Frank Goss is a terrific conversationalist. He’s wise and inquisitive, so chats with him are illuminating and entertaining. His basso profondo voice only adds to the enjoyment of listening to him speak.
Thirty years ago, he co-founded Sullivan Goss Gallery with his wife Patricia Sullivan, and it quickly became the premier gallery in Santa Barbara for American artists from the 19th century to today. Sullivan Goss hosts about 20 solo shows of contemporary artists and historical exhibitions a year, and has an inventory of more than 3,000 works. It’s the place to go if you want to build a private or public collection.
Here, Frank takes a break from his collections to answer the Proust Questionnaire.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I do not believe in talent. It simply does not exist. What we call talent and extraordinary achievement come from hard, thoughtful, purposeful work. It is not inherited and it is not a given to someone. They work for it.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I am determined. Very, very determined to work at the things I want to accomplish.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Working with my wife to have run a bricks and mortar art gallery for over 30 years, a gallery that celebrates living and vintage American artists. It is fascinating to watch how much visitors to the gallery “self-educate” as they walk from painting to painting chatting about the differences between landscape and portrait and still life. We get to show some of the finest artists living today. It is always exciting.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
I grew up the son of a rocket engineer. He was a mean man, but he totally believed in the value of science. He taught me to love and respect science. I ran an environmental engineering firm in my earlier years. Four hundred men and women who worked very hard to protect people from things they often could not see or feel.
Now all of a sudden, there are people who find comfort in not knowing things, not following the simple rules of order and science, who seem to relish ignorance. They drive me crazy. It is too sad to even discuss. The price for that kind of ignorance is very, very dear.
Do you have a favorite painting?
My favorite painting is “Portrait of a Black Woman” by Grace Vollmer. It hangs above my desk at home and there are days when she is beautiful, bright, and beguiling. There are other days, when I have dealt with disappointments and failures and on those days her shoulders are slumped and the weight of the world is on her. It is a great painting.
What do you like most about your job?
I am a willing student of the human race. I like people. I am also a true art lover. So where these to things intersect…I am in heaven. The gallery world is perfect for me.
On what occasion do you lie?
Sometimes when someone is in the gallery and lost in a painting and asks, “Don’t you just love it?” Well, I don’t always speak frankly to someone consumed with love for a piece that I don’t think is terrific. In this case it is more important to support the client’s love for something, than to be personally correct. There is not that much that we see that is truly consuming. I would never do anything to spoil that sense in someone else.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My wife and I love to play rummy at breakfast and dinner. I would love to have more time together with her, playing some rummy or chess.
What is your greatest fear?
I have trouble remembering things that are important to me. Alzheimer’s is my greatest fear.
Who do you most admire?
One of my best friends is Mike Towbes. I love his steadfastness and I am thrilled that he so assiduously gives back to the community.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I play poker every Tuesday evening in a game that is in its 54th year. Great writers, historians, engineers, and professors play in the game. I don’t always have quite enough “loose change” to play, but I really love the men and women that I play with and I love the game itself. It mirrors life. So sometimes I borrow from the grocery account.
What is your current state of mind?
It is bifurcated. Part of me thoroughly enjoys the wild land near my home on West Camino Cielo. And then there are days I can hardly wait to get to the gallery in the middle of town. I just love being occupied by this life of ours.
What is the quality you most like in people?
What do you most value in friends?
I have friends that I have had since grade school. Some from college. Some from life here in Santa Barbara. They are people that I treasure and somehow they seem to treasure something in me. I often find something in them that is very small: a smile, their wit or wisdom. Sometimes the part of them that I love is huge: helping the less fortunate, a fascination with some piece of literature, a passion for art.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
When someone says something so obviously wrong, my response is always the same. I raise one eyebrow and say, “Really.” As I write this, it seems silly.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would love to lose 75 pounds.
Where would you most like to live?
On the five acres of oak and ceanothus that my wife and I share up on West Camino Cielo. It is quiet. Very quiet. I try to stay home on Mondays and the big event of the day is when a car goes by and we hear the sound of the tires on our gravel road. Red-tailed hawks are my neighbors. Little foxes. Lots of quail. And and an ocean of quiet.
What is your most treasured possession?
There are things I really treasure, like a glass of cool water on a hot day, a balanced check-book, a smile on my wife’s face, but I don’t think of them as possessions. Real possessions are pretty boring.
Who makes you laugh the most?
I miss Robin Williams. That fellow made me laugh contagiously.
What is your motto?
Keep hatred from the mighty and the mighty from the small.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). Poet, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, surveyor, and transcendentalist.