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Job Interview

[whitespace] Paige Fiander

Gallery Gal

An art gallery in the Lower Haight? Not the most obvious of choices, but Paige Fiander of the Whole Gallery (575 Haight St.) is not your run-of-the-mill gallery owner. A painter who sold her first work at age 15 for $10,000, she's a thoroughly tattooed Brooklyn native with a mouth that only stops gabbing to inhale/exhale her menthol cigarette. For her, this gallery is not a hobby or a tax shelter, but a chance to help other local artists and reap some rewards for a life filled with trips and traps. Associate editor David Boyer visited with Paige recently. He asked just one question but got an entire life story.

David: What is your job?

Paige: What is my job? I'm an artist. I'm a painter who hates galleries. Instead of complaining about the problem, we figured a solution to it. [Co-owner/fiancé] Tim Lee and I, about a year ago, decided that this is the direction we wanted to move in. We wanted to build ourselves a future.

I ran a gallery in Chicago prior to this, which was a scam on me. I was living in New Orleans, and I met a couple who I thought were interested in my work and interested in me, but they were more interested in a tax write-off. So they got this expensive place and brought me to Chicago. (My roommate in New Orleans had just been murdered, and it was something I couldn't get over, so this was really a way out. Plus, I would have kicked myself in the ass if I didn't take the opportunity.) They left me there in this hole in the wall in this incredible neighborhood. I was supposed to be on salary, and I never received it. I was supposed to get help. But I never got any help or any direction. I was like, 'Can you just give me the Yellow Pages, at least?' I went up there blind, which is how I move. But eventually it became impossible to deal with them, and I bailed out of that situation. ...

I left San Francisco in 1990, but I came back here for Tim. I have lived in 10 cities and seven different countries, and I have never returned anywhere to live that I've left before. He was living in Pacifica with his grandmother because he had had a horrific motorcycle accident. He almost lost his leg, and the other guy severed his head and died. We moved from place to place for a while, from bad situation to worse. Speed-freak roommates crawling around our closets at night. We needed to settle somewhere.

So we moved into an old ex-friend's warehouse. Caught him robbing us blind. We left there and moved into a hotel. The same day Tim was getting out of the hospital (his second operation), I got fired from my bartending job. But while living at the hotel, I was offered a business loan--not a loan to save my life any other way, but a business loan. ...

But first we needed an apartment. We couldn't find anything under $1,200. One day, we were walking down this street--and Tim was on crutches, so we were walking slowly--and we passed this place, and it said "Going Out of Business." [The soon-to-be former tenant] showed me around the place, and I just fell in love with it instantly.

We knew we wanted to open a business in the next neighborhood to gentrify. You know: location, location, location. That's especially true for a new business; you really rely on walk-ins. And a gallery is a real sketchy thing to open, because they're intimidating. That's why we tried so hard to make it look like a store. Besides, I hate galleries. You walk in, there's a woman dressed in black looking down her nose at you. She knows nothing about art except what her boss tells her or what the artist claims to be.

Artists walk in here and I say, "Leave your résumé at home. I don't care where you went to school or who owns your work. If you're compatible with me, the gallery and the people here, then you have a home." Now I have 47 artists showing here.

We named this place "Whole" because this is my life. This is the whole enchilada. Man, if this place doesn't fly, then I'm shit out of luck because there goes all the money. I'll be in debt forever, and I'll be a bartender for the rest of my life. This is the whole last shot.

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From the May 18-31, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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