Bright Works

Grogan Gallery carries on in Tucson after Liz Hernández's move to Scottsdale

Liz Hernández has decamped to Scottsdale, taking her art gallery with her.

But this isn't another story about another Tucson gallery failing. Hernández, who ran a contemporary art gallery in Tucson's tourist country, up in the northeast foothills, has set up shop along Gallery Row in Scottsdale, calling the business Hernández Contemporary Fine Art.

And a couple of young art newcomers are running a new gallery, the Grogan Gallery of Fine Art, in Hernández's old space on North Kolb Road, just south of Sunrise Drive.

"We opened June 1," says gallery director Phil Eisenhauer. "We had a 'soft' opening before it got busy. But we actually had some good months in the summer."

Working with his fiancée, Mary Beth Honaker, Eisenhauer says he intends to adhere partly to Hernández's program. A longtime hand on the Tucson art scene, Hernández believed there was a market for cutting-edge serious art, even in a part of town where galleries normally cater to Southwestern cliché.

The current show, Progression: The Five Artists Show, carries on the Hernández tradition, exhibiting five Tucson artists who showed regularly with her. All five fall into the contemporary category, more or less, with a tendency toward abstraction and new materials.

The wonderful painter Jeff Jonczyk, for instance, paints graffiti-like geometries and scribbles in acrylic on birch boxmount, a thick surface about 2 1/2 inches deep. "Festival" is a joyous jumble of unruly checkerboard squares in crayon-bright colors, and Jonczyk has combed through his thick paints to carve gutters and gullies in the surface.

Painter Michael Longstaff incorporates bits of gauze into his thick oils, giving them an alluring texture. Filled with soft-edge bands of color in brown earth and orange tones, abstract painting like "the unmistakable music of seams" suggests the big open landscapes of the West.

Steven Derks, best known for his found-object sculpture, lately has been making paintings out of enamel on shiny aluminum. The brilliant colors, flowing into planetary-looking orbs, pool onto the nonporous metal, the contrast making the yellows and oranges even brighter. The Five Artists Show exhibits dozens of these gleaming works, from the gigantic, 9-foot-long "With Rivets," to the 45 "Square Tiles" just 12 inches on a side.

Less interestingly, painter Don West composes large-scale paintings out of smaller canvases, pieced together like parts of a puzzle. Sculptor Merlin Cohen is more of a classical modernist. He uses fine materials like marble and alabaster, and carves them into sleek curves that sit on pedestals. His "Galliard" is a smooth, seamless work in white Colorado marble; its two arches, says Eisenhauer, are meant to evoke the final steps in a French folk dance.

But the new gallery operators will deviate to a certain extent from Hernández's vision, keeping their focus on cheerful work.

Honaker, who says she's the gallery's art consultant, notes that a common denominator in the current show is "bright colors. A lot of artists like morbid. I don't like that. I like bright, emotionally and spiritually uplifting work."

Eisenhauer concurs. "Art is a communication with those elements. For artists, their growth comes through art."

The gallery is a first-time venture for both, but the pair say they both grew up in arty families. The daughter of a mother who taught art and art history, Honaker briefly studied jewelry and metal design at Arizona State University, and for three years studied set and costume design at the College of Marin.

Eisenhauer's brother Joe is a sculptor, and he says he's long taken a deep interest in art. Whenever he travels, he says, he visits art museums and galleries. His most recent gig was as the operations manager at the Sierra Fitness gym that adjoins the gallery. The gym's owners, George and Susanne Grogan, also own the gallery business, and hired Eisenhauer to run it.

Eisenhauer and Honaker say they're delighted to be part of the burgeoning Tucson art scene, and though they're aware of the mortality rate for new galleries, they have the optimism that comes with a new venture.

"We're coming into this fresh," Eisenhauer says. "We're seeing things that have been overlooked."

They're hoping to form relationships with other galleries, particularly with the foothills galleries at El Cortijo, at Sunrise and Campbell Avenue. He'd like to follow the model of the Central Tucson Galleries Association, which has helped develop an audience and buzz with its joint openings three times a year.

"Downtown has done a fantastic job," Eisenhauer says. "Naturally, I have high hopes for the gallery. Tucson is an evolving, changing place. What didn't work two years ago might work now. We're very lucky that Liz established this location."

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