Local Artists Are Building Not Only A Community, But A Following.
By Margaret Regan
WHEN THE COMMISSION for a new Phantom mural at Sixth and Pennington came up for grabs, local painter Katie Cooper applied.
Her mural proposal made it all the way to the finals, but she was a little daunted when she learned who her competition was. "The whole Thursday Artists Group applied together for the mural," Cooper remembers. "They got it. I was mildly bent out of shape. Then a week later, they called me and said, 'Would you like to paint it with us?' "
Touched by their generosity, Cooper got out her brushes. And she signed on to become a full-fledged member of the Thursday Artists Group, or TAG as it's known for short. That was four years ago, and Cooper has never been sorry. "It gives me community, for one thing," she says. "When you leave school you don't have that community...It gives me exposure to a lot of other kinds of work."
Right now, TAG has a group show in the Arizona Gallery of the UA's Student Union that proves Cooper's point. Appropriately called Multiple Personalities, the 20-piece exhibition encompasses paintings, drawings, prints, photography and media mixes of all sorts. Cooper, for instance, is showing a large abstract painting called "Geometry," an oil flashe and acrylic on canvas. Its bold primary colors animate a rectangle, square and triangle, but Cooper has posed these hard-edged shapes against a blue square that's dissolving into softer, more organic space.
By contrast, Rhod Lauffer, a founding TAG member and its leader by default, displays a delicate graphite drawing. "Planet Augmentation and Transplant" is a fantastical landscape whose cliffs, canyons and rocky outcroppings suggest human body parts--a finger held erect, a thumb.
That kind of diversity, says George E. Huffman, who lends his Raw Gallery space to the group for their weekly Thursday lunch meetings, is one of TAG's greatest strengths. "We network, we fill each other in on shows, and when we have a technical question, someone always knows the answer, because we have people working in everything form woodwork to photography."
The loose coalition, now numbering about 20 artists, has gone through a number of permutations. Lauffer, an exhibits preparator at the Arizona State Museum, started meeting in the late '80s with his former high-school art teacher, the late Don Reese. Paul Mirocha, a local illustrator, and Richard E. Schaffer soon started dropping by at lunchtime for what Lauffer calls the "growl and gripe" sessions. "We'd talk about art, how we fit in and don't fit in, and we did show-and-tell critiques. It was informal for years."
In November of '96, the gripers and growlers, still jokingly known as the Friends of Rhod Lauffer, decided to make TAG more structured. The meetings, which had once meandered weekly from studio to studio, alighted at Raw, and the members decided to make themselves known to the public. TAG started showing as a group, winning large shows at the Tucson Pima Arts Council gallery, at the airport and at the university, while putting up regular miniature exhibitions in Raw's front windows. And through negotiations between Schaffer and Judith D'Agostino, education director at the Tucson Museum of Art, TAG became artists-in-residence at the TMA printmaking studio. The artists get free access to the museum's expensive equipment in exchange for leading printmaking workshops for museum students.
Occasionally, when the TMA acquisitions committee approves, the museum acquires TAG members' work for its permanent collection. "I feel real comfortable working with them," says D'Agostino. "It's a win-win situation." And not a few of the TAG artists, painter Cooper included, have tried out monoprinting as a result of the TMA residency, making the medium a kind of group trademark. "We work on printmaking together, which I wouldn't do otherwise," says Cooper.
Mirocha, known for his fine pencil drawings, agrees. "I've done a whole series of monoprints completely unrecognizable as my work. They're really loose and free." Lauffer will be showing a collection of monoprint eggs in a two-person show with TAG member Lynn O'Brien next month at Raw Gallery; and Schaffer now has some 30 on view at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. TAG members Huffman, Joe Forkan and Michael Longstaff are in a three-person show now at Raw, exhibiting mixed-media prints and paintings.
Much as they prize the professional advancement the group has triggered, TAGgers relish even more the antidote TAG provides to the loneliness of the long-working artist. "I'm a freelance illustrator," says Mirocha. "I work on my own, and it's pretty isolating. It's really important to me to have that community of artists to talk to. I feel pretty lucky."
Multiple Personalities: The Thursday Artists Group continues through Monday, April 5, at the Arizona Gallery, on the second floor of the UA Memorial Student Union. Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. For more information, call 621-6142.
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