An interview with Ghostwolf’s Amy M. Ditto in the May/June 2021 Issue of Shadow & Light Magazine
Amy talks about the genesis of the gallery, surviving the pandemic, and hopes for the future in this year’s May/June issue of Shadow & Light Magazine. You can subscribe to this fantastic publication here: www.shadowandlightmagazine.com
Tim Anderson: Let’s go back to before we first met. As a multi-media artist, you have dabbled with a variety of genres. Tell us about the road from then to now as far as your art is concerned.
My career in art really started in college, where I took a couple of photography studio classes at UNM. This was basic intro to wet black-and-white photography. I had amazing instruction, got to play with a lot of neat techniques, and adored it, spending many hours in the darkroom each week, but in the end I could not conceptualize how I would make a living at fine art, and the little voice in the back of my head that said to choose something “practical” won out. It was a lot of years and a couple of very different degrees (BA Psychology/Philosophy and PhD in Biology) before I stumbled my way back into art after the 2008 recession and some significant life changes. My husband, a computer engineer by training, but also a much more dedicated fine arts student than I ever was, decided to make a career change and open a commercial photography business after losing his job at a small family company that was struggling. I had finished my PhD not long prior but had not wanted to leave New Mexico chasing a job in academics, and so enthusiastically threw in behind him when he made the decision. I was going to be back doing art!
At that point, I had never worked in digital other than playing with early digital point-and-shoots, but digital cameras had come a long way, and our lives quickly evolved into long outings shooting. The number of images I have stored from those early days in digital is crazy. My husband mostly worked on interiors and portraits, having launched the Google Business tours program in 2010 in our area, but we took on a few weddings, and I wound up taking an introductory Photoshop class for photographers with the aim of bettering my post-processing skills.
Pretty immediately, I was doing a lot of stylizing of my images and learning new techniques to get the fine-art photographic results I desired. And, of course, I found myself playing around with fine art again.
Somewhere along that path, how did the word “gallery” come into being. And how did you decide on the name, Ghostwolf Gallery?
In answering the last question, I mentioned that I began winning awards fairly soon when I re-entered the realm of photography. That opened doors, and I found myself showing at a photography co-operative in Old Town Albuquerque within a year or so. Ghostwolf came about when, after having shown for some time at the co-op, I realized that my work had evolved so far away from conventional photography, that I actually showed better with painters. It’s just a different aesthetic, and people that like more conventional photography would come into the gallery, wink conspiratorially, and whisper “I just don’t like all that Photoshop,” not realizing they were looking at my work. I would lead them off to see the black-and-white prints. Also, people would walk headed to another gallery, and I’d call to them to come upstairs and see what we had to offer, and they’d say “no thanks, I’m really only interested in paintings.”
I just did not fit anymore. Thus is the life of those of us out in front or in the “in between.”
After I decided to leave the photo gallery, I was walking around Old Town trying to identify places I might show well, and not coming up with much. I really felt like I wanted a space where my work made sense in context and while Old Town does have some contemporary spaces, there is also a lot of classic Southwestern sort of stuff. I noticed a beautiful space that was available for lease. I mentioned it in passing to my husband, and he said, “Let’s look at it!”
I am of a much more cautious nature than he, and was a little freaked out about the idea, but figured it couldn’t hurt. The place really was gorgeous and we talked about it a bit and decided to go for it. I don’t even think I had a really concrete plan at that point!
Regarding our name, I started playing around with logo ideas because I wanted a really cool one, and I actually had the logo before I had a name. It is a tribal-style canid. As mentioned above, I wanted to create a space where my work made sense and to do something different in Old Town. I did not want cacti or kitschy howling coyotes, so we were left with dogs or wolves. I’d (accidentally) wound up with a wolf-hybrid rescue when I was still in grad school, and he was a heck of a cool, interesting, if very challenging dog, and he had recently passed away.
Also, as Gen X, I am one of the original video gamers, and in one game I played a lot, one of the archetypes can switch into ghost wolf form. I felt like the name “Ghostwolf” made a nod to our beloved Wile-E and had an edgy ring to it that went with the logo and avoided implying we carried Southwestern tchotchke.
The old space we originally opened had been a stable 300 years ago and my husband used to tell visitors this crazy story about an old cowboy and the wolf he had befriended, but no, that’s not where the name came from.The ghost wolf is my dearly departed doggo. (My husband will still probably tell you a wild story if you come into the new space.)
You recently made a move from one space to another. What made that a necessity?
It wasn’t necessary per se, but it was a desire to increase foot traffic to our space, plain and simple. Anyone who does art shows or has a brick-and-mortar business knows more bodies through the door usually equals more sales, and it is really important to me that our artists do well. (Most of the profit from sales goes direct to them, we do not take a large cut.)
I knew a move would be a good idea, and I had looked now and then, but it can be tough to find space in Old Town ABQ because there is a small-town dynamic. If you don’t have the inside scoop, often the spaces are filled before you even learn they are opening.
When the pandemic hit, I immediately decided to practice a little positive “disaster capitalism.” I knew that businesses would either have to close or decide to take it as a sign and retire. I did not wait. I put word out that we were looking to move when the shutdown occurred, and I got lucky, someone did indeed decide to retire. It was a risky move to make when things were so uncertain, but the bold move seemed like the right move.
Once the decision was made to move, I understand there was a bit of remodeling involved, which you undertook immediately. Why not just do like many others and move in, see how it is working, then do the remodel, bit by bit?
I think once folks see the “before” pics, the answer to that question becomes pretty obvious, but there were a couple of big factors.
I’m a big believer in the idea that the appearance of the space has a big impact on how visitors see the work displayed in it.
My goal for Ghostwolf is in line with my own personal aesthetic. I have always been shooting for a space that is unpretentious, warm, and approachable, but a little swanky— let’s say “casually upscale.” I do not want people to be intimidated and run away when they look in the door, but I want them to feel elevated when they walk through it.
The old space had this in spades, but while the new space had great bones and I knew could be a really elegant venue with the kiva fireplace and higher ceilings, the previous business in the space was a boutique, and VERY colorful; just not ideal for our purposes. Further, as is the case with a lot of these sorts of commercial spaces, there were a lot of funky elements (in a bad way), that we really felt like we needed to address. There were a lot of unusable features for our purposes, like cubbies that were in all the wrong places, taking up valuable hanging space.
The area around the kitchenette was funky in that it had two openings into it that had no doors, one of which also consumed otherwise good wall-space. The lighting was visual chaos. It seemed like whenever anyone decided they wanted light somewhere over the years, they found the cheapest option they could find (outdoor security lights for instance) and slapped it up there.
Most of the fans matched, but they were hung so low you felt like you had to duck even in the front gallery with high ceilings, and they were more suited to a greasy spoon. The walls were a warty, patched plaster finish that looked more like an outdoor finish. My husband and I wound up doing probably 80% ofthe renovations, and while we had not set out to refinish the whole place, Stef knew I was going to hate those walls, and suggested we hit them with some drywall mud. And then we found an “affordable” (much cheaper than plaster), method of getting a plaster look on them, and wound up doing that instead of paint to retain the luminosity and feel of the mud on the walls; elegant. Once I saw the finish in the mezzanine, I knew I was not going to be happy with the walls in front gallery if we just painted them and suggested we just do those too.
So yeah, it turned into being A LOT of work and more money and time than we wanted to spend up front, but the truth of the matter is that it would never have gotten done if we put it off for later, and I would never have been truly happy with the space. It stinks to be an artist with an aesthetic that’s important to you when you take on a remodel on a limited budget, but our artist’s work looks amazing on the walls, and the space genuinely feels like ours. Further, doing the work completely erased that sadness and anxiety I was feeling about leaving the other place behind that was so warm and beautiful, because we’d created another really warm, beautiful place. No regrets.
You seem to have a good mix of art and artists in Ghostwolf. What is the ratio of new artists to those who have been connected to the gallery for a while? Then tell us about the mix of art…
There’s really no special formula I have where curating Ghostwolf is concerned. I go with my gut and try and stick with our mission statement which is to represent artists with a truly unique vision. At this point, most of our artists have either been with us for awhile, or shown with us and come back. We’re excited to have a couple of new artists coming in soon, though, as one of our regulars is moving and we’ve been recruiting jewelers to the mix.
That stated, the new space has given me the opportunity to introduce a new visiting artist program, which will be invite only and is aimed at bringing in artists we might not normally get to show, and those that maybe reach other demographics we generally do not.
Regarding the mix of art we display, I really try and make sure we have a great mix of different genres, but of course am focused on keeping it interesting and within a more contemporary realm. A little weird is great, and our tag line is “Distinctively Different.”
We also talk a lot about offering fun, funky fine art, but it’s not all just quirky little conversation pieces, we offer large focal pieces that probably won’t match your couch, either. We don’t show just anyone, and there is definitely a bar our artists have to clear to be considered. Most of these folks have long art careers, though we’re open to genuinely talented up-and-comers with a sufficiently professional presentation and we actively seek to feature their work when possible.
Now that the gallery has now been open to customers for a few weeks, how do you feel about its future?
We’re absolutely loving the new space and our foot traffic has indeed improved, dramatically, thus easing concerns regarding making such a scary move in the middle of a pandemic. We will not know, of course, if this is just an anomaly related to the fact that winter is over and the population is getting vaccinated and people are just excited to be out and about until next year, but I think it is safe to say that the move was a good one.
My outlook for the gallery itself has basically always been optimistic. I’m not saying I wasn’t a little worried when the pandemic hit last year. I spent the better part of several months looking for ways I could assure that the impact of the losses we knew we were going to see were minimized for myself and our artists, and that we continued to have a home. I do, however, work with simply the best human beings, and it became apparent early on that we were strong and determined to weather the storm.
Having a new space to look forward to was a great thing to direct our energy towards and kept us focused on the fact that things would, eventually, get back to normal. Everyone was incredibly supportive through it all and chipped in where they could to help do the renovations on the new place and get us moved. One of our artists even remodeled the whole bathroom! We could not have done it without all of them.
What do you think will move people to come out and visit Ghostwolf Gallery, as well as other galleries at this time and for the foreseeable future.
I think right now, we don’t have to work too hard to get people out the door! Everyone is just so glad to not be in lockdown. Going forward of course, I think the answer to that is being innovative regarding what we offer, being engaged with the community, and keeping it interesting. As I mentioned in response to another question above, we’ve introduced a visiting artist program to bring in artists we might not normally exhibit. They may be younger or just for whatever reason reach a slightly different demographic. We have always offered juried shows, and will continue to do so to provide artists in the greater community a place to show their work.
First Fridays are ON again and we’re working with other Old Town merchants to get them hopping. I’m just looking to keep it fun and positive and make art accessible to everyone. We are fortunate to find there is a lot of enthusiasm when people visit our space, so it is mostly at this juncture about making sure people know we are here and doing cool things.