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Into the Painterly 

Davis Dominguez celebrates 30 years with 60 artists, old and new

Big paintings by some of Tucson's biggest artists, dead and alive, line the cool, white walls at Davis Dominguez.

"Afternoon, San Pedro," a Bruce McGrew oil on canvas, revels in the glowing colors that were such a trademark of this late UA prof, he could have patented them. All pale green, yellow and lavender, the painting sensuously conjures up sun-drenched hills and towering cypresses in simplified shapes.

Right next to this pastoral idyll, Josh Goldberg's "An American Ode" is exuberantly abstract. Its acrylic blues and golds explode across canvas, but they glisten like paint on metal. Nearby, Joanne Kerrihard's "Sirens 03.10" is a soft-edged oil on linen that suggests the curve of a boat against a delicate pink and blue sea. Tim Murphy's oil painting "Oh Be Joyful II" takes its own advice: Its shimmery golds and coppers cascade cheerfully down over oxidized green.

"We're into the painterly," says gallery co-owner Candice Davis, looking over the offerings in the anniversary show, 30 Years of Contemporary Art. "We don't like artists who don't love to paint. We don't go in for the flat stuff. As a result, we were out of fashion for a while, but now, painting is coming back."

The lush, textured paintings so typical of Davis Dominguez show up in force in the celebratory exhibition, which showcases some 60 artists who have exhibited with the gallery over its three decades in the business. Some of the painters, such as Don West and George Welch, are "alumni" who've gone on to other venues, Davis says, and some are returnees. For instance, James Cook, painter of buttery landscapes, decamped for a while but several years ago rejoined the gallery's roster, which now numbers about three dozen artists.

"We're glad to have him back," Davis says, and no wonder. His "Velardo," on view here, is a near-realist view of a picturesque valley; upon closer inspection, it dissolves into pure color, in luscious swathes of rose and earth green.

Large-scale sculpture has also long been a gallery staple. Like the paintings, the 3-D work ranges from realism to minimalism, from Mark Rossi's bronze animals to Ben Goo's playful swathes of metal and wood. Other longtime gallery favorites making an appearance include Joy Fox and Judith Stewart.

Fox's large fired-clay figures are half human, half animal; this one, "Sentry," is a goat-like creature painted in mysterious markings. Judith Stewart's alluring "Seated Figure" is a slightly off-kilter bronze of a young woman, nearly life-sized, and patinated an unusual blue-gray.

"We're the only contemporary gallery that shows good-sized sculpture," Davis boasts.

Housed in a former car dealership in the Warehouse District, the gallery has about 5,400 square feet, plenty of room to showcase extravagantly sized art. But 30 years ago, the gallery started out small. Davis and her husband and partner, Mike Dominguez, opened in 1976 in the old Pioneer building at 101 N. Stone Ave., in a small space that featured small-scale prints, graphic art and reproductions.

Raised in California, the pair had migrated to Arizona, where Dominguez has family. They alighted first in Phoenix, where Davis taught at Arizona State after getting her master's in literature, and Dominguez worked in the corporate world.

"Mike traveled a lot to Tucson for work, and we were totally charmed by it," Davis remembers.

So they hit upon the idea of opening their own business in the Old Pueblo. Their model was a Phoenix gallery that specialized in selling graphic art to lawyers for their offices.

"We wanted a big lawyer base downtown," Davis says. After opening in December 1976, "We'd do office calls, and we started doing framing right away. We managed to break even in the third month."

Then called simply Davis Gallery, the enterprise also exhibited photography for a time; the lone photograph in the anniversary show, Peter Kresan's "Star Dune, Gran Desierto," is an homage to those days. Within about five years, they gave up photography, just around the time Terry Etherton was setting up his first photography gallery near Fourth Avenue, Davis says.

Eventually, the growing business needed more space.

"We wanted to stay downtown, but nobody was very interested in renting to us," she remembers, so they moved the gallery to the northwest side. They had two different locations on Oracle Road over the years. Gradually, they turned away from works on paper and began to specialize in paintings. But their gallery was crammed into an office park, and its diminutive dimensions prevented them from exhibiting large-scale work.

In 1998, they took a big risk and set out for the Warehouse District, just north of downtown. They were among the first galleries to move into the now-thriving district at Sixth Street and Sixth Avenue, and they've never regretted the switch, Davis says. The big new space, with a dramatic wooden truss ceiling and concrete floors, all by itself helps the gallery look serious.

"Downtown has been tremendous for our business. Just look at this space! It looks like a New York gallery," Davis says.

Now there's a "nice little group of galleries" nearby, including Platform, The Gallery at 6th and 6th, Santa Theresa Tileworks, Raices Taller 222 and Conrad Wilde. Dominguez and Davis also helped spearhead the Central Tucson Gallery Association, which organizes joint openings of some dozen downtown galleries three times a year.

Davis says the art biz is humming now. Their best customers are sophisticated buyers with deep pockets who are buying local art to fill capacious second homes in the foothills.

With some exceptions, "our artists are not nationally known. They're local painters who appeal to people who want to collect local artists."

Davis says she and her husband signed on many of those artists through the help of the late McGrew.

"Bruce McGrew was the most important artist for developing the gallery," Davis says. "He helped us find a direction. He helped us find artists."

Even today, many artists in the gallery stable have a connection to Rancho Linda Vista, the artist's community in Oracle that McGrew co-founded, and where he lived. Even after his death, in 1999, the McGrew link continues to bring in artists. One of their best sellers, abstract painter Murray Dessner from Philadelphia, is an old McGrew buddy who had his first show at Davis Dominguez after McGrew had died.

And one of their newest artists, Berliner Matthias Düwel, lives in Rancho Linda Vista and paints his abstractions in McGrew's old studio. In the couple of years he's worked there, his dark palette has lightened, flooded, almost, with a McGrewian desert light.

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