Season Premieres

The works of hundreds of artists will be displayed throughout downtown as part of Saturday's 'The Big Picture'

The Jeff Smith/Fotosmith studio is hidden away in a windowless building on an alley in the warehouse arts district. It's an ironic location for a photographer who made his rep with lightning photos taken out in the wide-open spaces.

But Smith will be lighting the place up this weekend, recasting his interior studio as a gallery. Piggybacking on The Big Picture, the Saturday-night gala group openings of the Central Tucson Gallery Association, Smith will present reFORM, a group show of 30 to 40 invited artists. (See below for more on The Big Picture.)

All the artists in reFORM started out their works with the same raw material: old wooden forms used in a paper mill in the 1920s. The pieces curve into cylinders, circles and spirals, up to about 24 inches long. Smith doled out the forms, and the artists were free to recycle them--artistically--however they pleased.

"They could print from them, paint them, turn them into sculpture," Smith says. "The only thing they couldn't do is sell them on eBay."

Smith got hold of the obsolete industrial forms by a circuitous route: Their owner, Dotti Menke, had bought them for her husband, the late Charles Bjorman, at an antique fair in Oregon back in 1996. She hauled them back to Tucson in a van, and Bjorman converted several of them into art pieces before he died.

"Dotti wanted (the rest) to be turned into artwork," Smith says. After Smith met Menke, the pair hit on the idea of distributing the forms to a wide variety of artists in different disciplines.

"We wanted to do something different," Smith says. "We laid them out in the studio, and I invited artists in all media" to come in and pick one out. Painter Catherine Eyde, sculptor Elizabeth Frank, craftsman/painter Patrick Hynes and filmmaker and UA prof Yuri Makino all turned up, along with several dozen others. They took them away to their studios, and Smith doesn't know exactly what they've done with them, or how many will materialize for the show.

"I think I'll get at least 31 back," he says confidently. They'll all be set up in the gallery, though a piece by the original recycler, Bjorman, will have the place of honor.

reFORM will open from 7 to 10 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 4, and noon to 4:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 5, at Studio 455, 455 N. Ferro Ave., an alley that runs south from Sixth Street, in between Sixth and Seventh avenues. The studio abuts the back of Davis Dominguez Gallery; 882-2033.

At least a dozen other galleries, in the warehouse district, on Fourth Avenue and downtown, will stage season openers Saturday night, but festivities sponsored by the Gallery at 6th and 6th will spill into Sunday afternoon as well. Curt Brill will open a show of figurative bronze sculptures, along with maquettes and some drawings on paper, at the gallery Saturday evening. But Sunday afternoon, he'll unleash six monumental bronzes on Jacomé Plaza--home of David Black's enormous red "Sonora" sculpture--adjacent to the Main Library downtown.

"They're at least twice life-size and larger," exults gallery owner Lauren Rabb. "Some of them are 12 feet high and as wide as 8 feet."

Rabb proposed the installation to Tucson Parks and Rec, and "they got really excited about it," she says, agreeing to keep the giant bronze sculptures up until Dec. 31. Brill is a Tucson artist with a national reputation, and Rabb reports that he's delighted the bronze giants will debut in his hometown. The pieces are all female nudes. Colored in silver and bronze patinas, they're loose and limber, with long limbs and necks, and wonderfully tactile bodies.

"The bigger they get, the more fun they get," Rabb says.

Reception at The Gallery at 6th and 6th, 439 N. Sixth Ave., is 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday, 903-0650; Curt Brill gives a free talk at 2 p.m., Sunday, at Jacomé Plaza, 101 N. Stone Ave.; 594-5500.

The other openings are all on Saturday night. The new Contreras Gallery, open just since last spring at 110 E. Sixth St. (398-6557), will exhibit "Elements of Nature," a show of acrylic paintings on canvas by longtime Tucson artist George Welch. The reception is 6 to 10 p.m. Welch writes that his paintings are "visual metaphors of the dream world, of chaos and the clarity of creation."

Gallery owner E. Michael Contreras, also a painter, has high hopes for his new contemporary gallery, which has already weathered its first Tucson summer. He and his wife, the painter Neda Contreras, keep the business on an even footing by using the back room as a studio, and by selling Michael Contreras' handmade silver and turquoise jewelry. (His father was the noted Tucson jeweler Alberto Contreras.)

"I like the (gallery) room a lot," he says. "It's small, but it has a high ceiling and open space. We plan to stay."

Davis Dominguez Gallery, 154 E. Sixth St. (629-9759), continues its show of psychologically rich self-portraits on wood by Albert Kogel, and evocative pen-and-ink drawings of black jazz clubs by Willie Bonner. Reception is 6 to 8 p.m.

Platform Gallery, 439 N. Sixth Ave. (882-3886), opens its fifth season with a "mixed group show of about 12 or 13 artists, the artists we represent," gallery manager Monique Morales says. On the list are abstracted landscapes and architectural paintings by Jesse Wood, painted birds on 3-D panels by Kristy Goggio, and expressionistic interiors and yards by painter Douglas Truth. The reception is 6 to 9 p.m.

Two galleries not in the association will stay open to take advantage of The Big Picture crowds. Santa Theresa Tileworks, also at 439 N. Sixth Ave. (623-8640), will showcase its usual mix of tile art, including pieces by noted public artist Susan Gamble. In an interior hallway of the same building, dada contemporary (275-9952) premieres Primal Forms, a "new series of carved wood and metal sculptures by Kit Schweitzer," according to gallerist Davison Koenig. Receptions at both galleries are 6 to 8 p.m.

Raices Taller 222 Gallery, 218 E. Sixth St. (881-5335), dares anyone who's "whacked for Barack or insane for McCain" to dip into its fiery election show, Puro Politico, Pure Politics. Paintings and sculptures by member artists and friends, never a shy bunch when it comes to authority-bashing, dissect the campaigns' political stances. Reception 6 to 10 p.m.

Tucson artist Margaret Suchland guest-curates Book Forms, the season-opening group show at Conrad Wilde Gallery, 210 N. Fourth Ave. (622-8997). Loosely defining "book," Suchland invited 14 artists from around the country to display "one-of-a-kind handmade artists' books." Locals Jessica Drenk, Catherine Nash, Beata Wehr and Suchland herself all made the cut. Complementing the books, Curt Dornberg has made a wall installation of "handmade paste papers." Reception is 6 to 9 p.m.

The Drawing Studio Gallery once staged an annual figure-drawing show. After a hiatus of several years, it's been resurrected as Figures From Life at its new downtown location, 33 S. Sixth Ave. (620-0947). Seventy-five works--drawings, paintings and sculptures--by almost as many artists examine the human body in all its permutations. Harry Carmean gets a small solo show for his drawings. Reception 6 to 9 p.m.

Thirty artists from the Citizens Studio warehouse stage The Dreammakers at Dinnerware Artspace, 264 E. Congress (792-4503). The group show veers from metalwork to painting, from photography to filmmaking. Reception 6 to 10 p.m.

Dinnerware's subsidiary galleries also celebrate The Big Picture. Rocket, 270 E. Congress St., is taken over by the longtime Tucson Artist Group, aka TAG. Arriving showcases work by 18 artists, including painters Cynthia Miller and Wayne Crandell, and mixed-media artist Leslie Epperson. Arts Incubator Gallery, 108 E. Congress, stages Play, a show of work by Tucson artists Jerry Jordon, Craig Wilson, Jessica Van Woerkom and James Sizemore. Both receptions are 6 to 10 p.m. Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress, does a lobby display of paintings by Salvador Duran, the big-voiced singer and guitarist now touring with Calexico. Open 24 hours.

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