Interview with Artist Armando Cabba
Armando Cabba, a 28 year old Canadian artist and owner of his own gallery Atelier Cabba based in Paris. An artist on the rise gaining recognition for his portraits, Cabba is beginning to make his mark on the business front as a young artist who opened up his own independent space.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Just like how I got into art itself, this all kind of happened by chance. Around 2014, I was a bit lost after leaving the academy back in Florence in terms of where to go career wise. There was a feeling of being over saturated regarding school, so I continued to work independently which brought me to France. Setting up was not easy as it was in Italy. Finding a studio in Paris was beyond challenging for countless reasons. I was getting desperate to the point I almost renovated an old brothel just so I can have a place to create. After a solid 7 months of constant searching, I found the space I’m currently in.
Atelier Cabba was more of an idea to happen much later in my career and now I’m 2 years into it. Having a workspace to paint in is one thing, but operating a gallery at the same time is a new kind of game. The best way to describe it is seeing a dog walking itself on the street holding a leash in its mouth. All the responsibilities that happen behind the scenes are on me as opposed to being under gallery representation.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
I don’t have a story that stands out in specific, but it’s been interesting to see how the public has been reacting first hand. There’s been a solid engagement and relationship formed with me and the local community. I’m also not hard to miss roaming around covered in paint near Moulin Rouge in search of snacks while saying “hi” to everyone. Even though it’s a very lonely gig to paint, I don’t feel completely isolated. There’s also no middle man who will tell me what happened at the gallery that week. There’s no human filter between the artist and the public. Each day is completely unpredictable.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There are no such things as mistakes, only happy accidents. A funny happy accident I had was when I really ran out of patience with one visitor. It was an artist that came in and began to compliment all the work up in the gallery, but it turned real sour real quick. On many occasions I get lots of artists who try to drop off their portfolios. The deal is that if there’s a show, it has to be a collaboration where we work together on something instead of me just hanging up your work. He all of a sudden did a 180 in his attitude and went off on how I don’t know stuff about things when it comes to running a gallery.
After 5 minutes of grumpy Parisian rambling, I tossed him my keys and told him “You seem to know what’s up. You do it. I’m off to get a beer. Send me a postcard when you’re famous” I made my way next door and did what I said I was going to do. He came outside with a look of horror and told me I was crazy using the most poetic profane french I’ve ever heard. That would be my major mistake considering it was a rare time I lost patience plus I didn’t take into consideration who this person could actually be. Also, this isn’t Canada. People in Paris do tend to steal things, so I ran a giant risk of him actually locking me out of my gallery. That would of been one hell of a hostage situation.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Atelier Cabba stands out because it’s one of the few spaces where the artist is present. You enter my world when you walk through the door. There’s a freedom for both me and visitors. Anyone can come in and see me working away and watch, ask questions, be creepy and stare while eating a sandwich erotically, etc. It’s nice to hear what people have to say directly and it brings me out of my usual mental flow. I have my regulars who come in to share stories or things they found. There’s a special bond and feeling of participation in my atelier. It’s all organic and not staged. When you step into most galleries, there’s a sterile inhuman feeling. A sense of “Should I actually be in here? Do I know enough to be here? Am I rich enough to be here?” You’re in this sacred space and you occasionally have the assistants who will look up from their desks to say hello. They also act like they are doing super serious work, but I’m pretty sure they’re playing the T-Rex game when the Google machine isn’t working. Things aren’t popping off in an empty gallery. You can’t fool me.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would say to be careful regarding what people say. Being one of the rare individuals out there who both creates and operates a business, you get a buttload of criticism. Some of the advice is very helpful, and other times it feels very much like you’re dealing with a backseat driver. To all my artists, always beware of the any white middle aged bald man who wears atypical circular framed glasses and colourful pants. These guys always have some “strong” commentary and they’re everywhere. I’m convinced they’re some sort of a boss level of art critics and I haven’t figured out where they originate from or who is making them.
Anyways, I occasionally get my moments where I really wonder if I’m actually doing well or if I do have talent. Just because I’m making money, does that translate it to me being talented? I also wonder that since I have this space, am I actually good at what I’m doing? Am I basic? Did I just get lucky? I forget that people aren’t me or have the same drive. What what I want to say is that it’s normal to have these questions and feelings, but it’s not easy to do that mental tightrope walk. Don’t let the words of others influence you to the point where your mind will devour itself.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
That person would have to be my dad. He’s supported my decision to be an artist the moment it happened. He wanted to be a singer, but my grandfather wouldn’t allow it. My father didn’t want me to go through the same thing, so he’s been my number one fan. As I was beginning to expose my work, I had a chip on my shoulder due to feeling I was stuck in his shadow. He’s such a big personality and character that you’d think he’s a figment of your imagination. I wanted to make my name stand out as opposed to being just “Traian’s son who paints”. I had a lot of success, but I also fell flat on my face sometimes. He knew what I was trying to prove and we sorted things out by finally talking like mature human beings. Once upon a time, he had the same rebel attitude with my grandfather and we all know the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I realized it’s okay to ask for help and advice especially concerning the business end of things. Without him I don’t think I’d be where I am today at all. My level of talent in my work would probably be years behind and I’d be stuck in a slave like contract with god knows who. He’s been an inspiration to me and still is. I’m Armando Cabba because of him.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As I’ve continued to grown along with my platform, I’ve been maintaining my values of giving back. I’ve opened the doors of Atelier Cabba to many different people not only for future collaborations, but as a safe space for all. People can be themselves and free. I’m quite outspoken on social and political issues, so it’s clear where me and my company stand.
There are tons of big ideas and plans for the future regarding positive actions for the world. It’s about timing. Right now I’m currently working with L’Atelier Des Arts who are hosting artist workshops and conferences in Bretagne to show the community all the possibilities of having a career in a creative field. It’s the early stages and I’m not doing it for the money. If I can help inspire one person in their life, it’s all worth it. I’ll be there in early January talking to and teaching people about portraits along with how I got started with Atelier Cabba.
My business is a reflection of myself. People who support Atelier Cabba know that Atelier Cabba supports them.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be so good they can’t ignore you” – Steve Martin
Put in the hours and effort to get a point where you’re satisfied and then push further beyond that. Once you adopt that idea, people will notice you. Some people will still say no, but at least they’ll look silly for doing so.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Beware of flimflam people. You don’t need a Rasputin character whispering ideas deep in your ear. These are the type of people that try to come in and make all these plans on a whim about money filled futures and dreams coming true when in reality they have their own agenda. They’re selling you ideas disguised as a new relationship. Lots of “We’re going to do this” and “We’re going to do that” get thrown around. The moment you agree to it, nothing ever happens or you get asked the unsurprising question of “Can you fund it all first?”. Don’t get taken for a ride or hang on to false words.
Don’t be shy to ask for help and advice. I made the mistake to be my own coach at a young age like I knew how the world worked. I fell down many times during this whole journey because of my pride. Once I accepted I needed help, I asked for it and look where I’m at. Ask questions to people who know about business. Sure you might know how to create all sorts of custom oil mixes, but what do you know about gallery contract fine print at age 21?
3. Be your number one fan. I had a lot of people look at me strange when I quit the academy. I had lots of people laugh at me when I said I wanted to be a world famous artist. I have my handful of friends who I know are there for me without a doubt, but you also cover your own back. Be your own cheerleader. Hype yourself up when no one is around. Don’t worry, it all balances out. All those people who didn’t take me seriously? They’re trying to take me out for dinner like I’m a fancy date. All those women who stood me up for portraits back in the day? They’re now in my DMs asking to spend time with me Paris so I can draw them like one of my french girls. Don’t let that crap get to your head as much it strokes your ego. The Universe balances itself out. Trust me.
Roll with it. If some new project or idea gets thrown at you, sometimes it’s a good idea to just try it if you have nothing to lose. One of these ideas I rolled with involved a white pair of shoes. I was asked to paint them in 24 hours and now it’s become a thing eversince. Worst case scenario is that it doesn’t work and you know better for the future.
5. If you can’t join them, beat them. I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to get the approval of people who didn’t matter at the end of the day. It’s normal to want to be part of something and now with everything I have, I’m happy it never worked out. Not because they’ve changed, but because I’ve surpassed them and my previous self. I just wanted to score touchdowns for them and here I am dancing in their end zones.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I never really thought about starting a movement. Does that mean I have to go chanting “Make Art Great Again”? There are so many more important movements and issues that need more exposure. Their voices need to be heard and I’m more concerned with helping them than my personal vain goals like one day watching Jeff Koons choke on a balloon. Sure, I want to open up the art world to more undiscovered talent and to have people feel again, but there are more important things we need to support in my opinion. I don’t talk about my art a lot in person. When I do, I tend to segway into other topics like mental health and toxic masculinity. People are going through some real struggles and need a lot more than just a “Thoughts and Prayers” tweet. We need to hear from them directly and not my version of it. I don’t suffer from the white savior complex. I don’t believe everything will be resolved the moment I’m involved in it. These issues are about them, not me. They live it every single day and if Atelier Cabba can provide any help, I’m all in.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Best way would be to follow me on instagram @armandocabba. To see my full portfolio along with all the other social media nonsense, check out my site http://www.armando-cabba.com
If you’re ever in Paris, stop by the in person. Atelier Cabba is located at 3 Rue Vintimille in the 9eme.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!