The Heard Gallery: A History of Art Downtown

By Terry Card

Vincent Van Gogh/Ray Heard. How could those two names be linked in any way? What could they possibly have in common? Huge differences, yes? Then let’s examine them.

Van Gogh’s paintings sell for tens of millions of dollars and hang in national galleries. Ray Heard’s do not.

Van Gogh is world famous. Ray Heard is not.

But, there is also one other difference, Van Gogh sold only one painting in his life. Ray Heard has sold many hundreds.

And surprisingly, there are many similarities.

Van Gogh’s paintings are created using multiple layers – so are Ray Heard’s.

Van Gogh’s strokes are boldly laid down in heavy paint – so are Ray Heard’s.

Van Gogh’s paintings exude light and brightness – so do Ray Heard’s.

Van Gogh had a singular passion for painting – so does Ray Heard.

Van Gogh labored near poverty most of his life – which unfortunately is also true for Ray Heard.

Ray Heard opened his first gallery in Galveston on Postoffice in August 2010. At that time, the street was lined with empty buildings. This encouraged his landlord to pay for all electricity and allowed Ray to pay only half rent for the first six months. The only request he made to compensate for his generosity was 30% of any profit, if and when the gallery became profitable.

But Ray looked at it differently, having been an entrepreneur all his life, he saw the potential of tremendous free advertising created by the ArtWalk. And he was right! He was able to pay full rent and electricity in his second month and keep his profit. Fortunately, his overhead was very low, and the only thing he had to do to the space when he moved in was painted the floor.

Increasingly over the years, as buildings were filled on Postoffice, and rents were raised each year to reflect the growing popularity of the area, overhead costs soared as sales for all galleries diminished in spite of the popularity of ArtWalk. In order to save money, Ray moved out of his apartment and lived in the rear of his gallery for the last two years his gallery was there.

Then, just as it seemed that he would no longer have a gallery, two weeks before his lease was to be terminated, the building Heard Gallery now occupies at 411 25th (Rosenberg) Street, became available at a much lower rent.

When Ray was young, his father, who was a furniture salesman, moved his wife and six children to Norman, Oklahoma. Straight out of high school, Ray started his first business and by the time he was 23 years old, he and his brother had a successful business cleaning windows for fifteen hotels in Oklahoma City. Then the S&L loan debacle hit, and he, like many others, lost everything.

He sold whatever was left and moved out to California to live with a friend in Los Angeles He had three difficult years doing odd jobs until he moved to Laguna Beach and began window and chimney cleaning with his brother who came out to join him.

It was during this time that the interest he had always had in art, drawing, and doodling since he was five, opened his perspective, because of all the galleries situated in Laguna Beach. He began going to the galleries and concluded after viewing an 8” x 10” piece of art hanging in a gallery, “I can paint that badly right now with no lessons at all!” Encouraged by a gallery owner, he studied art at the Mission Viejo Campus for one semester, and then studied for one year at Van Nuys, after opening a chimney business in Santa Barbara. Trying to run a business while studying art was very difficult, but his reward was the sale of his first painting at age 32 in a Laguna Beach gallery.

The other great difficulty he had was that he had no place to work. He would have to clean up everything he was working on, breaking his continuity and concentration, when he left the space he was using. As a student, he was again living hand to mouth and when his father died in Oklahoma, he went back and stayed. It was much cheaper to live in Oklahoma that in California. By being able to live in his Grandfather’s house where his father had lived, he now had a place to work. He read everything he could and compared styles until gradually over 10 years he developed his own. He worked hard to be accepted into showing his art at local and state art shows. At the same time, he taught himself how to do custom framing and to become proficient in utilizing Photoshop.

While in Oklahoma, he had visited Galveston a number of times and had observed ArtWalk, very much liking the concept. Finally, with success at selling his paintings at various shows, he wanted to open a gallery and decided that Galveston, with the ArtWalk, was the place. After coming to a quick deal for a space on Postoffice, he opened Heard Gallery.

The first years were very good. He advertised in local magazines and generated many sales. Ninety-five percent of his clientele were locals who regularly took to the streets during ArtWalk, imbibing in wine, perusing the galleries and making purchases of original art and prints they liked.

But unfortunately, good times can end. Sales plummeted at the same time as rents increased for many of the galleries on Postoffice. This had a serious financial impact on the Heard Gallery and Ray.

Now at his new gallery on 25th Street, Ray has his studio in the Heard Gallery. He purposely did this so that he can devote much more time to painting and a lot less time to running a business. Having dramatically cut his overhead, he can afford to buy all the needed supplies to paint as he wants. His finances have not improved, but he is looking expectantly to the future. He believes that under these circumstances, he will paint the best he has ever painted. And that will be very, very good!

Like Van Gogh and many other historical and contemporary artists, hovering near the poverty line for much of one’s life, is far less important than feeding a passion – a passion for painting! And that describes Ray Heard.

Heard Gallery hours will reflect this new direction, opening to the public only on Saturday 11am-5pm and Sunday 2-5pm.

Regular clients can call him at the Gallery during the week. He will be in his studio – working hard!

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