Street smarts

Scott Seekins hits pavement, skyways with mobile art gallery

The Walking Living Gallery hits the Downtown streets seven days a week, regardless of weather, business hours and even the relative interest of prospective clients.

Sometimes the mobile art gallery lingers in the skyways. Sometimes it walks the busy streets, Hennepin Avenue and Nicollet Mall, and ventures into stores (though selling anything inside them is strictly against gallery policy). Other times, when it’s tired from a long day of peddling, it sits for a drink or two at Nick and Eddie’s, a favorite hangout next to Loring Park.

It should be noted, of course, that this particular gallery expands the definition of “mobile art gallery” to include one guy with a pink shoulder bag brimming with prints and sketches and a pair of black binders.

That guy, Scott Seekins, was looking for a way a few years ago to engage people and find new buyers. After considering a few options, he decided to gather up some of his smaller pieces and do what he does practically every day — put on a suit and head for the streets.

So his gallery became an extension of his art, and in the process, he said, he discovered the best direct-marketing tool an artist — ahem, gallery — can ever hope for.

“You might meet people in bars, in restaurants, while in grocery stores. In the skyways. You start talking, and they go, ‘When’s your next show?’ And you go, ‘Right now.’

“Then you open the book.”

Seekins has made a career out of both making and being art. He’s been a Downtown and Southwest Minneapolis fixture — and quite possibly the city’s most visible artist — for decades. You’ve probably seen him at one time or another, in the skyways, at the CC Club, in restaurants, on the streets.

You know the man: Rail-thin, wears only two sets of single-colored suits (black in winter, white in summer), has a mop of charcoal hair supported by a thick headband, a mustache so thin and detailed it looks painted on, a pensive face that melts instantly when he begins to speak.

And, these days, that shoulder bag with him at all times.

If the definition of fame is as simple as a stranger knowing your name, then Seekins is a local celebrity. Take, for example, one of his recent Walking Living Gallery ventures to the streets.

After stopping twice in one block to talk with acquaintances, Seekins reached the intersection of 4th Street & 1st Avenue.

“Hey, Scott Seekins!” called out one man, lounging against a building. Seekins turned around and squinted, trying to place the guy.

“You don’t know me, but I appreciate you,” the man said, and flashed Seekins a thumbs-up.

“Thanks,” Seekins said quietly, and moved on. After a moment, he mumbled, “I have no idea who that was. It happens all the time.”

That presence, though, is what makes it possible for Seekins to find success with his gallery. He’s not a hustler. Like most artists, he’s rather shy. But because he’s spent so many years living as public art — his signature suits, his personality, his activities, everything — he’s the artist best known as himself.

People know him. Strangers, some of them, anyway, feel like they do. And as long as he makes himself available, they come to him. To his gallery.

“This is a bridge,” he said. “A bridge to the other world. I like being accessible to people,” he said. “I don’t think many people connect to art or artists in this town, really. I mean, not the average person. It’s a different world to them.”

Sometimes he’ll sell two or three prints in one day, and at an average of $100 each, the sales start to add up. But then sometimes he’ll go weeks without selling one.

It doesn’t faze Seekins, though. He knows as well as anyone else that selling art is a perennial struggle, even for someone like him, a tireless self-promoter whose paintings of Madonna, as well as of himself posing next to Britney Spears and disciples at the Last Supper, among others, have brought him modest fame.

Lately, business has been slow, mostly because the trouble with a mobile art gallery in Minnesota can be summed up with one word: winter.

That doesn’t bother Seekins, much, either. The heated skyways do just fine. Come spring, he’ll change into his white threads and spend more time in the open air with his gallery. For now, he’s content waiting out the last winter days in his Downtown studio, preparing new pieces and prints.

After all, even the Walking Living Gallery, which travels on despite weather and practically any other obstacle, does get cold once in awhile.

Contributing writer Brian Voerding lives in Southwest Minneapolis.