B y M a r g a r e t R e g a n
FOR THE LAST three years Candace Davis and Mike Dominguez have pretty much let their summer shows take care of themselves. It's become an annual tradition for the pair, owners of the Davis Dominguez Gallery, to put together two summer exhibitions of small works by local artists. All they have to do is send out invitations and wait for the works to come in.
"We invited about 67 to 70 artists this year," Davis says. "We don't have to curate the show other than inviting them. The show curates itself."
Davis and Dominguez do divide up their haul, a mix of media typically dominated by paintings, and exhibit them in two phases. The first half of this year's show, Tucson Collection '95, is up now and will continue through July 22. The second half opens August 8 and runs through September 16.
What makes the shows so easy to put together, apart from the hard work of addressing all those invitations, is a strong coterie of local artists. So much so that the exhibit, perhaps unintentionally, ends up celebrating the strengths of the Tucson arts community. As Davis puts it, "There is a wealth of artists to choose from."
This year the second half has more big Tucson names, including painters James Davis, Jim Waid, Bailey Doogan and Bruce McGrew, sculptor Joy Fox and photographer Harold Jones. But the first half is no slouch either.
There's James Cook, for instance, a painter of thick, buttery works, who had the one-person Stonewell Exhibition at the Tucson Museum of Art a few years back. Here Cook, following the tinyness rules of the Davis Dominguez show, has abandoned his typical huge format and turned in a small, dramatic landscape. His painting, "Hammond," is rendered virtually abstract by his fierce brushstrokes and thick globs of paint in deep golds, rusts and blacks. DeAnn Melton continues in the classical mode she demonstrated in her big painting that won a spot in this year's Arizona Biennial at the TMA. Her mixed media "Saturn" is a pale peachy rendition of an angel with fruit basket. Melton's been known in the past for her florals and her portraits of Tucson artists. Her new subject matter is a bit out there, but I for one am intrigued to see just how far she intends to meander down this classical path.
Another Biennial alum, Daryl Childs, here shows "El Corazón," a screeching black monoprint, an open-mouthed figure in neo-"Scream" style. Nancy Tokar Miller, an esteemed local painter, is exhibiting "Study for Wat Phrathat #8," a washy ink and acrylic that works in the Asian vein. Frances Murray, the only photographer in the bunch, has made a small photo, "Crimson Urn," that's somehow stark at the same time that it glows richly red. Ben Goo, a sculptor noted for his sleek handling of natural materials, goes summer-lite here. His sly painted wood piece "Table and Ghosts" has the conventionally red-hot Southwest chile papers dipped in phantasmagoric white.
There are also works from a trio of Rancho Linda Vista delegates: an enamel on wood by Margo Burwell; an Irish landscape pastel by Pat Dolan, recently returned from an Irish sojourn; and a tile by Andrew Rush. The UA is represented by Moira Marti Geoffrion, an art prof who's made an eccentric mixed-media sculpture, and Josh Goldberg, a painter on staff at the UA Museum of Art. Darla Masterson, a Pima prof who's retiring, exhibits one of her eerie little black-and-white etchings under a cloth screen.
If the show has a few misses--Erica Swadley's pallid "Message from Titania," for instance--its overall quality still prompts the question: What are all these artists doing here in the Old Pueblo? As Davis says, they can't exactly make a living by selling their art to fellow Tucsonans.
"If you're going to support yourself," Davis notes, "you have to teach or sell in other galleries out of town."
So the short answer accounting for all these artists in a town that doesn't have much money to spend on art is that the major institutions, such as the UA, Pima College and the Tucson Museum of Art school, provide jobs for a good chunk of established artists at the same time that they help churn out new artists. (The TMA art school faculty members have a show of their own at the Temple Gallery continuing through July). And Rancho Linda Vista, the artists' colony in Oracle with strong links to Tucson, has provided a home and studio space for a relatively stable roster of artists for 26 years.
The long answer is more complex. Housing and studio space are cheaper in Tucson than in many other cities of its size. Artists can wait tables and still earn enough to rent a tiny studio of their own. And over the years they've joined together to create a better place for themselves. After getting unceremoniously pitched out of downtown during the disastrous "urban renewal" of the '60s and early '70s, Tucson artists helped jump-start a revitalization of the downtown in the 1980s. Cooperative projects from that era, such as Dinnerware and Central Arts, still miraculously survive. Right now, artists are finding new studio space in the empty warehouses once threatened by Aviation Highway and in the Lewis Hotel, renovated by the Tucson Arts Coalition into artists' studios and apartments.
If downtown is still not worthy of the fine name of Tucson Arts District, at least the artists' grassroots efforts are propelling it in that direction. That they've been able to work together suggests something else about Tucson artists.
"The arts community is one in which there's a lot of mutual support," Dominguez says. "There's none of this backstabbing going on. At our artists' party last year, some artists from Santa Fe said you'd never see that in Santa Fe, 60 artists in the same room."
And if all other explanations fail--cheap living, teaching jobs and getting by with a little help from your artist friends--there's always the fail-safe one.
In Tucson, says Dominguez, "there's beautiful light to paint to."
Tucson Collection '95--Part 1 continues through Saturday, July 22, at the Davis Dominguez Gallery, Casas Adobes Office Park, 6812 N. Oracle Road. Part 2 runs August 8 through September 16. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information call 297-1427.
Cutline: "Animal Talk Box," raku clay by Maurice Grossman, packs big art into a little package in Davis Dominguez Gallery's two-part summer small works invitational.
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