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"Brett and I come from the Show-Me State, meaning we are doers, not talkers," says Jesse Fortune, giving a shout-out to his fellow art gallery owner, Brett Douglas. The two Missouri natives now live in Costa Mesa, running a transformed historic building as Location 1980 art gallery. "'Walk fast and carry something' is often heard around here. I often remind artists that the last four letters of 'artwork' don't spell 'play' or 'can't' or 'won't' or 'don't.' Old-fashioned hard work goes a long way in the art business."
It's that sort of plain talk that has allowed Fortune and Douglas to get their relatively young space attention and buzz that far-more-established galleries wish would come their way. The duo produces about four big solo shows each year, as well as several group shows in between. It also hosts classes such as biweekly figure-drawing sessions, allowing artists and amateurs to hone their skills; plus, there are areas available for parties, mixers and music shows. Location 1980 also serves as a workspace, with artists who share the space also sharing the burden of expenses, which allows for upgrades. Paying the rent is one hardship of owning a gallery, but thankfully, they have always been able to meet that demand, selling work from their group shows. Douglas also works full-time handling commercial insurance claims while maintaining the business end of Location.
In this day and age of social media, Douglas and Fortune have relied on word of mouth from other artists to burnish their reputation, along with networking at art events around Costa Mesa and Santa Ana. Fortune says their new digital marketing plan is imminent, but he ascribes Location 1980's success to its down-home approach to connecting the community. "We have a community marketing board that displays the cards of a wide array of local businesses that the owners have contributed: real estate, car sales, retail boutiques, massage therapy, etc., as well as dozens of artists," says Fortune. "I think we know a guy for everything, from plumbers to doctors!"
How these two Midwesterners came to Orange County is an interesting story. After finishing his studies at the University of Kansas in painting and graphic design, Fortune packed up his things and headed west to observe the Southern California art scene, landing a job at a Laguna Beach art gallery. Douglas, meanwhile, studied environmental design and architecture at the University of Missouri, Columbia, eventually leaving a post-graduate internship to also settle in the Golden State. The two were introduced by mutual friends during a basketball game on the Balboa Peninsula 10 years ago. With their shared interest in Southern California's vibrant art scene and similar backgrounds, they hit it off immediately. Fortune was already a tenant in the studios of what would become Location 1980, while Douglas occasionally served as a handyman before Fortune approached him to be his business partner. Location 1980 was but a smaller set of studios in the building until May 2010, when their current space was vacated. The duo decided to take over and build a full-fledged art space.
Location 1980 is named after its address number, but also because the word "location" doesn't allow the space to be pigeonholed into one thing. And walking through it, you can feel the balanced vibe: the messy artist's studio coupled with an organized, sophisticated art gallery. Paintings from the last solo show hang on the walls, while various works in progress are strewn about.
On Saturday, Location 1980 opens the group exhibit "Death Valley: An Artist's Dream." The show features paintings by 13 artists who traveled together in March 2013 to Death Valley National Park for four days and produced 50 original artworks. Along with the pieces on display, the gallery will also sell copies of a self-published book, Painting In Death Valley: Again, documenting the experience and the best artworks.
"We are committed to cultivating an environment in which local artists can thrive and flourish," Fortune says. "We want local artists to know they will always have a space to nurture their skills and share their work with the public. And we want local residents to know they can attend unique, positive exhibits right here in their own back yard."