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Independent Art

Bill Mackey believes art should be enjoyed, not simply passed by. He also believes that food, wine and music help to enhance the enjoyment of art.

His restaurant, The Monkey Box, which he co-owns with his wife, will be hosting an exhibit beginning July 1 and running through Sept. 1. Going along with the upcoming holiday, the title of the show is Visions of Independence. It will feature six local artists and their personal interpretations of independence, Mackey said, and the work will range from drawing and collage to painting and metal work.

"There's nothing wrong with typical art galleries, but I think we provide a great way to see the artwork," Mackey said. "It gives you a chance to actually sit down and really look at it all, really take it all in."

Since its incarnation in May 2004, the restaurant has featured several different exhibits, each one running for two months, but this is the first group- and theme-oriented show The Monkey Box has hosted, said Mackey.

The show's opening on Saturday, July 1, will feature live music by Hadji Banjovi and his orchestra. The artists are all scheduled to be there, and the restaurant will provide regular food and beverage service. The opening reception will begin at 8 p.m. and end at 11 p.m. The Monkey Box is located at 100 N. Stone Ave.; call 623-3500 for more information.

The six artists, who were invited by Mackey to participate in the exhibit, are all local Tucsonans with established reputations. They are Gwyneth Scally, Matt Cotten, Allen Reilley, Jessica James Lansdon, Amy Shapiro and Karyn Hunt.

Gwyneth Scally was raised in Washington, D.C., as the daughter of a British political journalist. She currently lives and works here in Tucson and exhibits in museums and commercial galleries throughout the Southwest, as well as in Washington, D.C., New York City and Beijing. She's won numerous grants and awards, and she travels extensively, researching themes of contemporary and historic art around the world. Her work is often topical, dealing with issues of cultural control and commoditization of the body.

Matt Cotten is a painter, performer, teacher and community organizer. He received a master's degree in fine art from the UA in 1997 and has been teaching painting, drawing and design courses there as an adjunct instructor.

Cotten is a co-director of Tucson Puppet Works and is responsible for much of the artistic direction of the annual All Souls Procession. He is active in several community art projects, including the recent I Madonnari Chalk Festival downtown, and maintains a steady painting practice.

Amy Shapiro is also a Washington, D.C., transplant. She moved to Tucson to pursue her master's in fine art at the UA. She has exhibited widely in museums, galleries and nonprofit/alternative art spaces, including the Museum of Contemporary Art DC, the District of Columbia Arts Center, the Tucson Museum of Art and Platform Gallery, where she has been represented since 2004. Trained formally as a painter, she is interested in do-it-yourself materials and techniques such as sewing, wallpapering and spray painting.

"For this piece, I was inspired by the libertine movement and how it functions in society, as well as the flag and Neapolitan ice cream," Shapiro said. "My pieces also include a lot of sexual imagery and touch a lot on sexual freedoms."

Her piece, "libertine 1," is composed of thread, felt and vintage fabric on canvas, she said.

Allen Reilley is a metalworker who has previously worked with Mackey (who in addition to being a restaurateur is also an architect).

Jessica James Lansdon, a Tucson native, makes paintings, videos and sculptures out of discarded materials. She has shown at the Tucson Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson. She is also a disc jockey.

Karyn Hunt grew up in Fallon, Nev., where she was influenced by landscapes. Fleeing the desert, she relocated to Portland, Ore., where she received her bachelor's degree in printmaking from the Pacific Northwest College of Art. She moved back to the desert and now lives here in Tucson, where she is working on her master's degree in printmaking.

The six artists are all varied in what they produce.

"We always display a really wide variety of artwork," Mackey said. "I am my own curator--there are no guidelines, really."

If all goes well, Mackey might end up doing a themed show with these artists every four months, he said. And why wouldn't it go well? The combination of art, wine and food sounds pretty hard to mess up.

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