Art Safari

A field guide to artists and galleries of the Warehouse District

Central Tucson, in the vicinity of Sixth Street and Fourth Avenue, is a habitat rich in art galleries. Consisting of old storefronts and railroad-era warehouses particularly suited to the display of art, the neighborhood yields up diverse species in the genus art, including both artists and gallerists. Though sometimes considered endangered, the members of these species have thrived and multiplied in the congenial environs of this district.

Its artists consist of painters, sculptors, ceramists, installation makers and even old-fashioned draftsmen. Armed with an appropriate field guide, here the diligent art hunter can find everything from classical abstractions to funky 21st-century pop art to brightly colored ceramic tiles. Right now, among the most interesting artists on display are Murray Dessner of Philadelphia, a 60-something painter whose serene, light-filled abstractions are at Davis Dominguez, and his opposite number, Serena Tang, a 20-something Tucsonan whose kicky still lifes of food spice up Platform.

This Saturday night, the neighborhood art hunt will be enormously simplified. Some seven galleries of the Central Tucson Gallery Association--and an eighth gallery, Santa Theresa, not belonging to this particular flock--open their doors for the Art Safari Gallery Tour. The strictly non-lethal art safari (hunting weapons are strictly forbidden) serves as a kickoff to the late-winter art season.

Two galleries have become extinct since the fall season opener. Metroform Limited, a fine photography gallery on Sixth Street, closed permanently in January. Metroform was on the endangered list before succumbing; just last July, it almost shut its doors, but owner Scott Baker and landlord Mark Berman crafted a financial agreement that brought it back to life, temporarily as it turns out. Baker intends to continue a virtual dealership on the Internet. Studio 180, a newer gallery downtown, on Broadway Boulevard, that specialized in contemporary painting, has also disappeared.

Nevertheless, says Mike Dominguez, co-owner of Davis Dominguez Gallery, "The Central Tucson Gallery Association is alive and well."

3Falk Gallery, formerly on Sixth Avenue downtown, has joined a gallery cluster on lower Fourth Avenue. Re-opening at 220 N. Fourth Ave., 3Falk is now sandwiched in between The Drawing Studio and Arroyo Design. But Dinnerware, now a part of the herd at 210 N. Fourth Ave., intends to migrate for the second time in two years to a new location.

"There's nothing definite yet, but we hope to get a larger space," says Dinnerware executive director Blake Shell. The hope is either to buy a warehouse space, or rent one cheaply, and convert it into artists' studios as well as a gallery. If all goes according to plan, the studios would create an income stream. "I want to make sure we're fine (financially) for the next 15 or 20 years," Shell adds. For now, the gallery remains in its storefront at 210 N. Fourth Ave.

Here's a checklist of galleries and artists on the Art Safari. First up are the galleries in the vicinity of Sixth Street and Sixth Ave.; next are those on lower Fourth Avenue, near the downtown underpass.

Davis Dominguez, 154 E. Sixth St., 629-9759. Open Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; reception, 6-8 p.m. Dessner, mentioned above, teaches painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His large acrylics on canvas have luminous bands of color arranged horizontally. "Contemplating Red," 2004, veers from lavender to yellow to maroon to orange, the soft-edged blocks of color suggesting the landscape, or even the architectural layerings, of a city. But Dessner says that the paintings don't so much give a literal interpretation of the landscape as they conjure up the essence of nature. Also in the show is Tucson artist Albert Kogel, who heads the art department at Cochise College. Kogel carves and paints flat pieces of wood, creating works that look like a cross between paintings and woodblock prints.

Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery, 222 E. Sixth St., 792-9619. Open Sat. 1-5 p.m., reception 6-9 p.m. E. Michael Contreras exhibits some 15 intricate pen-and-ink drawings, some celebrating icons of Mexican-American culture such as La Llorona, the mythological weeping woman who drowned her children. Most of these skillful drawings have a fairy-tale quality, filled as they are with giant birds and ballerinas dancing outdoors under star-spangled skies. Contreras attacks the old-fashioned technique with gusto, variously using drypoint and a loaded brush to crosshatch and speckle, and wash his skies a velvety black. Painter Jeff Litvak shares the gallery, turning out deliberately primitive oils on canvas, all of them picturing oceans, lakes and boats that seem to serve as metaphors for psychological states.

Platform Gallery, 439 N. Sixth Ave., 189B, 882-3886. Open Sat. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; reception 6-9 p.m. The three-woman show Brass Tacks showcases "three young artists that I think are advanced," says gallery manager Phoebe McDermott. Tang simplifies her pictures of food, mixing up bright colors and plenty of black outlines. Her dishes have an emotional ingredient, too: they're inspired by her Chinese family's "hot pot" Thanksgiving dinners. Aili Schmeltz makes soft sculptures and drawings that evoke the 1970s tract home where she grew up. Meghan Berschback makes prints combining linocuts with monoprints, backing up figurative images with abstract backgrounds in jewel-like colors.

Fala Gallery, 439 N. Sixth Ave., 189A, 628-4183. Open Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; reception 6-9 p.m. Direct From Nature features the encaustic paintings of Miles Conrad and mixed-media work by gallery owner Lauren Gregersen.

Santa Theresa Tile Works, 439 N. Sixth Ave., 623-8640. Reception 7-9 p.m. Ceramic artist Susan Gamble, noted for public works around Tucson and the nation, is the star of this tile gallery, but it also offers up pieces by artisans in her workshop, along with handmade work from far-flung Mexico and Morocco.

Dinnerware Contemporary Art Gallery, 210 N. Fourth Ave., 792-4503. Open Sat. noon-5 p.m.; reception 7-10 p.m. Hilary Meehan makes her Tucson debut with a multimedia installation that fills the entire gallery. For That Alchemical Taste in My Mouth: Facts, Reactions and Tools, Meehan draws right on the walls, wires sculptures with electricity, lights up others in neon and generally breaks down old-fashioned art boundaries.

3Falk Gallery, 220 N. Fourth Ave., 628-9601. Open Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; reception 6-10 p.m. The Sequoia Brotherhood features new encaustic paintings by Mauricio Toussaint.

The Drawing Studio Gallery, 214 N. Fourth Ave., 322-9619. Open Sat. noon-5 p.m.; reception 6-9 p.m. Brushmind: Asian Abstractions showcases work by Yoshi Nakano in calligraphy, painting and collage.