Man Shop: Izzy Gallery – Toronto

Chrome Magazine, Summer 2017

It’s a late day in the Izzy Gallery, and proprietor Izzy Sulejmani, along with artist wife Deanna Nastic, are helping a couple decide on which Melvin Sokolsky “Bubble Series” print they should purchase.

There’s empathy and a mutual interest in the impressions of light created when chemicals react on matte canvas. It’s simple chemistry, but it’s also Sulejmani’s literal approach to his clientele and partners at the Toronto gallery.

“I think it’s relationships that make you very different,” he admits, in a moment of repose after the couple has left, their steps a little lighter, their smiles a little broader. “We don’t like to sell the art. We like to allow the clients to buy art.”

There’s cappuccino being brewed, and Nastic lowers the volume of the urban jazz, rendering it a pleasant earworm amidst the works of Albert Watson, Chris Levine and Bert Stern.Sulejmani shares his own earworm on his passion, photography.

Sulejmani shares his own earworm on his passion, photography. It’s how Watson connects with subjects like Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, and those who have gone to their respective gigs in the sky, like Alfred Hitchcock, and the camera-shy Steve Jobs.

It’s how Watson connects with subjects like Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, and those who have gone to their respective gigs in the sky, like Alfred Hitchcock, and the camera-shy Steve Jobs.“Albert has relationships with his subjects, which is almost more important than his technique,” Sulejmani says. “He’s famous for psychology. How he treated Steve Jobs. How he treated Jack Nicholson. How he prepared Dustin Hoffman.”

“Albert has relationships with his subjects, which is almost more important than his technique,” Sulejmani says. “He’s famous for psychology. How he treated Steve Jobs. How he treated Jack Nicholson. How he prepared Dustin Hoffman.”Sulejmani is about making those connections with the 18 photographers, whose work he sells at the gallery that’s open since 2008. He calls each of them once a month.

Sulejmani is about making those connections with the 18 photographers, whose work he sells at the gallery that’s open since 2008. He calls each of them once a month.Frank Horvat, 88, is expected to arrive in Toronto in April for his gallery launch. Mary McCartney, daughter of Paul, that famous Beatle, is expected in October. Guess resident photog, Ellen Von Unwerth, will have a third show in 2018.

Frank Horvat, 88, is expected to arrive in Toronto in April for his gallery launch. Mary McCartney, daughter of Paul, that famous Beatle, is expected in October. Guess resident photog, Ellen Von Unwerth, will have a third show in 2018.“They’re all different characters and you have to focus,” he says, of maintaining the relationships. “I don’t understand the galleries who have 50 to 60. They forget who they carry.”

“They’re all different characters and you have to focus,” he says, of maintaining the relationships. “I don’t understand the galleries who have 50 to 60. They forget who they carry.”

Sulejmani came to Canada via Belgrade. He fled the Balkan Wars with Nastic and came to Toronto as a student import-export trade economics. Eventually, he would open a gallery selling Canadian artists’ paintings.

But it was Nastic who pushed him into photography.

“I used to think anybody could take a photo,” he says, a modest prologue for the anecdote that would follow.

While in New York, he was contacted by a friend who lived in the Hamptons. The friend invited the Sulejmani-Nastic duo to dinner. With them would be John Avedon, the son of fashion photographer Richard Avedon.

BRIAN BAKER/TOWN CRIER
MARCO GLAVIANO is joined by Yasmin Warsame during an exhibition in 2015.

“I said to my wife, ‘I’m not driving two hours to have dinner with some kid’,” Sulejmani said, with a chuckle. “My wife said to me, ‘Do you know who Richard Avedon is?’ I said, ‘I don’t have a clue’, ‘Well,’ she said, ‘We’re going’.”

From that interaction, a photo was purchased and brought back to Toronto and mixed with the paintings. It was sold in the shutter of a lens.

Then it was the trial and error of setting up their first show with Lillian Bassman. He wanted to showcase her photos with large prints, but there was trepidation rising inside the nonagenarian.

“I picked the photographs, not the usual, and she loved the choices. Loved the photos that nobody paid attention to,” he recalls. “She said yes, so I went to New York to see how it was going and, she decided not to do it.”

The world went black.

“I asked, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘Because you will send them all back, and you won’t sell them’. I went back to my hotel, devastated.”

In an effort to woo her, Sulejmani offered to buy all the prints. It was a risk, but one that paid off. The next time he saw Bassman, he was received “as a god”.

The key is there is no staff at the Izzy Gallery. Just Sulejmani, his wife, and his brother Damir, who takes great care to frame the artworks of his friends. But that’s a whole other conversation that Sulejmani can elaborate on. However, the focus always comes back to the artwork.

“We run it as a little sleeping elephant. We’re not doing art fairs. We don’t pay to be on Artnet. We don’t advertise in that way,” Sulejmani avers. “Not everybody needs to know that I have exclusive images from very famous photographers.

“They’re such characters. They’re legends and they’re very humble.”

Editor’s note: This was written for the last issue of Chrome, which never went to print.

 

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Toronto-based journalist, fighting the power one deadline at a time.

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