Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Gallery takes off

Annie Bolling brings an energy for promotion and a passion for art to her young business

By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The instructor at Shine Yoga asks Annie Bolling to demonstrate a pose. She so easily slips into a one-legged, upside down position that the class bursts into applause. All eyes are on her. She's the center of attention. When she resumes an upright posture, she half smiles and nods her head to the class. A diva. A star.

"I'm a con artist. No really," says the 29-year-old.

Annie Bolling in her gallery.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
She's referring to running the 8-month-old Annie Bolling Gallery, a multimedia venue tucked into the corner of an Oakley furniture store. She believes she should have more credentials, but working with art doyenne Phyllis Weston for three years and studying ceramics at the University of Cincinnati's School of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning seem to be serving her well.

In a relatively short time, she has mounted seven shows with media as diverse as 19th-century paintings, sound sculpture and digital photographs. The average attendance at her openings is upwards of 150 people, a near capacity crowd. And in less than a year she has sold an amazing 75 pieces of art.

She the freshest new face on the local gallery scene.

"Yeah, but I'm not an artist," she says in a voice that ranges between husky and lyric soprano. Her straight blond hair, the type women use irons to achieve, is randomly anchored by a clip at her crown. She's wearing black, flared yoga pants ("They make everyone's figure look good," she says.) and a strappy little tank top that hugs her body.

"What I loved about art school was being around artists, the ambiance, staying up all night discussing art," she says. "But I would avoid drawing classes at all costs or have someone else do the work for me. Anything to keep up the GPA. People said, 'Push yourself.' And I said 'No, I'm happy with what I'm doing now.' "

What was making her happy was coil-building her vessels - large, earth-toned eggs, up to 4 feet across that she made by molding long ropes of clay inside an upside-down lampshade. When the clay hardened, she would wind the long strips around a form, fire them, then try to lift them.

"They were so big around they were hard to carry," she says.

For four years she made the eggs, over and over, engaged in the process of trying to perfect them. She experimented with texture and size and although she used them for her senior thesis, she continued to make them after graduation.

She didn't show this work - except the time she had a little show for her mother in a clothing store.

"I was so tense for the week before the show - the pressure, that anyone would critique the work. I was like this," she says shaking with her shoulders shrugged up to her ears. "I decided I don't want to be an artist, it's too hard."

Running her own gallery isn't exactly a cakewalk. She had to find a niche, discover the artists, organize a mailing list and most important, create a buzz.

"Now there's 10 times the pressure," she says. "You have to worry about the artist and the public. I do like the limelight though. I always have. And it doesn't have to be artwork."

'I loved attention'

Her father once told her he thought she would grow up to be a lawyer or a Hollywood star.

"That's because I loved attention," she says. "My dad liked photography, so when the cameras came out, so did the little ham in me. I was always cutting my sisters out of the pictures. When I was in school productions my parents would be in the audience whispering up to me on the stage, 'Stand back from the microphone. Stand back.' I would stand in front of everyone else, right before the mike, my eyes closed singing as loud as I could. And, I'm the worst singer; I flunked chorus. My parents were like, 'Oh boy.' "

Bolling was born in Cincinnati on Nov. 27, 1973, the middle daughter of Scott and Roberta Bolling. She grew up in Mariemont, and graduated from Ursuline Academy in 1992.

She describes her childhood as very pleasant and her parents as involved. While her mother taught the girls about plants and gardening, her father, then a Procter & Gamble executive, coached the girls in sports.

"Annie was always real high energy and very enthusiastic," says older sister Kate. "Not always the best student. She's a little bit of a ham and an attention getter and a good athlete."

Bolling played soccer and tennis in high school, and discovered her love for ceramics. "I really got into art," she says. "My mom was always trying to get me to pursue it more, but I was distracted. I was very social.

"One year we - the girls I hung around with, the class clowns - had our pictures taken with every single club for the yearbook. There we were in French Club, in Drama Club. People were really (upset)."

She entered the University of Kentucky in the fall of '92. Three years and four majors later (psychology, nutrition, early education, geology), she transferred to UC.

"I beat to a different drum," she says. "I was pretty popular and had a lot of friends, but I was really a nut job."

Life changes

A lot of things in Bolling's life changed when she moved back to Cincinnati. The most significant was her marriage to photographer Javier Jarrin.

"Our teacher was emphasizing how our work needed to be documented, and took us down to Javier's studio to have him photograph our ceramics," she says. "I was flipping through his photos and walked all around, looked in the bathroom, made myself at home. I thought he was really cute. He had already spotted me in ceramics and asked the teacher, 'Who's the blonde?' "

Jarrin, an Ecuadorian with a fondness for gourmet cooking, took action. He persuaded Bolling's teacher to send the young woman back down to his studio to "help him out." Bolling gladly visited Jarrin in his Vine Street loft and, after assisting him with his work, offered to buy him a beer. Three years later, they were married.

"We moved into a small studio apartment and with all of Javier's photo equipment, there was hardly any room," she remembers. But she kept up with her school work, finally graduating seven years after entering UK with a bachelor's degree in fine arts.

"She was a very good and enthusiastic student," says Roy Cartwright, professor of fine arts at DAAP. "She was very likable and eager to learn."

Sales floor

Bolling is scarfing down a grilled chicken salad, talking about the day in February 2000 when a former classmate called to tell her there was a job for an administrative assistant at Closson's. .

She got the job, her first out of school and in a short time was working solely for Weston, not only handling paperwork but out on the sales floor.

"I loved selling," she says. "When art moves me I think it's such a powerful experience and I like to share that experience with someone else. Art to me is a necessity, not a luxury."

The luxury of Weston's knowledge and connections wasn't bad either.

"She's a quick learner, diligent and extremely capable," Weston says.

Bolling began making bigger and bigger sales. She worked directly with many of the artists, and helped Weston with openings and press requests.

All the while, Mike Willis, Closson's vice president and general manager was watching. When he decided to strike out on his own, he thought about Bolling for the gallery he wanted to open in his new furniture store, M. Willis Interiors on Madison Road.

"I chose her primarily because of the energy and her undefeatable attitude," says Willis. "If something goes wrong or there's an enormous roadblock, it doesn't get Annie down. She's ready to go on to the next."

There's no question about the energy. Bolling is more ablaze than just alive. Easy to laugh and zealous when it comes to art, her husband and her adopted family: the rescued greyhound Galgo and the formerly obese miniature schnauzer, Gus (short for Gazpacho).

"She is going to age like fine wine," says Tamara Harkavy, director of ArtWorks. "She has great energy. That's her magical ability, the personality side of her. She is just so committed and so devoted."

Bolling and Jarrin bought their first house last year, an 1886 Victorian with a "terrific back yard" in Columbia Tusculum. Bolling's mother brought the plants - in a suitcase all the way from Oregon where she and her husband run a bed and breakfast. She started Bolling gardening, which has taken the place of making the big eggs.

Party girl

The artists are there early, around 5 p.m. It's the last gallery opening of the summer, the last chance to sell their work. They pace, nervously worrying their cuffs and collars waiting for the schmoozing to begin.

As the guests arrive, Bolling is everywhere: serving La Grave chardonnay and Rasteau Cote du Rhone in Riedel stemware, greeting clients, friends and prospective purchasers. She is posing for photos, talking up the gals at Arte where she buys a lot of her clothes, checking out men for her single friends.

"Did you see her brother? He's gorgeous," she confides.

The crowd builds; several clients are hovering around her, feeding off the energy rhapsodizing about a recent purchase. The noise increases, so does the crowd, most of them stay until 9:30 p.m.

It's Bolling in her element.

"I love giving parties," she says. "Of course these have a purpose."

Annie Bolling's 10 tips for buying fine art

•  Leave your preconceptions at home so you don't miss out on something amazing.

•  Only buy art that moves you visually, emotionally and intellectually.

•  Visit an art museum to take in styles and mediums. Write down the titles and artists you like and bring them to the gallery.

•  Consult with a professional to determine the best location and lighting to display it.

•  Buy original art. If you are on a restricted budget, buy one quality piece a year. Art of collectible quality is not only an aesthetic investment but also a financial investment.

•  Love what you buy, buy what you love - but know what you are getting.

•  Consider photography, a medium that is under-appreciated in this city.

•  Find out if the piece you are considering is properly framed. This is vital to the longevity of your investment.

•  Have the validity of your purchase documented by the seller. You will need documentation for insurance, resale, and even restoration purposes.

•  Work with a professional art consultant. Develop a relationship so he/she knows what you like. Create a plan that works aesthetically, as well as financially.

Gallery calendar

Exhibits coming to Annie Bolling Gallery, in M. Willis Interiors, 3235 Madison Road, Oakley. 871-2100:

•  Exploring the Joy of Life through Color, paintings by Harry Reisiger. Artist reception: Sept. 6, 4-8 p.m. Through Oct. 4.

•  Still Life and Landscapes, 19th and 20th century paintings: Edward Potthast, Carl Dake, A. Vollon. Opening reception: Oct. 10, 5-9 p.m. Through Nov. 2.

•  Crossing Borders, oils and encaustics by Scott Addis. Artist Reception: Nov. 7, 5-9 p.m. Through Nov. 30.

•  Titovets and Titovets, paintings by Russian artists Aleksander and Lyuba Titovets. Opening reception: Dec. 5, 5-9 p.m. Through Jan. 4.

E-mail mbauer@enquirer.com

Gallery takes off
Real trial: Mascara works well, but application slow
MTV acknowledges Cash's 'Hurt'
Get to it!

'Fistful of Rain' delivers an immediate punch
Battered woman grows in 'The Shade'
Page turners: What you are reading
Best sellers