Swarm of Culture

Many of the city's art galleries team up for a night of openings and receptions

Bruce McGrew is 10 years dead, but his paintings never died, to paraphrase the old song about Joe Hill.

A batch of McGrew paintings, newly released by his family on the 10th anniversary of his death, is on view at Davis Dominguez Gallery.

"Black Rock Landscape," a large oil on canvas, is quintessential McGrew. An open-hearted imaginary landscape inspired by the desert, it has a cascade of orange and rust mountains rolling below a cerulean sky. Clear water shimmers below. In "Black Bird, Blue Lady," a mysterious drama unfolds within a wilderness that's been painted pink and yellow and abstracted into geometries.

"These are great paintings I didn't know would be available," says Candice Davis, co-owner of the gallery. "All the life and joy that Bruce had, it's all here in the gallery."

Sculptor Joy Fox, McGrew's widow, fills the floor with her large-scale ceramic pieces that have been etched and fired and blackened. The connubial exhibition is a highlight of Big Picture this Saturday night, when the Central Tucson Gallery Association kicks off the fall art season with a swarm of gallery openings all at once.

Coincidentally, Big Picture and McGrew are both marking anniversaries: Big Picture was born in 1999, the same year that McGrew died.

There've been a few casualties among the member galleries since last season. Lauren Rabb closed her Gallery at Sixth and Sixth, an excellent emporium of classical modernism, and moved on to a curator position at the University of Arizona Museum of Art. (That's a curious transition considering the museum cited financial difficulties when it recently laid off the estimable Lisa Fischman as chief curator.) Davison Koenig, already on staff at the Arizona State Museum, shuttered his daring dada contemporary gallery.

The remaining central Tucson galleries are celebrating the fact that earlier this year, the readers of AmericanStyle magazine ranked Tucson 20th as an arts destination among American cities with populations more than 500,000. (Tucson slipped a little from last year's slot at no 16.) New York City, natch, led the unscientific poll both years.

"For our size city, we've got great art," Davis opines. "And at reasonable prices. We're better than Scottsdale."

Big Picture is not the only event this weekend celebrating Tucson's artiness. An hour north of town, near Oracle, where McGrew once made his art and Fox still does, dozens of local artists are participating in Glow, the annual outdoor, under-the-moon exhibition of lighted sculptures. The artwork will be set up on desert paths in Triangle L Ranch on Friday and Saturday nights, and musicians will perform under the mesquites.

Perennial art favorites include Mary Lucking, who this year incorporates "interactive bird calls" into her sculpture; and Michael Carroll, Don Spaulding and Mykl Wells, who promise a "multimedia extravaganza." Among the musicians are Orion on Friday and Danielle Chavez on Saturday. Admission is $10, $5 for kids 4 to 8, and free for those 3 and younger. A round-trip minibus ride from El Con Mall costs $19.99, Glow admission included.

For information on the Friday and Saturday night arts event, check out www.trianglelranch.com, or call (520) 623-6732.

Everything's free at downtown's Big Picture art stroll, including the wine, and you can get munchies at most places. Reception times vary, and most galleries adhere strictly to the posted closing time. Here's a guide.

Vicinity of Sixth and Sixth

Davis Dominguez, 154 E. Sixth St. 629-9759; www.davisdominguez.com. Reception 6 to 8 p.m. The gallery is exhibiting 10 large Bruce McGrew canvases and 15 Joy Fox ceramic sculptures. The lobby gallery displays 3-D collaborations between Fox and painter Albert Kogel.

Contreras Gallery, 110 E. Sixth St. 398-6557; www.contrerashousefineart.com. Reception 6 to 10 p.m. Right next door to Davis Dominguez, the Cyber-Chica is showing off her computer art. The alter ego of Bolivian-born artist Lucia Grossberger Morales, the Cyber-Chica counts herself as the "first Latina digital artist." Grossberger once wrote software for Apple, but has since decamped from Silicon Valley to make her art in Tucson's dry desert, says gallery owner Michael Contreras. He expects about 20 artworks from the Chica for the show, Andean Circuit. Advance samples include abstract collages made of torn rice paper printed with digital images, and large-scale computer art filled with Bolivian iconography, including animals mythical and otherwise.

Platform Gallery, 439 N. Sixth Ave. 882-3886; www.platformart.com. Reception 3 to 9 p.m. A trio of artists takes over the corner gallery: mixed-media artist Nadia Hlibka, painter Donna Reibslager and sculptor Jason Williamson.

Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery and Workshop, 218 E. Sixth St. 881-5335; www.raicestaller222.org. Reception 5 to 9 p.m. Comadres y Compadres celebrates a host of artist friends, 40 to be exact, including Nicole DiSante, Ann Tracy-Lopez, Richard Zelens and Adrienne and Keith Lehrer.

Fourth Avenue

Conrad Wilde Gallery, 210 N. Fourth Ave. 622-8997; www.conradwildegallery.com. Reception 6 to 9 p.m. Artist Simon Donovan guest-curated an exhibition of furniture, lights and other functional art. Like Etherton Gallery, which also has an art and design show up right now (though it's not open Saturday night for Big Picture), Donovan aimed "to bring together artists and furniture makers," Miles Conrad says. Among the 10 artisans is young Adán Bañuelos, a former student of Donovan's at ArtWorks Academy and a furniture-maker who crafted a sleek silver chair in three curving pieces. Other exhibitors include Kevin Mills, lights; Tom Bright, furniture; Tom Kerrigan, ceramics; and Michael Joplin, glass.


Stroll south through the newly re-opened Fourth Avenue underpass, and look for tiled photos of your friends and neighbors. For their Tucson Portrait Project, Darren Clark and Gary Patch transferred 6,000 photos to ceramic and glued them permanently to the walls.

Dinnerware Artspace, 264 E. Congress St. 792-4503; www.dinnerwarearts.com. Reception 6 to 9 p.m. Dinnerware celebrates its 30th anniversary this season, having survived—and often thrived—in multiple incarnations in multiple venues. Right now, the former co-op is a "nonprofit community artspace." Das Gruppe—The Group—is the exhibition on view.

The Drawing Studio, 33 S. Sixth Ave. 620-0947; www.thedrawingstudio.org. Closing reception 6 to 9 p.m. for rEvolution, an exhibition of works in a variety of media by the faculty of the studio's school.

Central Arts, 274 E. Congress St. 792-4503; www.centralartsgallery.org. Reception 6 to 9 p.m. The nonprofit gallery, operating under the auspices of Dinnerware, offers up True Stories, works by members.

Philabaum Glass Studio, 711 S. Sixth Ave. 884-7404; www.philabaumglass.com. Reception 4 to 7 p.m. SchoolGlass exhibits the shimmering wares of the faculty and staff of the Sonoran Glass Academy, a Philabaum spinoff. Artist Tom Philabaum, who's already planning for a citywide glass arts extravaganza in 2011 that will combine an international conference with exhibitions, says the arts biz is picking up after a slow summer.

On Campus

Joseph Gross Gallery, in the UA Fine Arts complex at Speedway Boulevard and Park Avenue. 626-4215; web.cfa.arizona.edu/galleries. Open noon to 4 p.m. only. There's no reception, but there is a show of inventive political art, Confronting the Capitalist Crisis, on view. Crafted by member artists in Justseeds, a "radical art cooperative" that's in cities around the country, the prints cover issues from border deaths and immigration to the racial politics of incarceration.

Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery, Pima Community College West Center for the Arts, 2202 W. Anklam Road. 206-6942; pima.edu/cfa. Reception 4 to 7 p.m. Distilled Matter: Conte, Oil, Enamel, Thread exhibits enamel art by Charity Hall, tapestry/thread works by Kay Lawrence and paintings by Matthias Düwel.

The German-born Düwel paints works crowded with the clutter of a mass-consumption-mad society. He's the lead art faculty member at Pima's northwest campus, and he lives in Rancho Linda Vista, the art community started by Bruce McGrew, Joy Fox and others in the 1960s. Düwel paints his abstractions in the same studio space where the late McGrew once brought the desert light to life.