Downtown art's latest blow

Artist Brian Schweyen never considered himself a salesman. That's why, this time last year, the part-owner of a downtown gallery had trouble finding the right way—and the time—to sell his oil paintings. For better or worse, Schweyen doesn't have that problem anymore. The Gibson & Schweyen Gallery closed two months ago.

"Financially, we had a couple of partners who couldn't make it anymore," says Schweyen, who opened the storefront with longtime friend and fellow artist Mark Gibson in 2005. "That left Mark and I. We just couldn't have the gallery open between the two of us enough to where it made any sense."

The gallery closing left a noticeable hole in the downtown art landscape.

"Galleries are critical to the whole feeling of Missoula as an arts community," says Dudley Dana, the artists' landlord and owner of the Dana Gallery. "And that's the thing that makes me saddest about losing them."

The Gibson & Schweyen Gallery, which originally opened in the Florence Building before moving next to the Dana Gallery in 2008, had a reputation for hosting some of Missoula's more accessible First Friday shows. Gibson's work received acclaim from the Oil Painters of America's national juried show and Dana calls Schweyen one of the top landscape artists in the state. More notably, the pair came across as regular guys.

"Mark and I aren't wine and cheese people," says Schweyen. "We're more beer and brats."

The gallery closed because the artists found it difficult to be at the gallery during prime hours and finish their own work. Both also had other projects; UM, for instance, hired Schweyen as its head track coach a year ago.

But the situation's not all bad for the artists. Instead of sinking his time into running the gallery, Schweyen now lets gallery owners throughout the West—he and Gibson are represented in Bozeman, Bigfork, Park City, Utah, and Cody, Wyo.—do the selling so he can simply focus on painting.

"We learned a lot about sales and learned how to work with people in the art community," says Schweyen. "But it's a lot easier if someone else is trying to sell your paintings because it's easier to talk highly of someone else's work than it is your own. This will free us up for other galleries, and that's a good thing."

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