Art Cruisin’

Six galleries launch an extravaganza of art on a summer night

Tucson at Contreras Gallery

Imagine a hot summer night in Tucson and a quartet of skeletons hungry for chili dogs. Where would they go? Pat's Drive-In, of course, on the west side of town.

Neda Contreras sets the scene in the 1950s. In her oil on canvas, Pat's looms large in all of its red-and-white retro splendor, under a sunset fast fading to a deep blue twilight. The teenage skeletons' old car idles across the street. A boney boy waits at the wheel, eyeing the two girls enjoying the evening air, their poodle skirts hanging on their skeletal forms. A cool cat in a black leather jacket zipped up to his skull arrives carside, bearing the bags of dogs.

Welcome to Tucson at Contreras Gallery, a group show of 10 artists celebrating the people, culture and architecture of the Old Pueblo. Native Tucsonan Contreras, a fan of old cars, specializes in painting Días de los Muertos calaveras going about their business in and near Tucson landmarks. (A few years back her painted skeletal joy ride near Picacho Peak was a big hit.)

Elsewhere in Tucson, her fellow artists have their own views of the city. Oil painter Lisa Kanouse tackles scenes of downtown, in and around Congress Street, ratcheted up into the neon yellow and orange of night. Watercolorist Armando Montaño does realistic views of downtown architecture, while Jeremy Singer goes for the dramatic landscape of the Tucson basin.

The show opens this Saturday night at Contreras (110 E. Sixth St., 398-6557, The reception, from 6 to 9 p.m., is just one of six openings that evening, all part of the Summer Art Cruise that kicks off Tucson's slow summer art season. (Note: Philabaum Glass Gallery's opening is in the late afternoon, from 4 to 6 p.m.) Organized by the Central Tucson Gallery Association, the Cruise is always a fun event, with art lovers walking the cool (well, cool-ish) evening streets in search of art and refreshment.

ART [cubed] at Baker + Hesseldenz Fine Art

Next door to Contreras, at Baker + Hesseldenz Fine Art (100 E. 6th St.) is a cube of raw red meat, hacked by a cleaver. Called "Carnivore," it's actually mixed-media art by Victor Grasso of New Jersey, a painted wooden cube, 6 ½ inches on a side. Like the rest of the 30 artists in the group show ART [cubed], Grasso got a wooden block in the mail from the gallery with instructions to do with it what he will. He chose to paint it in the spitting image of meat. Another artist, Yosuke Ueno of Japan, covered his cube with wood chips he collected from a forest, added a plastic doll's face and painted the whole thing white. The wild works that resulted from the cube experiment all fit in, says co-director Mary Ann Hesseldenz, with the gallery's mission to show "pop-surrealist, lowbrow art." (760-0037; Reception 6 to 9 p.m.)

Flesh Anew at Conrad Wilde Gallery

Flesh is also on view in Flesh Anew at Conrad Wilde Gallery, a few blocks west at the Steinfeld Warehouse (101 W. Sixth St. #121). Curated by intern Ryan Napier, a newly minted MFA from the UA, this group show focuses on anatomical abstraction, with the nine artists distorting the human body's shapes and colors. Napier turned heads at the recent MFA show at the UA Museum of Art with his large-scale abstractions of his own cells and membranes; he contributed a painting from that series to Flesh Anew. Another highlight is "Interiority: Work in Progress" by gallery proprietor Miles Conrad. Using encaustic paints and nylon fibers, Conrad created a room-sized installation whose twisting red ropes, he explains, suggest "neural networks and a latticework of connective tissue." Enter the gallery on Ninth Ave. (622-8997, Reception 6 to 9 p.m.)

Mujeres, Mujeres, Mujeres at Raices Taller 222 Gallery

Back over in the Sixth and Sixth arts district, Raices Taller 222 Gallery (218 E. Sixth St.) presents the 12th annual Mujeres, Mujeres, Mujeres exhibition, bursting with works by women in every possible medium, from paint to glass to metal to torn magazines. There's no kitchen sink among the close-to-100 works, but there is a kitchen chair. In an elaborate process, artist Sarah Massey first illustrated a book, photocopied it, cut up the copy and then covered the chair with the cut-up bits, says the gallery’s Monica Zavala Durazo. Pauline Pedregon made a floor-length dress out of papier-mâché on a foam mannequin; the ruffly skirt is a cascade of crinkled-up sewing patterns from the 1950s and '60s.. (881-5335. Reception 6 to 9 p.m. )

Small Works at Davis Dominguez Gallery

The nearby Davis Dominguez Gallery (154 E. Sixth St.) continues with Small Things Considered—24th Small Works Invitational. (See full review in the May 19 issue of TW online). The 83 artists made paintings 12 inches square or less, and sculptures 18 inches tall or less, with a few exceptions. Among the many little gems in the show is Judith Stewarts gorgeous bronze "Small Venus II," a tiny female figure; battered, headless and armless, it looks like an ancient archaeological artifact. The wonderful nature painter Ben Johnson, who uses old-fashioned oils to conjure stark desert spaces and birds, paints the binoculars that help him find his subjects. (629-9759; Reception 6 to 8 p.m.)

Philabaum & Phriends at Philabaum Glass Gallery

Way down yonder in Five Points, just south of downtown, Philabaum Glass Gallery (711 S. Sixth Ave.) is staging Philabaum & Phriends, its annual summer show. The friends are Wes Hunting of Wisconsin, who collaborated with Tucson's own Tom Philabaum on glass pieces mixed with metal, and Jason Marstall, a local glass artist and teacher. Both guest artists will be showing blown glass. Philabaum himself will exhibit works in a variety of styles, including his lovely fused-glass collage paintings and blown-glass wallflowers. (884-7404, Reception 4 to 6 p.m.)

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