. “I was actually saving money because I wanted to get a Porsche, and I had enough money for a down payment. Then as I was getting ready to go to the dealership, the voice in the back of my head was telling me I should take this (money) and finally (open) a gallery,” James said of that day, seven years ago, when he decided to open his Kirkland gallery.
Though James still covets the Porsche, he drives an 18-year-old Audi and doesn’t regret walking away from a steady paycheck to open the only standalone contemporary art gallery on the Eastside that isn’t a nonprofit, co-op, or part of a larger entity.
“The Eastside is so untapped and I really feel like there is a market here, but the difficulty is that there hasn’t been a tradition of galleries being here, so we truly are building the market,” he said.
Upon opening shop in Kirkland, one of James’ first priorities was to meet with the Greater Kirkland Chamber of Commerce.
“I love the Chamber,” he said. “Kirkland (has a) very much small-town feel, even though it is growing insanely. The more you get involved, the more this town comes out and supports you, and that is something I’ve always loved about this community.”
Due to James’ affinity for the Chamber and his often-flexible schedule at the gallery, it seemed a natural progression to become increasingly more involved. In recent years, James has risen through the ranks and now serves as president of the Chamber while also serving on many other boards.
Continue reading to see what this chamber champion and contemporary connoisseur does on a typical day.
Starting the day with a venti mocha Frappuccino, double blended with no whip in Klaus, my beloved Audi TT. It’s not the best for hauling artworks, but it is the best for sunny-day drives.
Early morning meeting of the Kirkland City Hall Cultural Arts Commission with Ellen Miller-Wolfe, Philly Marsh, and James Lopez.
Stratocent Technologies Chamber member meeting with marketing manager Beth Gale, CEO Jim Bachaud and chamber ambassador chair Ellie Bachaud.
On to the next committee meeting, with art commissioners on the Cross Kirkland Corridor Trail, to discuss mural projects and sculpture works for the trail.
I really enjoy selecting new works for the gallery. I stop by a Kirkland studio to visit with artist Beth Adams.
Visiting the Nytec Inc. Sculpture Garden of You, with gallery special projects director Melina Brooks and Nytec art curator Rand Perez. We are installing six new sculptures this summer.
Unboxing works from Alex Katz: A Life in Print exhibition at the Bellevue Arts Museum with chief curator Ed Benedict Heywood and director of advancement Eileen Herbert.
We are installing artwork at Butch Blum Seattle. It is the best clothing store in Seattle. I’ve been shopping with them for years, and it is such a joy to now have them as a client.
Next, we journey back across the bridge to install artwork at Aloft Redmond Hotel. You can usually find the gallery team enjoying Aloft’s WXYZ Lounge after work.
The gallery team meets with sales director Samantha Areliz and arts coordinator Kerry Itami.
Yet another meeting, this time with gallery curator Kimberly Balla, to review works for artist Peter Juvonen’s September gallery solo show.
Last meeting of the day, at the Heathman Hotel with Chamber Executive Director Samantha St. John; hotel General Manager Jeff Larson; and Columbia Hospitality Vice President Jolene DiSalvo Sr.