C'est Tucson

Ten local artists took over Contreras Gallery to reflect upon our little spot in the desert

Two Días de los Muertos skeletons are speeding past Picacho Peak on a red motorcycle.

La Llorona is wailing for her children on the banks of the Santa Cruz.

A bowler-hatted René Magritte has been transplanted to the Catalinas.

Welcome to Tucson, the art exhibition.

Ten local artists were recruited by Contreras Gallery to create works inspired by Schuk Shon, as the O'odham call the Old Pueblo.

"Summertime is dead," explains Michael Contreras, who co-owns the gallery with his wife, Neda Contreras. "You think of Tucson, of the heat. We wanted to make it easy for the artists. They came up with every kind of image about Tucson, cultural, architectural, anything."

Gary Aagaard, a gallery regular, painted the transposed Magritte, riffing on the famed surrealist's self-portrait "Le Fils de l'Homme (Son of Man). In that 1964 painting, Magritte painted himself as a dapper gentleman whose face happened to be hidden by a green apple. In Aagaard's amusing version, set in the rugged Catalinas under a blue desert sky, the gent's face is covered by a prickly pear pad. The wry title? "C'est Tucson."

Neda Contreras is the Días de los Muertos specialist. In addition to the joyriding calaveras on I-10 ("Flora at Picacho Peak"), she's created cheery (but skeletal) shoppers at a silversmith's and a raspado shop. Her charming oils, borrowing from the aesthetics of Mexican retablos, conjure up deserts of folkloric simplicity.

Michael Contreras is likewise inspired by Mexican folk art. His "La Llorona at the Santa Cruz River" pictures the mythical wailing woman of Southwest lore who haunts rivers and lakes weeping for her drowned children. An expertly drawn etching in black and white, his version has La Llorona walking near Tucson's dry river, in the shadow of A Mountain. (Contreras gives the peak its historical name: Black Mountain.) Hair flying in the wind and shawl billowing, the woman follows a mule bearing the corpse of a child.

The built city also gets plenty of attention. One of Tucson's most beloved historic neighborhoods is limned in Mary Theresa Dietz's lighthearted "The Hound of Armory Park." Old Mexican adobes, mixed with later pitched-roof bungalows, form the backdrop for the titular hound: a giant blue dog radiating a gold light standing guard in the middle of the street.

Photographer David Scott Moyer's striking "6th Street and Arizona Avenue" pictures a tune-up shop sharply rendered in diagonals and extreme perspective. Save for the crispness of its blacks and whites, this photo could be right out of the 1930s.

Painter Teri Pursch simplified the low buildings of a barrio streetscape, turning them in an untitled work into boxy geometries. Set at an angle, they're painted in surprisingly pixelated pastels. Tim Doyle zeroed in on an old gas station in "Garage Sale," an acrylic on canvas. Doyle's painted setting gives the humble structure the grandeur of a cathedral (well, almost). Flanked by stately Italian cypresses and symmetrical lampposts, it proudly occupies the painting's center, a monument to Tucson's infatuation with the automobile.

In this new era of the modern streetcar, Melo Dominguez may have captured the spirit of the city-to-be. Her "Downtown Tucson," an acrylic on canvas, has dancing buildings flanking a street so packed with wild cavorting figures—including monsters, maybe—that there is nary a car to be seen.


10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, through Aug. 30


Contreras Gallery, 110 E. Sixth St.



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