We had the good fortune of connecting with Christophe Choquart and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Christophe, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Throughout my previous career in capital markets as an institutional equity sales, I have collected art for the connection it provided to the real world. I have always been intrigued by the artist’s process and the inevitable question of when is the art piece finished and ready to be shared with the world. What is art? Is it talking to me ? Telling me something about my feelings? Connecting me with a reality that I would otherwise ignore? I also realized that art was not for everyone, at least according to the Medias. Supposedly, only the 1% buys art, and who am I to know what a work of art is worth? Should I be interested in the appreciation potential of each painting I buy? If so, I would not have been able to purchase much, and frankly what is the point of connecting art with speculation. I have always purchased art that I loved and could afford at the time. Much better investment than a TV or other gadget. Art is not an end but a beginning, says AI WEI WEI, a famous Chinese artist. Starting my new art framing and gallery business was all about a new beginning, a second act, a personal challenge allowing me to do something I am passionate about. In the process I can help artists grow their audience by offering affordable art to some of my clients who would otherwise believe art was not accessible. Having worked in banking for so long, I also know that an Art gallery could be a challenging business. Paintings do not sell fast. They can hang on the wall for a long time until a buyer decides to buy. I had to define an ecosystem that would allow the promotion of art while generating sufficient cash-flow to pay the rent and generate income for my family and employees. In adding custom framing to the art gallery, my dream could become a sustainable reality. I would display local art but also Aboriginal art (Australia) to a loyal customer base and their friends. As a potential successful art dealer, I also wanted to introduce a different kind of art to art collectors. I wanted to bring another artistic culture to America. Aboriginal art has always been very special to me and I decided to bring it to Atlanta and possibly the USA. Aboriginals, Australia’s first inhabitants, have been painting for thousands of years. They do so to transmit their origins to next generations, but mainly to celebrate their elders/ancestors who created the world as we know it, animals, plants, landscapes, etc… Aboriginal people believe they are living in a dream (the ‘Dreamtime’) and while just passing by (life is short), want to protect their land in order for life to remain as beautiful as can be, to persist and grow in constant harmony with nature. This respect for their land is so deep that I see each painting as adding strength to our human collective to do a little something to protect our planet for future generations to come. Through research and personal contacts I have developed over time, I have managed to bring Aboriginal art to the USA and started to reach collectors that fell in love with it. I am just beginning and hope that exposing people to Aboriginal Art will bring more respect for our land and planet over time. Also, the money from the sale is going directly to the artist and the Aboriginal community. This provides the necessary income to sustain a formidable culture. Aside from the vision I have for the art, I am also running a small business which requires ex-art skills and I am grateful for my 30-year career in banking and capital markets. When LM Frame & Gallery came up for sale in April 2020, when Covid started, despite the risks, I knew it was my calling and I jumped at the opportunity. Working in a gallery with art all around is fantastic. Helping clients learn about art is exciting. Designing the best frames to enhance the art completes the task. Framing is like adding art to art. Just a beginning.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I own a custom framing and art gallery business in East Cobb. I promote happiness. This is a people’s business. Someone comes in with photos, oil canvases, jerseys, hats, swords and says : ” I need to frame this and I have no idea how to go about it”. “You are the expert, so please tell me what I should do”. This makes our team very humble and eager to learn more about the piece. We invite people to tell me more so we can share the connection. We also ask where the piece will be displayed, discuss the process of deciding to enter our shop, etc. We love to bring clients in the creative design process so that they learn something about framing and suppress the related anxiety,… We want customers to feel part of the creative process and take reasonable risks so that when they pick up their framed piece, they are very HAPPY. Happiness business, memorable experience, interpersonal connections is what we love about promoting art and custom framing. There is of course the behind the scene operations management. There is Covid which severely impacts our supply chain, mouldings on back-orders, running and growing the business while preserving cash flow…. little things that can add stress. Nothing that can alter my passion for quality creative work. When a client is not happy about the result, we propose a change at no additional cost (providing it is the same size). Framing is all about accountability and we do what it takes to remediate any issue when they occur. I dislike failing but as a small business, mistakes are inevitable. I am transparent and tell clients upfront about delays or production issues. I am making sure they know I care about their art and will do my best to provide excellent service. I have a great team all implicated in quality work and am grateful for its loyalty. Running a business, aside from the creative process, is challenging. Do I have enough cash to pay the rent, employees and suppliers? Will I pay myself this month… I want to be the last one to get paid, like a boat captain, the last person to jump ship. When you own a small business, you feel more responsible for your actions, you bear the cost of your mistakes and benefit from being generous to your employees and loving to your clients. My wife, Caroline, joined me in the adventure and manages sales and operations. She is an amazing support to our success. I want art collectors to know about LM FRAME & GALLERY for its local artists and WWW.AICONTEMPORARY.COM for its Aboriginal art, both pioneers in offering unique affordable.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Being a French national ( I also became an American citizen in 2019), I love to cook and never feel the need to go to restaurants. I feel it is always more tasty when I cook at home, despite the related clean-up afterwards. Our family moved to Atlanta in 2016, choosing to reside OTP, essentially for schools. I have however managed to discover Atlanta, the High Museum, Fox theater, the Westin cocktail bar and the botanical garden, the Art Contemporary museum. I have learned a lot about how Art has been a critical part of Atlanta’s civil rights movement and became impressed with the power of Atlanta’s young emerging artist scene. I encourage doing a Bike tour of Atlanta and visit the West End. I am also the co-founder and CFO of Urban Catalyst Lab, a non-profit dedicated to creating connected public art installations as a way to build cohesion and resilience in urban development (https://patch.com/georgia/
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would recognize friends and family who always supported my idea of opening an art gallery and local artists who have helped me grow the gallery business through shows and events (despite Covid). Susan Westmoreland, Nancy Lee, Anne Dosso, Nancy Armstrong, Julie Mann and Nancy Johnson among other artists, have been investing time and effort to make our gallery a success. I love these local artists who make our community stronger every day. I hope to meet more local artists in the future so I can maintain a diverse multi-generational offer of fine art and get more people to enjoy the act of buying art, a must in anyone’s life in my humble opinion.
Angela Morris, Photographer