Meet Robert Harris, President of DE Fine Art
Casgar, Susanne, Art Business News
Q. Tell us about your start in the art business.
I was in the corporate world and was transferred to the Chicago area for the second time. Some friends invited my wife, Pat, and me to a Friday evening home art show. At the time it didn't sound very interesting to me, but because of Pat's persistence, I finally agreed to go.
Since I was in sales and marketing, I was impressed with the presentation by the consultant who did the show, and from an analytical perspective, I thought the art that was shown had a great look for the value. Having just moved into a new home, we made the decision to buy a painting and host a show to receive promotional incentives offered by the consultant. After this show, I was impressed at how well those in attendance responded with purchases. Pat and I discussed the possibility of her becoming an art consultant, which would allow her to continue to be a stay-at-home mother and at the same time offer a supplementary income by working from home. At this point, I don't recall ever having gone into an art gallery, but I was impressed with what I thought was good art at a great value. When the consultant later delivered the paintings we purchased, we began to ask her more about the art, how her company operated and how she became a consultant. A few days later, we saw a TV ad promoting a weekend "Starving Artist" sale at an area hotel. We decided to go and were surprised to see the similar type of art that was offered in the home art show. When we left, Pat and I began talking about how we would have presented this art differently.
I was then determined to learn where the real source for the art and frames was. Someone told me about a magazine named DECOR and about a wholesale dealer in Chicago that supplied the art to the home art show company. Through DECOR I found the name of the wholesale dealer and made an appointment to visit them. During the visit, I saw more art than I ever thought existed in the world. Most of all, I quickly recognized that this could be a good business opportunity. I made an investment in a few paintings and frames and called Pat to tell her what I had done. Thus, the first step was taken--Decorative Expressions was born--and we found ourselves putting together our own home-show presentation manual and asking friends and neighbors to host a "home art show."
Within a year my corporate position transferred us to Atlanta, and we found ourselves starting over again. For the next seven years, we worked out of the basement of our home. Pat, with my occasional assistance, gradually made changes and DE became a wholesale art company selling mainly to designers. At this point, I had left my career in the corporate world, and I recognized the progress Pat had made with DE, so I decided to join her to try to expand it. Together we attended our first Artexpo New York where we discovered a higher level of art. There, we made a sizeable purchase of paintings by the artists Eva and Americo Makk and purchased the entire inventory of a Dutch art dealer. With this, our interest in European paintings was sparked, and the fine-art division of DE was born, which today is DE Fine Art Inc.
How did your background in sales and marketing transfer successfully into the art industry?
My background in sales and marketing with a major truck manufacturer taught me the importance of a strong dealer network and the type of support and programs necessary to promote and sell products through a dealer organization. Today, we apply many of the principles I learned from my 26-plus years in the corporate and dealer world to branding and marketing the artists we represent. Most of all, we support the galleries that we work with by providing them with the tools that can help them sell the art they buy from us. This is why we have been able to work with a number of artists and galleries over the past 10 to 15 years.
Your interest in art began at a home art show, Was there a defining moment when you thought, "This is what I want to do--sell art? …