Currently, on any given First or Third Friday, you can venture into downtown Phoenix and find yourself a nice enough art exhibit, with a crowd of visitors. This wasn’t always the case. I remember rough times as a founding member of Eye Lounge when we were happy to see at least 25 people come through the door.
Now it’s over 10 years later and Phoenix has developed a steady stream of of people eager to see what’s happening. This is surely a sign of Phoenix’s cultural growth, but what is next? How does the downtown art scene evolve into something more significant? As an artist, I’ve always believed that we owe the our audience a challenge. We must create work that takes risks and makes our audience ask “what is this about?”
I moved to Phoenix in 1996 after having grown up around institutions like the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art and even the rich, cultural density of the small city of Reading, PA. I expected art and substance to be here, just waiting for me to access it. I quickly found that, like so many things in this city, you really have to dig into its layers and sometimes you have to work to create it.
The Phoenix art scene is at a pivotal point. At first, it was sufficient to put up a show—any show—and hope that people would come see it. Now there’s a sense that something more needs to happen to shift into the next gear. Do we continue to evolve and take our place among other culturally significant cities or risk idling into oblivion and diminishing all the hard work that’s gone into getting us to this point? The question is not is there an art exhibit anymore, the question must be what is it about?
In some ways, this transition has begun to happen. Independent curators such as Lara Taubman (now Wisniewski), Gina Cavallo Collins, Ted Decker and Modified directors Kim Larkin and Jeff Chabot have, in the past and present, designed shows centered around complex themes—presenting work that wasn’t guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser but which takes advantage of the captive audience and open venues to dive into headier subjects, such as immigration, the vacancy of space in Phoenix, the video game as art piece or the language and images of war taking many forms. In the area of performance art, The Phoenix Fringe Festival has taken on this challenge—giving a platform for odd, ephemeral and performance-based work. The success of the festival is based on our local art and performance community’s willingness to try something different and gamble on the results.
Although taking risks and exploring new forms of presentation, materials and venues doesn’t automatically generate substance, the process of thinking in this direction has the potential to create works that have more social and personal relevance. Failures are possible, but within them are the possibility to discover something new. Putting a thoughtfully selected group of artists together to address a common concept gives the audience a theme and common ground for engaging with the work; much like reading a collection of essays on sea exploration or watching Shark Week on TV— they get to see different angles of a singular idea.
All of the ingredients are here. We have a vibrant, proactive group of creative individuals that believe in community and support each other thoroughly. These individuals are intelligent, thoughtful, enterprising people who have managed to galvanize an area and develop an audience. Microcosms of artist groups have developed within this larger whole that express different perspectives and commonalities. These commonalities could be explored to generate exhibitions, performances, events, happenings, or interventions that would highlight the most compelling aspects of the artists at work in this city.
Phoenix should continue to expand on the groundwork that has been laid. Imagine Phoenix as a city known not just for the mobs of people clogging Roosevelt, offering free hugs and flyers, but for something deeper, more complex, strange, ridiculous, edgy or thoughtful. Let’s see and become artists who are pushing boundaries, creating work that compels audiences to ask themselves questions about what they’re seeing. Let us allow our audiences to be immersed in work that will make them think. Curiosity, confusion, wonder, anger, happiness, sadness. Taking Phoenix to the next cultural level is possible if we stop to think what this is all about.
Some news items don’t need translation. That’s why DPJ launched the From the Wire series, so we could serve the destinations here by posting information and announcements – in their own words.
Have anything to donate? Art, furniture, appliances, etc. are welcome. Drop items off on Friday afternoon, May 18th from Noon – 5pm at the parking lot in the rear of the After Hours Building.
Artlink, creator of the wildly popular First Friday’s in downtown Phoenix and Art Detour, one of the longest-running arts events in Arizona, will be the benefactor of a warehouse clearance sale.
The sale will be held on Saturday, May 19th, from 7AM to 12 NOON in the parking lot of the After Hours Building, at 116 W. McDowell Road. The After Hours Building is in the heart of downtown Phoenix, 1 block west of the Phoenix Art Museum and the Central/McDowell Light Rail Stop.
Merchandise comes from a variety of manufacturers and most are never-used overstocks and samples. Items in the sale include gift-wrap, stationery goods, pet products, scrap-booking supplies, t-shirts, greeting cards, holiday decor plus art, furniture, appliances and more. Many prices are discounted nearly 90% from normal retail, with many items marked at just 25 cents.
According to Mike Oleskow, President of Artlink and organizer of the sale, “This is a great opportunity for people to get incredible deals and support the Phoenix Arts community. Proceeds help keep services like the First Friday shuttles running each month. While free for First Friday participants who love using it to explore art and to get around Downtown, the shuttles are Artlink’s biggest expense each month.”
Artlink Phoenix is one of the oldest, all volunteer run, 501-C-3 arts organizations in downtown Phoenix. Its mission is to maintain and enhance regular events, including the monthly First Fridays art walk, the annual Art Detour self-guided tour, an annual Juried Exhibition and an art-related fundraiser.
For more information on Artlink, please visit artlinkphoenix.com.
Hundreds of fabulous bicyclists took to the streets to support bike culture at Pedal Craft PHX last Friday night.
Bikes lined the streets, amazing racks were curated by Sidewalk Phoenix and local designers produced spectacular posters, which were purchased by the armful.
Of course our fashion spotters were on the lookout and were more than pleased to see the T-shirts designed by Jon Ashcroft looking especially chic.
Congratulations to the organizers for producing a terrific inaugural event. Look for more Pedal Craft festivities this Fall and in the meantime, check out the images captured by DPJ photographer, and Downtown resident, Jack London.
What is art in Phoenix? A short piece compiled from my trip around Downtown Phoenix for Art Detour weekend. Thank you to all the artists, patrons, volunteers, and proprietors who took the time to speak with me.
(shot & cut by perry allen for dpj)
Downtown Phoenix is an ever-changing landscape, but amidst all the developments, bureaucracy, and continual struggle to create an urban core with an authentic sense of place, there is at least one event that has remained a constant feature and lifeblood in Downtown for over 20 years: First Fridays.
Local artist Carol Roque has been a part of this tradition as a vendor at every First Friday since December 2006 when she began selling her work as a young art student. Roque remembers the years of the mid 2000s as a simpler time, when artists gathered in dirt lots along Roosevelt Row, where one man would bring a generator and for ten bucks he’d allow artists to plug their extension cords in so they could light up their booths.
As First Friday continued to grow and spill out into the neighborhood streets the City of Phoenix began to take notice and it wasn’t long before bureaucracy was inserted into the evolution of the monthly event.
Soon paperwork, applications, and licenses became required for artists to display and sell their work.
“The license was easy to get back then. The City helped so I got everything I needed.”
At the age of 25, Roque has been a regular for long enough to remember when such things were not needed.
Her friend and now collaborator, Aldo Jeffery, invited her to show her work at First Friday after he happened to see some portraits she had completed while studying animation at the Art Institute of Phoenix.
He offered her space at his table where she carefully set out her samples for display.
“I was so nervous that I don’t think I said a single word all night.” She may not have said anything but she made $45 from sales of her 5×5 prints that she sold for $5.00 a piece.
She stuck with school and earned a B.A. in Media Arts and Animation, although she never pursued animation. Instead, after graduation she taught herself to oil paint and set out to make a living as a full time artist.
Connecting Through Art
Since childhood, Roque carried notebooks with her which she explains were her closest friends; she filled the pages with drawings and portraits of people for whom she would name and create stories and details to explain their lives.
As a kid she attended 4 different schools before moving from the Los Angeles area to Mesa with her family. “It was easier for me to connect with my paintings than it was for me to make friends.”
The theme that runs through her work is loneliness, a feeling seen in the expressions on the faces of the people she creates. Some of the subjects have distorted faces, some have large noses, all have intense eyes that seem to be pleading for understanding and love. Roque says people comment that the people in her paintings look sad and depressing.
“That caught me off guard to hear. It was a reminder that I’m not the only one who feels sad, other people do too.”
Her first painting was completed in a digital print and ink class where she learned how to paint on a computer. She still uses the computer as a way to map out her visions. Once an idea is created digitally, she is able to choose which one she wants to turn into an oil painting.
“I have to keep focused and imagine what I want. I think through the whole painting digitally, then plan how to turn it into an oil painting. It’s much easier to do it this way because it’s planned out and I’m not just painting blindly. I can plan the composition and the under painting and I don’t have to worry if I’m painting the lighting correctly.”
She said she always admired oil painters and now prefers oil because she can blend colors infinitely, but “oil paint is really dangerous and toxic. My hands used to tingle all the time and I thought that was normal. It’s not. I take precautions and wear gloves now.”
Living an Uncomplicated Life
Her work is shown around town in coffee shops or bars. Earlier this month she had a show at Hair Pollution on McDowell with Jeffery and this month her work is on display at Buffalo Exchange as their Artist of the Month.
She will have a regular gallery on Roosevelt Row in May where she will debut her newest and favorite painting.
“No one has seen it yet and it’s still untitled. It’s a girl with purple lilac hair, you see her back and she’s looking back at you with a lot of pain and emotion in her eyes. It’s intense but pretty when you first see it. There is a heart stitched on her back with a yellow bird on her shoulder holding one end of the string.”
Roque says she’s grateful that her life is uncomplicated at the moment.
“Sometimes I just work inside all day and only ever come out to First Friday. I should probably get out and socialize more. I’ve had a level of success, people recognize my work. The next step is to pay my rent more regularly.”
She acknowledges that during her years participating in First Friday she has witnessed many changes but what hasn’t changed is the interest in the downtown art scene.
“People come for different reasons. There are a lot of teenagers, lots of middle-aged men and women and elderly people. It’s everyone.”
Roque is out every First Friday and Third Friday in front of MADE Art Boutique on Roosevelt Street sharing her work with the Downtown Phoenix community. On Third Friday she draws live and you can get a custom portrait in about 20-30 minutes for only 15 bucks.
Images courtesy of Carol Roque.