A quarter century in the art world: William Baczek Fine Arts marks anniversary with group exhibit

  • William Baczek in his gallery, William Baczek Fine Arts in Northampton, now marking its 25th year of business. “Cynthia,” by Valley-based artist Robin Freedenfeld, is to the left. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • William Baczek believes the longevity of his Northampton art gallery, now 25 years old, can be traced to the close relationships he’s built up with artists and clients over the years. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS


  • William Baczek in his William Baczek Fine Arts gallery in Northampton, reflects on 25 years in business. Behind him are abstract works by experimental painter Jaq Chartier of Seattle. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • “The Road Through Plymouth Notch,” egg tempera on panel by Jeff Gola. Image courtesy William Baczek Fine Arts

  • “Cynthia,” oil on panel by Robin Freedenfeld. Image courtesy William Baczek Fine Arts

  • “The End of an Armored Man,” oil on canvas by Jana Brike. Image courtesy William Baczek Fine Arts

  • “Day Dream,” watercolor and gouache on cotton paper by El Gato Chimney, is part of the ‘”25” exhibit.” Image courtesy William Baczek Fine Arts

  • “Baby Bittern,” bronze sculpture by Elliot Of  Image courtesy William Baczek Fine Arts

  • “Queen Mab,” acrylic on board by Travis Louie. Image courtesy William Baczek Fine Arts

Staff Writer
Published: 2/12/2021 10:14:02 AM

When William Baczek looks back on how he’s been able to sustain a career as an art gallery owner, three things come to mind.

One is building and then maintaining good relationships with the artists he’s represented and the clients who have bought work from him. Another is the pivot he’s had to make over the years to using the internet to publicize his gallery, find new artists and make web-based sales.

But Bazcek, who this month is recognizing the 25th anniversary of his Northampton gallery, William Baczek Fine Arts, says perhaps the most important factor in his longevity is the support that several artists in the Valley showed him by becoming the first to exhibit with him — and then sticking with him over the years as he built the business.

“I’m really grateful to the artists who gave me a chance to do this,” Baczek said during a recent interview at his Main Street Gallery. Painters such as Scott Prior, Robin Freedenfeld and Robert Sweeney, he added, “took me seriously and gave me some real credibility — and I was able to build on that. And I have clients who have stayed with me over the years, and I’m really grateful to them, too.”

Maintaining an art gallery for 25 years is not an easy thing, he said, given the changes in taste and fashion that regularly roll through the art world, as well as the economic downturns that can hurt sales. The first several months of the pandemic last year, when everything was shut down, were “brutal,” Baczek said.

“You have to think of art gallery years like dog years,” he said with a laugh. “A lot can change in a relatively short period of time.”

The new exhibit at the gallery, titled simply “25,” is a group show of all-new work that pays tribute to some of his longstanding partners, including Prior, Freedenfeld and Sweeney, and others who began exhibiting with him more recently. The work of over two dozen artists is featured, and there’s a wide range on view: paintings of oil, watercolor, acrylic, egg tempera, ink and dye; photographs; bronze and stoneware sculptures and others made of mixed materials.

And though Baczek said a common perception is that his gallery has primarily been a space for classic, “academic” paintings such as still lifes and landscapes, he says he’s exhibited plenty of abstract and surreal work over the years.

Case in point in the current show is work by El Gato Chimney, which is the pen name, so to speak, of a self-taught artist from northern Italy who got his start doing graffiti and other street art. Today he mixes watercolor and gouache to construct surrealistic tableaus such as “Day Dream,” which juxtaposes part of a landscape — stone church, mountains and smoking volcano — with a giant rooster bedecked with Eastern prayer bells and streamers. Oh, and there’s part of an owl’s face on the rooster’s breast.

Baczek said he began working with the artist about seven years ago after seeing his work on display at an art convention in Miami where he was exhibiting some of the work from his gallery. El Gato Chimney is one of four artists from outside the U.S., or who have foreign roots, who now exhibit with him, including Chinese native Yin Yong Chun (today he lives in New York City) and Latvian painter Jana Brike.

Another favorite is Travis Louie, a Brooklyn, New York painter who specializes in odd portraits that reference Victorian and Edwardian photographs, with women, men and strange beasts wearing formal outfits. The new show includes Louie’s “Queen Mab,” an acrylic on panel portrait of a woman with an elongated face and hair resembling the undergrowth of a garden.

But the exhibit also offers a good number of reflective landscapes and pastoral themes, such as “The Road Through Plymouth Notch,” a rural byway curling though wintry woods by New Jersey painter Jeff Gola, and “Early Snow,” a study by Ashfield painter Jaime Young of flower blossoms speckled with snow.

Artistic roots 

Baczek, who grew up in Palmer, studied clay sculpture for a time at Alfred University in western New York state before switching to photography. He came back to the Valley in the early 1980s following graduation and began working at various positions in the area’s arts scene, eventually becoming the manager of the Hart Gallery in the former Guild Art Supply in Northampton.

He spent about 10 years at the gallery, during which he developed a number of friendships and connections with regional artists. “It was an exciting time, when art was really finding a new home here, with a lot of artists moving into the area,” he said.

In February 1996, he went out on his own, opening his gallery at 229 Main St., currently the site of Absolute Zero Ice Cream. He moved to his current location at 36 Main St. about 18 years ago and now owns the space.

The growth of the online world has had a profound impact on his gallery, he notes. About 70% of his sales now come via the internet, he says, primarily from clients who are familiar with an artist’s work and are comfortable buying additional items by that person based on online images. He’s also developed strong online relationships with many clients and artists.

“I have clients who I’ve probably exchanged 100 emails with over the years,” Baczek said. “Building relationships with people and keeping those going has been really important for the success of this business.”

Indeed, in a world overwhelmed by visual images, those personal connections may be more important than ever. Baczek notes that he began exhibiting work by Jana Brike, the Latvian painter — he staged a solo exhibit of her colorful, dreamlike paintings last September — after discovering her about five years ago on Instagram, where he says she has over 150,000 followers.

“I can’t image I’ve had 150,000 people come through the doors of my gallery in 25 years,” he said with a chuckle.

Being in business for 25 years means he’s also lost some artists and the friendships that came with them. One was Elliot Offner, an acclaimed sculptor who taught at Smith College for over 40 years and died in 2010. And in 2017, Mallory Lake, a Vermont-based pastel painter who had exhibited with Baczek since the late 1990s, passed away.

Another sign attesting to his long tenure: Before he opened the new exhibit, Baczek had to have some sections of his walls rebuilt with fresh sheetrock, as they’d become too weakened from many previous nail holes placed to hang artwork.

“We’ve had a lot of wonderful work here,” he said. “I hope to have a lot more.”

“25” will be on view at William Baczek Fine Arts through March 13. For visiting hours and more information, go to wbfinearts.com.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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