Mission Loc@l: So what’s going on?
Alex Farkas: We’re having a party to celebrate the launch of our new site, Paperwork. It’s a spinoff of UGallery, which is an online gallery for emerging artists. Instead of paintings or photographs, it sells prints.
It’s going to be great. One of our photographers, Alex Greenburg, is going to be taking Valentine’s portraits. Alex normally does these great photographs. They feel airless and spaceless — like everything has been sucked out of it. But in a good way.
So I think we’re going to make a balloon wall as a backdrop. And we got Truman Pilsner to sponsor us.
ML: How did that happen?
AF: We have our offices on 16th and Mission. And one of our neighbors is a little magazine called Drink Me. They said, “Talk to Trumer.”
ML: Useful neighbors.
AF: Right. I used to work 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day in my home office. I got a lot done, but…. It’s been so good to meet people.
ML: How did you get started in this line of business?
AF: I was studying art history at the University of Arizona. My mom said, “You should study business, too.”
I started taking classes, and that’s how I met my two business partners. They’re all fantastic guys, but if I hadn’t been in that program I never would have met them.
We started UGallery about four years ago and won two startup grants. When we graduated, they moved to New York. I always loved San Francisco and it seemed like the right place.
ML: How do you decide who sells art on your site?
AF: In the beginning we were just for student artists. Now we receive about 50 to 100 applications a week. I take about 40 percent of those. More and more I’m dealing with emerging and unknown artists. We’ll sit down with them and help them figure out how to price things. It’s just so interesting to find someone in a shed in Kansas doing something you’ve never seen before.
ML: And have you noticed anything that tends to sell well?
AF: Well, a lot of people buy art for decorating their homes, rather than just as art. So: Butterflies. Landscapes. Things that are bright, but not overly so.
ML: Is that your own taste?
AF: Lately I’ve found that my own taste skews toward the odd. Like street art. Things where there’s no financial incentive. They’re just making art for the love of it.
[gestures to woman who has just emerged from the back of the room] That’s my mom, Carol. She had a gallery, too. For 33 years, in Jerome, Arizona.
Carol: I did pottery. Then I started selling other people’s work.
AF: Jerome’s an interesting place. About 450 people live there, but they’re mostly artists. Once it was a mining town of about 20,000, but it was abandoned when the mine closed in the 1950s. And then in the 1960s, it started filling up with artists.
Carol: I can’t even exactly tell you why I did, but I moved there from New York in 1975. I paid $18,000 for a two-story house.
AF: It was the old mortuary.
Carol: I think the people around us wondered, “How do they live there? How do they support themselves?” I traveled a lot, building displays and things. And I thought, “What do I do with this kid?” So Alex started working for me when he was very little.
AF: I was the gofer. I made runs to the hardware store. Boxed up the art.
Carol: Installed that air conditioner.
AF: It was great experience. I learned a lot. I still do all that today. I fly back and forth across the country. I do shows like the Affordable Art Fair.
Carol: You know, as a child, you were never really exposed to anyone except artists.
AF: My business partners are good at other things, but they aren’t so good at hanging, nailing, traveling.
Carol: Show business….
The show opens tonight at Mina Dresden Gallery, 312 Valencia @ 14th, and runs 6-9 p.m.