Get 'The Big Picture'

Central Tucson galleries celebrate the arrival of fall by opening their doors on Saturday night

Philip Melton's fine little watercolors are like postcards from the West, quick and lovely sketches that capture big skies above and saguaros below.

His Arizona views are in an exhibition at Davis Dominguez Gallery that dissects wildly differing approaches to painting the landscape. Take Five—Interpretations of the Landscape has its reception this Saturday night, Oct. 6. It's one of nearly a dozen The Big Picture art parties in and around downtown. The free receptions kick off the season for the Central Tucson Gallery Association.

Melton has painted Saguaro National Park two or three times over, turninag the beloved local treasure into beautiful cascades of colored washes and tints stretching out into infinity. In the tiny "Saguaro National Park South," the sky has taken over, its ultramarine wash flowing over the top of the paper. The rusty brown mountains roll low along the horizon; below, the sandy wash is in a delicate pink. The little lime-green saguaros are smaller than the nib of a pen. The mountains in the even lovelier "Saguaro National Park Southeast 2" reach their spiky peaks far up into the sky.

Melton tries out another old-fashioned technique—ink-and-wash—in handsome drawings of El Morro, N.M. Closer to home, he pictures the hilly country around Arivaca in pastels, colors that are a touch cartoonish. He does better in his pastel of "Willcox," a long view of the grasslands in ochre and green.

Melton's miniature Western landscapes are so delicate that it takes a moment to adjust your eyes to the robust oils of Duncan Martin. Martin is as in love with the West as Melton is, but where Melton uses tiny brushes and liquid washes to capture its charms, Martin mimics its wildness by slashing on thick layers of paint with fat brushes and palette knives. His untamed "Evening on the Chama" evokes the turbulence of that New Mexico river canyon. The stream churns violet as it bends around a green isthmus; the cliffs glow bright orange-yellow in the last light.

Charlotte Bender's acrylics turn the landscape another 180 degrees. She paints the Sonoran Desert and the Catalinas as a kaleidoscope of fantastical colors and shapes. You can still see the real desert in her diptych "Red Agave," for example, but the whirling plants veer toward abstraction, more joyous tilt-a-whirls than sedate realism.

Diane Meyer is another gifted watercolorist, but her subjects here edge toward trite. In "Scape of Anticipation," two dogs frolic in the snow with red bows around their necks; they look like refugees from a Christmas card. Thomas Chapin's oils on canvas are expertly composed, but they're muted, as though no sunlight had really touched the hills in his "Tuscany" or the foliage in his "Elfin Forest." Davis Dominguez Gallery is at 154 E. Sixth St.; 629-9759. Reception is 6 to 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6.

Around the corner at Conrad Wilde, in Strange Botany, John Randall Nelson, another landscape painter, has filled the storefront window with a wonderfully simplified tree. The blue-leafed branches of "Drip Elderberry" break through a field of creamy encaustics. More of his luscious encaustics are inside: "Ordinary Morning" pictures a berry plant, and the canvas' seashore colors—weathered gray, light turquoise—spill out onto the frame.

Continuing the plant theme, Mary Meyer has stitched up five delicate little "Mirror Trees" in brown thread, and stuck her needles upright into each of the tree trunks.

Occupying the place of honor is Barbara Rogers' large-scale "Microclimate," an oil and encaustic on panel whose royal-blue plant pods seem ready to burst open onto the golden backdrop. Rogers also opens a 50-year retrospective this weekend at the Tucson Museum of Art. Conrad Wilde is at 439 N. Sixth Ave., No. 171; 622-8997. Reception is 6 to 9 p.m.

At Contreras Gallery, Bestiaro/Bestiary continues the biology motif, though the show is more zoology than botany. Husband-and-wife artists Martín Quintanilla and Marcy Miranda Janes are exhibiting 50 pieces, both solo and collaborative, on animals real and imaginary. Janes' papel picado "Tumamoc" has naked humans climbing the steep hill surrounded by desert creatures. Quintanilla's painting of a green praying mantis is framed by Janes' white, lacey cutouts of fellow mantises and other bugs. Contreras Gallery is at 110 E. Sixth St.; 398-6557. Reception is 6 to 10 p.m.

Skeletons and parts thereof fill the ceramic Day of the Dead tiles at Santa Theresa Tile Works. Among the offerings: skulls, ribs and even animal bones; 440 N. Sixth Ave.; 623-8640. Reception is 6 to 8 p.m.

On the north side of the Santa Theresa building (look for the Wheat Scharf sign overhead), Raices Taller hosts a closing celebration for its annual Raices and Friends exhibition. Among the 50 artworks, Donna Stoner's sculptural "Paper Dolly, Boxer and Balla" has two dogs—more animals!—parading along with a fashionable 1-percenter. All three of the figures are made of recycled trash. Tip: Raices features live music and the best food on the art tour; 218 E. Sixth St.; 881-5335. Reception is 6 to 9 p.m.

Downtown, on the other side of the tracks, ATLAS Fine Arts Services breaks the biological pattern, favoring abstraction over figuration. The Origin of Vision, Volume 1: Drawing showcases abstract drawings by three Arizona artists—Karine Falleni, Jerry Jacobson and Andrew Polk—who make their marks on paper with graphite, aka pencil. They'll sometimes add in sumi ink or acrylic paint; 41 S. Sixth Ave.; 622-2139. Reception is 6 to 10 p.m.

Next door, The Drawing Studio reprises Flight: Midcentury Masters Interpret the Escape for Survival. This show of prints about persecution, made by such big names as Chagall, Lipchitz and Motherwell, ran at the Tucson Jewish Community Center last fall. (See "Wartime Terror," Nov. 17, 2011.) The Drawing Studio faculty present Sanctuary, a companion show of their own work on similar subjects; 33 S. Sixth Ave.; 620-0947. Reception is 6 to 9 p.m.

Farther south on Sixth, Philabaum Glass Studio and Gallery continues its yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of American glass art. Glass Pioneers exhibits work by two artists: the wavy glass bowls of Micheal Nourot, an early student of master glass artist Dale Chihuly; and copper wall works enameled with glass by Cynthia Miller. Meet Miller at the reception as well as artist Nick Nourot, who is following in his father's footsteps; 711 S. Sixth Ave,; 884-7404. Reception is 5 to 8 p.m.

Back up on Congress Street, Sacred Machine Museum and Curiosity Shop is double-dipping, participating in The Big Picture and our very own Club Crawl®. Twenty-seven artists, including gallery owner Daniel Martin Diaz, are showing in Sacred Machine's Santa Muerte Music and Arts Festival. All of them mine the skeletal imagery of the Mexican religious cult of Santa Muerte—Saint Death. On the music side, d[foRm] and Blind Divine play; 245 E. Congress St., No. 123; 777-7403. Reception begins at 4 p.m.

Nearby, in the Historic Train Depot, Obsidian Gallery celebrates the figurative ceramics of Jill Marleah Bell, a Brooklyn artist, and Barbara Reinhart, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha; 410 N. Toole Ave., No. 130; 577-3598. Reception is 6 to 9 p.m.

Desert Initiative: Looking Across the Border is definitely worth the trip west to Pima Community College. Three photographers at the top of their form—David Taylor, Alejandro Cartagena and Paul Turounet—show harrowing works about the migrant journey. (See "The Border Journey, Sept. 6.) Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery is at the Pima Center for the Arts, 2202 W. Anklam Road; 206-6942. Reception is 5 to 8 p.m.

CTGA member Joseph Gross Gallery is closed for The Big Picture. If you go during the week—9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday—you'll find the gallery filled with little boxes. The paper houses are part of Subdivision #3, Cheryl Molnar's installation about suburbia and sprawl. It's on display through Jan. 9. Joseph Gross is at the UA arts complex, 1031 N. Olive Road; 626-4215.