John Ross Palmer has become one of Houston’s leaders in the art community. During the course of his eighteen-year career as a professional artist, John has self-published seven books, exhibited internationally, and established both his personal gallery and his artist-Escapist Mentorship Program. 1218 Heights Boulevard serves as John Ross Palmer’s Fine Art Gallery, art studio, and the private residence for both him and his husband Ryan Lindsay. In 2013, Palmer was honored as one of the very few living and working artist with a page on Wikipedia. That same year, he launched the massive “Refuse to Struggle Campaign”, a groundbreaking fundraising endeavor to construct an Escapist Artist Gallery and studio for the entirely free use of future Escapist Artists. Palmer raised more than $150,000 through a combination of private contributors and a public crowdfunding operation on Indiegogo. To coincide with that years’ Evening of Escapism, former Houston Mayor Annise D. Parker proclaimed October 19th, 2013 as John Ross Palmer day in Houston, Texas. After humble roots from showing within Houston bars and restaurants, Palmer’s career has taken a meteoric rise to an international level. His studies under master painters have taken him to all corners of the globe including; Barcelona, Florence, Buenos Aires, Skopelos Island, Vienna, Cape Town, Tokyo, Berlin, Dublin, Jerusalem, Sao Paulo, Nice, Port of Spain and most recently Havana. Palmer's extensive art adventures around the world are underwritten by an elite group of art patrons known as the First Class Club that he formed in 2010. For his dedication to the Space City, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau selected john Palmer as a member of the My Houston Campaign along with a small group of notable Houstonians including; Beyoncé Knowles, Clay Walker, Hilary Duff, George Foreman, and George and Barbara Bush. His Facebook page John Ross Palmer, as well as his Twitter page @JohnPalmerArt, each have over 100,000 followers.
Tell us a little bit about how you got started?
I got started with my art career when I was 24 years old after the tragic loss of my father. I decided, at that point, to burn all bridges on a secure profession and to make my art work. To do that, I went out and bought 600 dollars of canvases and I did 10 paintings to decorate my apartment. A friend saw them and said “Have a show!” And I did. I sold two at that show and that was the beginning. When I sold those two paintings at my first show, I was smart in the sense that I used all of the money made to purchase more supplies or to reinvest in my “mom and pop” art gallery.
So, ultimately you could say it was a leap of faith in something you were very passionate about that encouraged you?
Absolutely, I always think we see someone as very successful within their profession and neglect to consider the steps that he/she took to get there. Let’s take the Oscars for example. The Oscars is an entity that is world renowned for glamour and the epitome of achieving success. Well, the Oscars started somewhere too; it started on a card table with four little awards. And now we see it as this grand event. It wasn’t created that way; it has become that. We have to remember on our journey that we don’t start looking like the success we want to be. You must begin and the rest will come in good time.
Are there are memorable moments you faced along your journey in regards to facing personal challenges?
One of the first times I ever spoke in front of a group of people was with my art at a gallery event we had, I think I had eight guests there, and I had to do a little talk about why they were there. I remember the whole time leaning on the table, terrified of speaking in public. Remember this was only eight people. One of my biggest challenges I have overcome was speaking in public.
As an artist myself I understand this fear. You’re used to creating and speaking through your paintings and not necessarily required to verbalize your thoughts. It’s extremely difficult.
Now that I’ve overcome that fear, one of my favorite things to do is to talk in front of people. I realized that once you can do something in front of people you enable yourself to have a louder message and in turn affect more people.
What challenges have you overcome in regards to operating your own business?
If you own a business and you aren’t able to navigate change, you’re not going to be successful. One of the biggest challenges we faced was in 2007 and 2008. The sales of large scale paintings I was frequently selling locally as well as within other cities plummeted from 100% to 20%.
How did you tackle this economic plight?
I started to make merchandise at a high quality product that was designed by me the artist or my studio that could be obtained by the mass audience such as; holiday ornaments, prints, images on merchandise. That was the way I reinvented my art business to become sustainable during this troublesome economic time. Now, diversity exists within my product line from my large fine art abstract paintings to merchandise that can be marketed through our online store.
Have you utilized social media aspects to reach a broader audience?
Yes, I grant credibility entirely to my husband and business partner Ryan. He introduced the business to the social media realm and I can’t imagine how our business today could compete in the marketplace without having a social media presence, on a colossal level. If you’re looking for something today- you aren’t going to go searching on foot, you are going to look in a search engine or on a handheld device. You have to be online, on social media, and searchable.
What advice do you have on being a great leader?
I think there are two ways you can lead or be a leader. One is by intimidation which is demeaning to people and the other way you can lead is by example. I believe leading by example is a reinforcing type of leadership that empowers people and creates leaders within your organization. If you are a leader by intimidation, it demeans people and it doesn’t help them or your organization achieve its mission. As soon as that intimidating leader leaves the room, the people that work for them have no respect and they want to go the opposite way. When you are a leader by example you operate as a family and you are only asking people to do things that you have done and that you would do again.
Do you think this mentality strongly influenced your establishment of your Artist Escapist Mentorship Program?
Absolutely. One thing I definitely do with the mentorship program is: lead by example. If I’m asking them to scrub the toilet- it’s only because I did it before they were there. You need to be immersed within all facets of challenges for a career as different as being a full time artist because you will need to learn how to wear all hats; a jack of all trades. Any great leader it’s always a story of starting at the very bottom. Books are written and people want to hear about individuals who elevated to the very top through hard work and perseverance. A big part of the artist mentorship program is to do things as we would want to have done and do reinforce the good of the artist and never focus on the parts that need to be strengthened or be critical of them.
What are your goals for the future, both personally and for the gallery?
My goals for the future, personally, is to be ready 30 minutes before an event so I can enjoy the event. I know this sounds simple, but that really is the way to really appreciate things more, is to have a breath before things get going. Regarding the business, I am just excited to see what the future holds. I am working to bring other artists along the road with us because that is the true way to have a great foundation. You don’t want to be the only person playing on a Monday. You want a lot of friends with you and that’s what this mentorship program will do is empower them to be full time artists who are not controlled by a job or someone else, but by themselves.