Notes from the Southwest

A partial view of my solo show at Cervini Haas Gallery in Scottsdale. From left: Quadrate 2, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches; an installation of nine 12 x 12 inch Silk Road paintings, encaustic on panel; and Uttar 286, also encaustic on panel, 32 x 32 inches

Greetings from Scottsdale. My opening at Cervini Haas Gallery, "It’s Always About Hue, Isn’t It?" just took place, so I’m coming down off a nice little art high. My travel is pretty much always art related. That makes it deductible, and thus affordable. But finances aside, it’s the tasty carrot after the stick of so many days of protracted work in the studio. Did I mention I’m writing this by the pool? (OK, so I’m at the Day’s Inn, but the pool is set into a manicured courtyard aswish with tall palms and shrubby cactus.)

Big Changes in This Desert Town
I get to Scottsdale every couple of years for a show (this is my fourth solo at Cervini Haas), but this time something’s different: There’s construction everywhere. I mean 360-degree views of cranes and other machinery, and buildings—condos, mostly—in various degrees of completion, from skeletal infrastructures to everything’s-in-place-but-the-sod. (I believe the name Scottsdale comes from a Native American word meaning "The irony of green lawns in the desert.") There are some relatively tall buildings, 10 to 12 stories, under construction but the overall impression is one of sweep rather than soar. Even the tallest buildings take up a lot of ground, so horizontal remains the predominant plane, nicely punctuated by tall, skinny

I was just thinking that I needed a quote here about Scottsdale’s building boom, and, no kidding, from a bunch of businessmen sitting at the bar, this phrase wafts over: "They’re calling it the ‘Manhattanization of Scottsdale.’" Blogging is journalism at its most relaxed so I’ll go with that timely comment. Personally wouldn't normally connect the words "Manhattan" and "Scottsdale" unless I'm thinking about how to get from one to the other, but you get the idea: the town is busting up and out.

Scottsdale has long been a second-home community for folks who flock to the desert for the winter. Vast tracts of land are given over to golf courses—see comment above—and new homes. I’m going on about real estate because all those homes need to be filled. The home furnishings companies have already set up shop: Crate and Barrel, Design Within Reach (which, let’s be honest, for most artists, it ain’t) to Ikea. Of course I’m thinking about all those bare walls that need art to humanize their proportions—or maybe just something to go above the sofa.

Cervini Haas Gallery, right, and Cline Fine Art share a long, low U-shaped building that opens onto an inner courtyard

A Visit to the Galleries
Apparently the dealers are thinking about those bare walls, too, because while still small, the number of serious galleries appears to have doubled over the past few years. On North Marshall Way, the 57th Street of Scottsdale, galleries in single-story buildings line the two-block street. Just to orient you, North Marshall Way briefly runs parallel to Scottsdale Road, the main thoroughfare that connects the town to Phoenix.

Once you weed out the cactus-and-cowboy venues--and there are dozens of them--you end up with a good handful of serious contemporary galleries: Bentley, Bridge, Cervini Haas, Cline Fine Art, g2, Hernandez Contemporary, Lisa Sette, Robert Roman, the European-inflected Udinotti Gallery, and around the corner on Main Street, Chiaroscuro.

At Hernandez Contemporary: Momento Rojo, bronze, 43 inches high, by Gustavo Torres; Circe, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 84 inches by Don West

Sette, a longtime gallery owner on Marshall Way, is more sanguine. "We’ve been here 21 years," she says, "and we’ve seen galleries come and go." Still, it’s a critical mass, and the Thursday night Artwalks draw crowds, particularly on the First Thursday openings.

Above: From-the-street view of the Lisa Sette Gallery and Wilde-Meyer Gallery

Chiaroscuro Gallery on Main Street: Facade and interior view of the solo show by Marcia Meyer, showing her fresco paintings

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is a short walk away. Skip the big show of art about celebrities (and, get the barf bag, celebrities who make art) and head into the middle gallery where Willie Birch’s charcoal drawings of pre-Katrina New Orleans capture the African-influenced culture of Chocolate City. "Celebrating Freedom: The Art of Willie Birch" runs through April 29.

Willie Birch, Blind Musician Playing the Piano, 2001,acrylic and charcoal on paper, 66x42 inches. Image courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans

If you’re in the market to pick up some Native American objects, head over to Faust, on Main Street, for a well-edited selection of jewelry, rugs, pots and other handmade objects. This isn't design within reach, either, but the objects both historic and contemporary are a unique amalgam of art, craft, culture and place.

At Faust Gallery: Jar by Sharon Rustin Garcia, from the Acoma Pueblo

Postscript from Tucson (3.12.07)

On Saturday, I headed 100 miles south to Tucson for the opening of a group show, the "Second Annual Encaustic Invitational", at the Conrad Wilde Gallery. Wendy Haas, owner of Cervini Haas and a good friend, did the driving which gave me the opportunity to be a tourist for 90 minutes. The desert has some stretches of spectacular landscape, especially the saguaro cactus, those big prickly anthropomorphic plants that look like they're doing yoga standing poses ("It takes 100 years for a cactus to sprout an arm," Wendy tells me) and the Dust Devils, mini tornadoes that crank up funnels of dust out in the shrubby landscape. There's no power in these vortexes except the visual; depending on their form, they're like kinetic dimensional drawings or transparent sculptures.

On the way into town we stopped at Graficas Gallery, where my buddies Susan Schwalb and Rainer Gross, New Yorkers both, were in a show together. Normally I wouldn't think to pair these two artists, but the theme of the show was process and materials. Susan works in metalpoint to create luminous paintings that engage the meditative power of the horizontal, while Rainer, working in a technique of his own devising, creates texture-and-color-field abstractions with extraordinary sensuality. Owner Lynnette Hyde Mautner, presides over a small space with a great program.

Above: Neuble, by Rainer Gross; oil and pigments on linen, 21 x 18 inches, 2001.

Left: Atmospheric Disturbances III by Susan Schwalb; silverpoint and acrylic on wood, 24 x 24 x 2 inches, 2005.

Then we headed down the hill to the Conrad Wilde Gallery, owned by Miles Conrad, himself an artist, and his partner Ryan Wilde.

The scene at the Saturday night opening was jumpin'. The national show featured the work of 20 artists, among them Heather Hutchison (New York), Kim Bernard (Berwick, Maine), Catherine Nash (Tucson) and myself, and many of the artists were in attendance. Tucson, with its university students and substantial artist population, turned out in force.

Nautilus, a pedestal sculpture in terra cotta and encaustic, by Kim Bernard; Above, below, by Catherine Nash

A highlight of the evening was a performance piece by Nancy Popp with Adam Overton that consisted of Overton atop a 10-foot ladder pouring honey into the mouth of Popp, who is standing on a square of canvas on the floor below. The performance was equal parts beautiful and terrible, as the honey poured into Popp's mouth and then over her body to pool onto the canvas beneath her feet. I was afraid she'd choke to death on the sticky liquid, but I guess that's the point.

"Popp's projects investigate the fragility of the body as subject and sculptural object and the creative and radical human endeavor of serious play coupled with risk and vulnerability," says the gallery's press release. Just in case you missed it: there's the connection between the beeswax in the artwork and the honey of Popp's performance--though this work is anything but sweet.

Nancy Popp and Adam Overton at Conrad Wilde Gallery. Honeymoon 2, inspired by George Brecht’s Drip Music, addresses conundrums of confinement and commitment, along with the paradoxes of traditional receptive feminine roles that often prevail despite resistance to gender conformity. Photo courtesy of Conrad Wilde Gallery