Bobby Beals, Curator & Galley Owner
Curator & Gallery Owner
Painting, skateboarding, watching kung-fu movies
Santa Fe, NM, Houston, TX & Costa Mesa, CA
Beals & Co. Showroom / CRFT & CULTR
830 Canyon Road
Santa Fe, NM 87501
After the first few times I met Bobby Beals, I told him he should run for mayor -- and it turns out I'm not the first one to suggest that! He seems to know everyone in town, and people are always talking about how great he is. He's a true hustler - having worked his way up through the service industry, to working in admin positions at galleries, to now owning a gallery (Beals & Co.) on Canyon Road, curating art in some of the country's best hotels, and owning multiple companies. At the same time, he's a father, active community member, philanthropist, newfound skateboarder and plenty more. In this interview, we explore how his values guide his businesses, what keeps him rooted in Santa Fe, and how he manages to stay organized with so much going on.
SFF: Where did you grow up and what made you settle in Santa Fe?
BB: I grew up between Santa Fe, Houston, and Southern California. My grandparents helped raise me here, and my family is from Santa Fe, so I’m a 5th generation Santa Fean. After I went to film school in California, I edited film in LA for a while and I loved it. But after two years I moved back to Santa Fe to care for my grandmother. I was living in these adobe casitas called Las Dos, which was actually my great aunt’s homestead. There was no running water or electricity and I was reading a lot of poetry and doing some self discovery.
SFF: It sounds like you were doing what one does when they move to New Mexico!
BB: Totally. Eventually my uncle came and took my grandmother to Oklahoma, and at that point I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I started using my film degree to film wedding videos, because it paid really well, and there are tons of weddings here. After some time I made this job up that I called “art-ssistant” where I would do anything to assist an artist. I’d go clean their brushes, paint the edges of their canvas, stretch canvas, wire canvas, deliver art, do portfolios, bios, whatever they needed.
SFF: Just helping in whatever way you could.
BB: Yeah, down to the point where I’d put a CD in the CD player and tell the artist to press play, because I thought it would inspire them as an artist. So I did that for a while, and then I knew a gallery owner who was going out of town for a couple weeks and he asked me to watch the gallery for him. I ended up selling a ton of art, and I really liked it. I found out I was a good salesperson. I was 26 years old, and from that point on I knew I wanted to have my own gallery one day. So I worked at a bunch of different galleries, worked my way up, and learned everything.
SFF: How do you work your way up in a gallery? What’s the structure?
BB: The first job I got was for this gallery that had me doing everything. I updated the website, printed photos, did inventory, did bookkeeping - it was crazy. And then I worked for a contemporary gallery in an administrative position, but I started selling art when the salesperson was busy or didn’t show up for work. So I was promoted to salesperson, and I did that for a while until another woman hired me to open up an art gallery for her. I got to pick the artists and everything, so I learned a lot. I took web design classes, graphic design classes, everything I could. The classes were in Albuquerque so I would commute from Santa Fe every day for 6 weeks. Then I helped open another gallery called Gallery 822 and I became the art director there, and after that I was hired at Waxlander Gallery as the art director, and I stayed there for 5 years. I wanted to buy it from the owner, but she didn’t want to sell, so I gave her my three month notice that I was going to leave and start my own gallery. I just had to. After seeing the way that galleries were run, I had a different attitude towards them. I thought they were stifling artists. They would say things like “30 x 40’s with 75% more reds in the painting are selling more than greens and smaller pieces.” and the artists would respond like “...what?” That’s just one example, but it was very weird. It was very commercial, and it wasn’t what I thought art was.
SFF: What did you think art was?
BB: I thought art was, to be honest without sounding really cheesy, love. The artist is creating something that they love, or else they wouldn’t create it. We as humans are created, and if you simulate that concept of creating, you’re loving. So I think when we’re created, we’re love.
SFF: Right. It’s not a transaction.
BB: Yes, and I think it’s important to honor and respect that. Some things aren’t for sale, and somethings are. It’s a continuous discovery, hopefully.
SFF: So you gave her your notice and set out to open your own gallery...
BB: She thought I couldn’t do it, but I did. My first gallery was what I thought of as the dream team of artists. I did a bunch of shows. I took over the Inn at the Loretto’s ballroom and did a show called “Big” and asked artists to do the biggest pieces they’ve ever done. A sculptor, painter, photographer, graffiti artist, all different mediums, made pieces. It ran for 6 weeks. Even the postcard was big.
SFF: How’d you come up with that idea?
BB: I don’t really remember… but everyone was doing miniature shows and I thought that was weak.
SFF: How did you approach the Inn at the Loretto with the idea?
BB: Well before that, I was showing up at the Four Seasons and painting sunsets on the patio. One day the manager came up and said “You can’t show up and paint here…” but just then, a guest asked how much my piece was, and they bought it. So the hotel asked me to come every week. I started inviting other artists to come and we created live all the time. I would bring this sculptor Michael Peralta, and a bunch of different painters. Every manager that has switched over has welcomed me and the practice. I’ve been doing it for nine years now. It’s so beautiful there. So with the Loretto, I dropped that I was working with the Four Seasons, and asked if they’d be interested in hosting a show. Then I had clients who suggested I go to other resorts and other hotels, so I thought of cool hotels in cities that I wanted to visit, like Sanctuary in Scottsdale, and I called them and we did a live sculpting session in the garden and started selling. Business has grown from there. I’ve worked with the Eldorado Hotel, Inn at the Loretto, Four Seasons Troon North, Mondrian. Sometimes managers will leave a resort for a new job and will ask me to bring the artist sessions to the next resort.
SFF: That’s so cool! Do you know of any other curators or artists doing this?
BB: They’re starting to, but at the time when I started I didn’t know anyone who was hanging art with tags on the wall and treating hotels like galleries. We even did wine receptions and artists dinners. I was hosting dinners with the menu printed on the back of a limited edition print, signed by the chef and the artist. After the economy crashed, people wanted something different and creative and unique, like experiences and time with artists. So I started creating events like that.
SFF: That’s so creative!
BB: It was fun and I really enjoyed it! At one point I had seven employees, I was in 12 different venues, but I’ve since scaled back a little bit.
SFF: Why did you scale back?
BB: I needed something simpler. It was just a lot. I felt as though I wasn’t truly connecting with people, which is why I got into it in the first place. So I started a skateboard company 4 years ago and that kind of broke the rut that I was in.
SFF: So even though you were hugely successful, you felt that you were in a creative rut?
BB: Yeah. I felt stifled managing people all the time. It’s great to manage as best you can with love, but it was just too much. I’m still in the process of simplifying my life.
SFF: I totally get that. A lot of people get into what they’re doing just because they enjoy it, not because they want to become a businessperson. When you attach all of these business aspects to something you really enjoy, it can sometimes ruin it.
BB: Right. And if I meet an artist and they have a dream of doing something, I know how to get there. But you have to really know an artist and communicate and learn from them, and if they’re not giving you all of it you can lead them down the wrong path. So to me it’s a little more, not dangerous, but you have to really be cognizant of where you want to lead these people and help them go.
SFF: Do you think you care more about that than other people in the industry? It seems like it.
SFF: So tell me more about this skateboard company you started.
BB: It’s called Kamagraph and I have artists paint on skateboard decks. They’re actually really good skateboards - skaters love them.
SFF: Are the people who buy the boards skaters or art collectors or both?
BB: They’re both. I think people relate to the sensation of nostalgia of skateboarding if they used to skate, or they relate to the culture of it. They may have never done graffiti art themselves, but they like it. I have a huge show of over 40 decks right now at Downtown Subscription to raise money for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And I started skating four years ago when I started the company.
SFF: Have you hurt yourself yet?
BB: A lot. I broke my rib from dropping in… But it’s been really cathartic for me, falling down and getting back up. Just knowing that if you’re going to skate, you’re going to fall. It’s just about getting back up.
SFF: So Kamagraph really blends your two loves of art and skateboarding into one.
BB: Yeah! We have artists paint the skateboards, then we sell them and donate the proceeds to different charities. The first time we did it was for the NAMI Organization, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, and we’ve done other organizations like Esperanza Shelter.
SFF: Why did you decide to donate the proceeds?
BB: Because I was selling art and expanding my business, and I needed a balance. I felt maybe I was going down the wrong path. I’m very cautious about things I do. I know it doesn’t seem like it...
SFF: It seems like you’re very selective about how you live your life. You know you can do a lot, so you just choose things that you truly want to do.
BB: Exactly. And hopefully I’ll be ok.
SFF: What’s the latest project you’ve been working on?
BB: Well, last year the people of Santa Fe voted me Best Curator of the Year in the Santa Fe Reporter, and it made me reflect on really, what is curating? I wanted to curate something different, and something that represented what my life is like: a street art meets bohemian Santa Fe combination. I feel like I’m leading two different lives sometimes. I might skateboard during the day and then dress up to go to the Four Seasons for an art show at night. Some people I meet would never know how I spend my days. So I wanted to curate a shop that represented that, which is CRFT & CULTR. It’s about honoring people who are crafting, and honoring the different cultures they’re from.
SFF: How did you select the artisans whose products are featured in CRFT & CULTR?
BB: It was very interesting because once I put the intention out there and started telling people about the concept, friends were like “Have you heard of this person or that person?” I opened CRFT & CULTR in my gallery space in November right before the holidays and it went really well.
SFF: What’s your vision for CRFT & CULTR?
BB: I want to keep it intimate and curated, and to help these artists grow. When it comes down to it, when someone puts on a ring or earrings or a hat, they feel like they’re transformed and they feel good, like they’re rocking some cool shit. I like witnessing that and being part of it.
SFF: You like to spread joy. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grow up?
BB: An astronaut. I started training. I would hold my breath underwater to see how long I could hold it, in the bathtub or the pool. I studied the stars a lot. I would read books, study astronauts and learn about them. I wanted to go to the NASA Space Program. It’s pretty fascinating because the stars you’re seeing aren’t there anymore. It’s almost like time travel. I like the idea of fractals -- there are patterns in the stars that repeat millions of times. It’s organized chaos.
SFF: What are some of your hobbies?
BB: I love skateboarding because it’s kind of like a meditation, and I paint too. I love music - all kinds. My favorite song is Atomic Bomb by William Onyeabor. It’s my go-to music.
SFF: Where’s your favorite place in the world?
BB: Besides the here and now? I love Hawaii -- I was just there. I can breathe better in tropical places because of the humidity and I feel stronger and more powerful.
SFF: What are your favorite places to go in town?
BB: In the winter I love snowboarding, so I go all the time. I am always at the Randall Davey Audubon, the bird sanctuary with a 3-mile loop trail. I like to go there, sit on the benches, and sketch. I love nature, so I like to go rafting with my buddies Nick and Percy who are raft guides. I like dancing at The Palace to live music, and Atrisco Cafe and Paper Dosa are two of my favorite restaurants. And the Violet Crown is great -- I go to chess club there on Monday’s with my friend Sirius. On Tuesdays I play basketball at Paddy Smith Park, and on Wednesdays I play soccer.
SFF: You’re such an active guy! What’s your favorite thing about Santa Fe?
BB: My favorite thing about Santa Fe is the nature. When you fly into Albuquerque, you see the Sandias, and as you drive up to Santa Fe you see the the Jemez, Sangres, Los Alamos. The mountains welcome you and kind of embrace you.You’re surrounded by this structure and horizon of nature: lakes, rivers, the high altitude and the aspens. Coming into Santa Fe, it helps you realize the physical space and where you are. It grounds you. It’s a special place and there’s no other place like it. I also like it because I can see people for who they really are here. You have to step up and be a better being, or just be known for not being that. Not that I’m judging, I’m talking about myself too...
SFF: That’s true, it’s a small city so you’re held accountable. You really have to be conscious of how you behave, and I think that’s a really good practice. It’s a good check to have in your life.
BB: I’ve been doing this thing where I try for 10 or 15 minutes to sit in quiet and realize the mantra of “I’m not doing anything, I’m not pretending to do anything, I’m just existing and sitting here and I’m still loved without doing anything.” I’ve been doing it for a long time and it helps me to approach other people with love.
SFF: That’s something I noticed about you - that you are friends with everyone in town and really see the good in everyone. There’s not a single person in this town that you don’t have the best thing to say about them. You don’t seem to network to get things out of people, but it’s just who you are - a facilitator and a community builder.
BB: I love people. I love to see people come up. I appreciate what you’re doing, finding and bringing light to different people. I’m honored to be part of it.