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Soaring Upward 

Galleries old, new and relocated open their doors for a night of art celebration

Craig M. Cully's small masterworks on depression are getting a reprieve.

Slated to come down last Saturday after two months on the walls at Platform Gallery, the six tiny oils on panel will instead be moved a short distance away to the back showroom. They'll be on view this Saturday night, Feb. 2, during Art Safari, the cornucopia of art openings staged by members of the Central Tucson Gallery Association and others.

The works are beautifully painted with old-fashioned skill, their small, deft strokes conjuring a horrifying mental prison. Cully, a Tucson artist with an MFA from the UA, worked in a limited palette, and his institutional greens, sorry grays and dull whites are the colors of despair.

Each painting, though, has one object painted a disconcertingly bright color. An ax is red, a lawn chair yellow. Their forced brightness is at odds with the no-exit prison rooms that take up the whole of each painting.

A rotund man in skivvies is trapped inside these dispiriting cells. He's also trapped, literally, in his own head, with a white cloth--or a mask--encasing his skull. More ominously, that mask looks like it could be his own skin, deteriorating right before our eyes.

In "A Certain Crisis," the suffering fellow is standing sideways, so the full swell of his big belly is seen in profile. A wan Christmas garland, royal blue, decks the wall behind him, its cheerfulness a strident contrast to his despair.

Occupying Cully's former place of honor in the main Platform showroom will be a new exhibition of two painters. Minnesota artist Brad Nuorala will show a dozen acrylics on canvas and paper. A regular at Platform each winter, when he transplants himself to Marana, Nuorala makes abstracted work inspired by lines and surfaces, from sidewalk cracks to graffiti, according to director Monique Morales.

He shares the space with Jay Hardin, who got his BFA from the UA and his MFA from Arizona State. Now in Phoenix, he'll haul a half-dozen small works down the highway: some acrylics on paper, some charcoals on paper. His monochromatic abstractions flow into soft organic shapes, in paintings that are all orange-red-yellow or green-teal-blue.

The Central Tucson Gallery Association is down a few gallery members, but they'll all be opening this Saturday night, Feb. 2, with gala receptions. Three new art spaces--dada, Griffonage and MOCA on the Plaza--will also open their doors, piggy-backing on Art Safari to catch its thronging crowds.

Unless otherwise noted, receptions are from 6 to 9 p.m. Note: The MOCA opening comes and goes in one hour, from 5 to 6 p.m. Here's a checklist, divvied up by district.


WAREHOUSE DISTRICT, SIXTH STREET AND SIXTH AVENUE

Platform Gallery, 439 N. Sixth Ave., 882-3886; platformart.com. Paintings by Brad Nuorala, Jay Hardin, Craig M. Cully.

Davis Dominguez, 154 E. Sixth St., 629-9759; davisdominguez.com. Reception 6 to 8 p.m. Just up the street from Platform, this pioneer in the trendy arts district is showcasing sculpture and paintings by two longtime gallery artists, both of Tucson.

Barbara Jo McLaughlin, inspired by a recent trip to Tibet, has left behind her earth-based, fire-hose works of recent years and soared upward. Now her airy sculptures float from the ceiling and cascade down the walls. "Auspicious Clouds" is made up of three ethereal twists of plywood, tinted pale lavender and blue, swathed in screen and flying high above the floor. The 10-foot-high "Waterfall," also of painted, shaped plywood--this time silver and teal--mimics water pouring in rivulets down to painted puddles on the floor.

Tim Murphy fills the walls with gracefully painted oils on canvas and linen. He switches from delicate abstraction, as in the lovely yellow-toned "Swimmers by a Lake," to the startlingly figurative, like "Gin," a rendering of a dog reclining in front of a gloriously red background. Don't miss Debra Salopek's latest, "Departings," a two-panel oil evoking smoke and flames staining the sky during a New Mexico forest fire. Salopek, another regular, is included in a gallery mix in the lobby.

The Gallery at 6th and 6th, 439 N. Sixth Ave., 903-0650; sixthandsixth.com. Ralph Iwamoto: Fifty Years of Abstraction summarizes a lifetime of work by this New York modernist. Influenced also by his Japanese heritage, Iwamoto, now 80, segued from paintings filled with Asian-influenced shapes to minimalist geometries to jazzy kaleidoscopes. (See "Minimalism and Modernists," Jan. 17.)

dada contemporary art, 439 N. Sixth Ave., 275-9952. Reception 5 to 9 p.m. This new lower-case gallery, in an interior corridor behind 6th and 6th and Platform, offers up Marie Bower: Wig as its first show. Davison Koenig, whose day job is curating traditional Native American arts at the Arizona State Museum, has opened the space to showcase his other interest, "engaging contemporary art." He promises live music and food on opening night.

Santa Theresa Tile Works, 440 N. Sixth Ave., 623-1856; santatheresatileworks.com. Susan Gamble, an award-winning public artist, exhibits her functional and art tiles in a rainbow of colors. The showroom also displays handmade tiles by a variety of other artists.

Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery and Studio, 222 E. Sixth St., 881-5335; raicestaller222.org. Reception 7 to 9 p.m. On the other side of Sixth Avenue, this lively gallery dedicated to Latino/a arts has a new home inside the building occupied by the Santa Theresa studios and landscape architects Wheat Scharf Associates. A streetside doorway brings visitors to the interior space. Mardi Gras is Tuesday, Feb. 5, and the new show, Carnival, presages the raucousness of the pre-Lenten blowout.


FOURTH AVENUE

Conrad Wilde Gallery, 210 N. Fourth Ave., 622-8997; conradwildegallery.com. Now that The Drawing Studio has decamped downtown, Wilde braves the art wilds of lower Fourth, not to mention the inconvenience of Fourth Avenue construction, all by itself. (The gallery does have a congenial new neighbor in the Book Stop, late of Campbell Avenue.) Painter Lucinda Young, formerly of Tucson, now of Santa Fe, N.M., opens the solo show K(nots) of Desire. A longtime encaustic artist, Young this time around investigates what gallery director Miles Conrad calls "the imagery of knots as a metaphor for both connection and constraint."


DOWNTOWN

Dinnerware Artspace, 264 E. Congress St., 792-4503; dinnerwarearts.com. Vision Fields, a video installation by Mary Magsamen and Stephan Hillerbrand, is in its last week of a five-week run. According to an artist statement, the pair deconstructs images to examine "perceptions of childhood, memory and parenting." Gina Cestaro, a newish MFA from the UA, shows her "Ocean Triptych."

The Drawing Studio Gallery, 33 S. Sixth Ave., 620-0947; thedrawingstudio.org. Newly transplanted into the old Johnny Gibson store, at the corner of Congress Street and Sixth Avenue, The Drawing Studio is helping to consolidate what some are optimistically calling an arts renaissance downtown. Tonight, it opens Identity/Desire: Works by the Arizona Print Group.

Griffonage Studios, 270 E. Congress St., 623-3323; griffonagestudios.com. Another new downtown gallery, Griffonage is exhibiting digital photographs by Tucson artist Joe Labate. Dividing his time between teaching and art-making, Labate heads the photog program at the UA College of Fine Arts.

MOCA on the Plaza, 149 N. Stone Ave., 624-5019; moca-tucson.org. Reception for members only, 4 to 5 p.m.; public reception, 5 to 6 p.m. Trying on yet another venue for size, the Museum of Contemporary Art opens the francophone Arid Zones/Zones Arides. Eight French and Swiss artists, including Olivier Mosset, have installed site-specific work. Swiss painter Mosset, who lives in Tucson, is the local connection. He represented Switzerland in the 1994 Swiss Biennale and is slated to show in the 2008 Whitney Biennial in New York this spring.

Hotel Congress Lobby Gallery, 311 E. Congress St., 622-8848, hotelcongress.com; open 24 hours. The opening reception was last weekend, but since you're downtown anyway, go see Daniel Martin Diaz's Mysterium Fidei. Tucsonan Diaz's paintings inject an edgy modern mentality into visceral Hispanic religious imagery. The show is a companion to Diaz's new book of the same name.

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