Off the Beaten Path

Two newish galleries seem to be finding success in a midtown neighborhood not known for the arts

Just east of Dent-Busters, at Tucson Boulevard and Fort Lowell Road, Steven Derks' steel sculptures rise up in the parking lot of the old TLC secondhand furniture shop. A more unlikely location for the new Tangerine Gallery is hard to imagine.

Likewise, a mile or two southeast on Grant Road--west of Dodge Boulevard and east of Tork's Café--the glass-and-wood façade of ArtsEye Gallery soars up in the midst of dowdy shopping centers.

Tangerine, which opened last October, specializes in local contemporary art as well as handmade copperware from Mexico. ArtsEye, newer at just four months old, showcases the work of Tucson photographers. The big question is: How have they come to occupy this uncool section of midtown (my hood!), so far from the warehouse/downtown art scene?

"It was a very impetuous decision," Tangerine owner Susan Warren cheerfully acknowledges. "I live at River and Swan (roads), and I saw the for-rent sign. I wasn't even planning on a gallery then, but I fell in love with the space. I felt this is where I'm supposed to be. Usually, I'm much more methodical."

ArtsEye's location is less serendipitous. Mary Findysz opened the gallery in the lobby of Photographic Works, a fine-art lab that she's run for some 20 years. The business is home to a new-tech "DaVinci" printer that has recently been churning out archival inkjet prints in giant size for some of Tucson's best photogs (see "A Perfect Storm," July 26). And the Photographic Works technicians also reproduce oils and watercolors in full-color "giclée" prints on paper and canvas.

Findysz says she has several hundred regular art clients.

"We deal with so many talented artists," she says. "And we were in the process of remodeling the lobby. It has wonderful wall space, and we thought: Why not showcase our artists?"

Findysz so far has mounted just two exhibitions. The first was giclées on canvas of the punked-up Southwest oil paintings Sam Esmoer. The second, up through Nov. 9, exhibits haunting "skiagraphs"--X-ray images--of plants, by retired radiologist André Bruwer, age 88.

With a name deriving from the Greek for "shadow drawing," Bruwer's skiagraphs feature delicate images of flowers and stems and grasses floating on pure white. And like the limbs and breasts Bruwer used to X-ray--his bio claims he was one of the first doctors to perform mammograms--his plants are revealed in multiple images. Both the interior and exterior are visible.

In "Icelandic Poppies," for instance, the inside and the outside of the petals appear all at once, arranged one over the other in papery layers. The veins of a half-dozen "Gingko Leaves," piled artfully atop one another, translate into an elegant crosshatched abstraction. Bruwer puts the plants from his garden--and, in one case, a tiny seahorse--on his home X-ray machine, Findysz says, taking care to create rhythmic compositions. Grasses unfurl like reeds shaking in the wind. The "Seahorse" reposes in a graceful S-curve.

Findysz' gallery strategy so far is panning out.

"I've gotten so many positive comments on this work," she says. "People have been coming in. It's actually fun."

Likewise, Warren says so many people drive by on Fort Lowell that she gets plenty of drop-in traffic at Tangerine, much of it attracted by Derks' found-metal sculptures out front. Warren also has another business that helps keep her gallery afloat. She's wholesaled handmade copperwork from Michoacán to galleries and museums around the United States, and the gleaming pots and vases are now prominently displayed in her own place.

"I started six years ago," she says. "I used to do metalwork with Betty and Joe Harris (two prominent Tucson metal artists), and they used to talk about a village in Mexico where people do handmade metal."

Warren took a leave from her job as an ESL teacher at Amphi High. She moved to Mexico for a year, so her daughter, now a teenager, could learn Spanish. The pair lived in a couple of locations in Guanajuato, but Warren sought out Santa Clara del Cobre, a small village in nearby Michoacán where the indigenous Purepécha people still practice the old craft.

Families in Santa Clara make the old shapes out of a contemporary material, using old-fashioned bellows for power.

"They melt it down," she says, "then hammer it on the inside, using stakes, then hammer it on the outside." Once they've got a hollow sphere or oval, they cover the pieces with tar, and trace out intricate drawings in the soft material with a nail. Then they're set in an acid bath until the designs are etched into the metal. Finally, they're electroplated with silver.

"It's unbelievably labor-intensive," says Warren. "An artist does one piece at a time. It takes maybe 10 hours for a medium-size vase, but about a month for the more elaborate work"--like the multi-headed pot now on view, by 80-year-old Jesús Perez Ornelas.

Warren works with about 10 families and imports their work through Agua Prieta/Douglas before distributing it. She's set up her warehouse and shipping operation in the back of the new space. Out front, there's not a trace of the bric-a-brac that used to crowd the old TLC shop. Crisp concrete floors and sleek shelving show off the copperware, which is on permanent exhibition.

The current temporary show displays Mexican serape, but the gallery is given over to plenty of local contemporary art. One whole wall, for instance, is studded with lovely abstract paintings by Steven Derks, in brilliantly colored enamel on small squares of aluminum.

In mid-September, Tangerine will open a group show of five artists new to the gallery--painters Cristina Cárdenas and Deezie Manning-Catron, photographer Michael Giscombe, glass artist Paul Anders-Stout and Phoenix sculptor Richard Rozinski. Cárdenas, a talented local painter originally from Mexico, will get a solo show in November.

And Warner has big plans for the outside, too.

"We're developing a whole sculpture garden," she says, pointing to a back parking lot that, at the particular moment when I was there, was on the receiving end of a monsoon deluge. The rain was pounding without mishap on some of Derks' outdoor sculptures. They'll be joined soon by marble pieces by Ed Davenport, the sculptor/musician of Titan Valley Warheads fame.

"It's going very well," Warner says. "This seems like a good location."