TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Hal Slear began his career in the South of France working on open-air excavation sites as an archaeologist. Although the graduate student enjoyed digging, he spent his spare moments visiting the art museums of Paris, Madrid, London and Amsterdam.
Hal then came to Tahoe and worked at a gallery his friend had opened in Incline Village in 1978. Hal fell in love with the business he calls a “people business” and opened James Harold Galleries the summer of 1984.
Hal has owned and operated galleries for more than 36 years in both North and South Tahoe, Squaw Valley and Carmel, California.
A TASTE FOR TAHOE
Since its opening, the art in James Harold Galleries has moved from Western art to art inspired by Tahoe, Hal said.
At the gallery second homeowners and visitors find lake landscapes in a variety of mediums — photography, oil paintings and sculpture.
“They want to take a little piece of Tahoe back with them and remind them of what they are missing,” Hal said.
The gallery owner said clients fall in love with pieces from the wall — his job is not to sell the art, but provide the environment for customers to feel comfortable and really connect with a piece.
“Art is a very emotional, personal experience, it’s a romantic experience for many people,” he said.
Hal has always aimed to create an open atmosphere that encourages visitors to come inside.
“People tell us they like the warmth and openness of the gallery,” Hal said. “We don’t want anyone feeling trapped here. We’re here just to help them find a way to get a piece home.”
CHANGING WORLD OF FINE ART
Hal has watched the art industry change to adapt to people’s tastes and budgets. Many middle class buyers have settled for more photography prints, unable to afford bigger pieces. Fine art was a booming business in the 80s and 90s, Hal said, and he watched the industry take a huge downturn in 2007.
Changes in economy and changes in technology have redirected the fine art world since the 1990s and left many galleries floundering. Loyal clientele, Hal said, is the reason James Harold Galleries has been able to stay open when galleries across the world were forced to shut their doors.
Keith Brown, a landscape artist from Grass Valley has displayed his work at James Harold Galleries for almost three years. His paintings depict sunsets on Lake Tahoe or historical scenes from the area. The artist said it’s important to work with a gallery with “some staying power.”
“[James Harold Galleries] is still in business and that says a lot,” Keith said. “There’s a lot of confidence and comfort in that.”
Using social media and staying up-to-date in trends is a crucial part of keeping the gallery open. Hal constantly studies the industry’s direction and wants to predict people’s changing tastes.
“For the last 10 years I’ve been asking myself, what’s the next direction the industry is going, what are people looking for?” Hal said.
Hal watches younger generations’ use of technology, comfort with bright colors and involvement with graphics, and believes art will lean in a similar direction.
“It’s going to be something that captures our imagination, that you could interact with if you wanted,” he said. “It’s going to be vivid and alive — it will totally involve you.”
Moving paintings is one aspect to which Hal refers when he describes what may be the future of art. James Harold Galleries is the only gallery in the world to house the moving painting, created by artist Steve Matson.
About three years ago, the Hawaiian-born artist combined his paintings, photographs and graphic design on an HD 108p screen that moves slowly between the mediums to unveil a landscape image. The piece is a mesmerizing film: 18,000 individual images play at a speed of 24 images per second. For a total of 10 minutes, the screen displays the ever-morphing art of one image. Each screen contains four different images from which to choose.
Hal said the new aesthetic evokes curiosity with his customers. Many viewers are unsure what they are looking at, but spend a lot of time in the viewing room with the piece.
“You have to keep your eye on people because it’s so relaxing that many times people fall asleep in there,” he said. “Research has found that it does lower heart rate and put you in a different brain wave pattern.”
According to a study John Hopkins University conducted in 2003, patients who had pictures of nature and soothing sounds near their bed reported feeling a decrease in pain.
Matson’s moving paintings have become popular in hospital and recovery rooms, where patients can absorb the soft sounds and sights from the painting. To learn more about moving paintings and Steve Matson visit stevematsonart.com.
James Harold Galleries has over 70 pieces from both local and international artists. The Boatworks Mall gallery in Tahoe City is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Jenny Luna is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Sierra Sun newspapers. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s going to be something that captures our imagination, that you could interact with if you wanted.”
owner of James Harold Gallery