The idea of an art gallery often conjures images of beautifully coordinated displays, peopled by sales personnel ready to answer questions as they entice the visitor to buy. Nothing wrong with that, as it has often functioned well for the artists, the art collecting public, and the gallery owners. However, galleries can be reimagined in astonishing, fascinating, and effective ways when the owners are artists themselves.
The first thing you notice is the location. As Chris Alvarez, the artist-owner of Alvarez Gallery Art School (AGAS) says, "I like the fact the gallery is located by the train tracks, under the bridge, and down by the river. There is a wonderful romantic, cool vibe to the location that can’t be matched anywhere else." One also has to mention that this gallery, school, and studio is "equiped with a turntable and 10 feet of vinyl records." Cool it is. A recent visit to this mix of art expressions found Alvarez sitting amid a menagerie of paintings, working on his laptop. As we spoke, he navigated between showing me one of his recent nocturnes and continuing to paint a piece that he had on the easel.
The space shape-shifts depending upon the event. When he does life drawing studios, there will be 10 students forming a semi-circle in front of a live model. If there is a painting demonstration going on, then the studio is set up to accommodate an audience that assembles to see Alvarez create a painting and perhaps talk about his latest trip to paint en plein air. The artist smoothly talks to his audience while he shows how a painting is created. He also hears when an audience member says, "Chris, I will take that one over there." That day, "over there" referred to the collection of paintings that he had done on a specific trip to the East Coast. All were nicely displayed for the attendees to peruse as they listened to the presentation. That is art, artist, and audience all functioning like a well-oil machine and all within that cool groove that is the gallery by the train tracks, under the bridge, down by the river.
Creative chaos may be a good name for the studio when the painter is alone and creating his work. However, when it comes time to exhibit work, the paintings are well displayed, giving the viewer the space to view and appreciate the variety of work that the gallery offers. Alvarez says of his exhibitions, which are invitation only to some of Colorado Springs' best artists, "I am inspired by goofy ideas I get from popular culture, puns,, or something a friend said. Some of my favorite shows were: The Dog and Pony Show, animal based art, Hindsight 2020, art based on backsides of humans, animals, etc, The Night Gallery (from the popular Rod Serling show of the ‘70’s), art focusing on night and darkness, and the most successful of all, Fakes and Forgeries, art copied and interpreted from famous works of art, like the Mona Lisa, works by Van Gogh, Cassatt, Monet, etc."
Alvarez, who had a career working with at-risk youth, decided to follow his heart and at age 37 went into painting and art education full time. He had a studio in the locally famous, Second Floor Art Studios in Old Colorado City. However, when the dynamic Abby Kreuser decided to move her gallery to its now downtown location, Alvarez wondered who might take her place under the bridge? He and his studio neighbors, Jana Bussanich and Laurel Justice, decided that they were the ones. They joined him, and the ball is still rolling.
When asked how his gallery is shaping the tastes of art lovers in Colorado Springs, Alvarez says, "One of the things I hope to do is to make the opportunities to show at the Alvarez Gallery Art School available to well-known and not so well-known members of the art community so that the community will be exposed to a wider variety of work and be introduced to the beautiful work of an artist they hadn’t known before. I also am interested in showing work that is varied in style and originality but is of high quality, whether it is edgy, abstract, or formal and representational." He also talks of how he is working on making AGAS better known to the local public. "I want AGAS to be a place where artists and the public (particularly the art buying public) can connect." Connecting is what art is all about, and Alvarez has a winning formula for that.
Aptly named for its location, The Bridge Art Gallery is the creation of artists, Michael Cellan, Dina Bennett, and Betty Atherton. The gallery is right next to AGAS on one side and the new Yellow Couch Creative on the other. It couldn't be in better company. Cellan is also someone who offers lessons as well as coordinating a variety of shows in the gallery. I first met Mike in a life drawing open studio at the Manitou Art Center in nearby Manitou Springs, CO., where he gave me an invalueable lesson in proportion. Rule: the length of the human hand is the same as that of the human face. That was extremely important for someone who seemed to draw the hands too small. Of course Cellan had had a 42-year career as an art teacher. In observing Cellan work, the big surprise was how wide-ranging his color choices were. They included greens, yellows, and purples, as well as shades of blue. He pointed out to those of us who asked about those colors, that if we look carefully, the skin tones have light and shadows that can be represented by all those colors. Yes, indeed upon close observation, one can see how skin tones are influenced not only by light and shadow but by the colors around them.
Inner Glow by Rui Haagen Alumin Autie by Daniel Romano Came by Betty Atherton
The items pictured here are all from an Invitational Group Show called "Under $100." They show the wide range of items that can be found by local artists at prices that any art lover's budget can accommodate. Cellan also generously offered those of us in that life drawing studio the opportunity to show our work at The Bridge. I have to say we did the gallery proud with drawings and paintings by some of the city's best-known painters like Michael Baum, Rita Scafidi, Ed McKay, Sue Johnson, Michael Cellan himself, and yes, even moi meme, Marjorie Vernelle, a bit of a life drawing newbie who submitted a lovely figure with beautifully proportioned hands, I must say.
Jar by Lance Timko
Variety is what you get at The Bridge Gallery, a gallery that in its 41 years of existence, first in Manitou Springs and now for 30 years in its current location, has carved out its own place there in the galleries under the bridge.
YELLOW IS THE NEW COLOR OF CREATIVITY!
Those galleries under the bridge are constantly reshaping themselves, with the newest iteration, Yellow Couch Creative, coming this fall. Bussanich describes this new creation as an outgrowth of the pandemic, saying, "The Yellow Couch Creative encompasses the Yellow Couch Gallery where I show and sell my art; the Yellow Couch Community, a private group on Facebook for creatives, and the new Yellow Couch Classroom, an online learning community where students receive live instruction via Zoom to a private Facebook group, voted Best of the Springs 2021, Best Art Class." That is quite a line-up!
The artist works primarily in watercolor, ink, and pencil. During non-COVID times she coordinated shows with her colleagues at Alvarez Gallery Art School and The Bridge Gallery. Primarily the Yellow Couch Gallery shows Bussanich's work. However, she is very much engaged in outreach to the arts community and to her Zoom students. That yellow couch is symbolic of good conversation and communication among artists, who generally work in isolation. Bussanich states the goals of Yellow Couch Creative like this:
"Being an artist is a solitary endeavor. Only I can make my paintings -
only you can make what you make. It can feel isolating at times, but
making our art is just one small part of what we need to master our craft
and take our art to the next level. If you are a painter, use textiles, work
in fiber arts, are a print-maker, photographer, mixed-media artist, or work
in the healing arts, we all need community with those who will encourage
and support our ideas. Supporting you to make your art your way is always
the goal of any Yellow Couch Artist-to-Artist interaction."
Open to visits by appointment only, visitors can visit the studio to see where Bussanich makes her art and broadcasts virtual watercolor classes to the Yellow Couch Classroom. The Yellow Couch Community was created by Bussanich for artists of all levels who are interested in refining their art. It is a free Facebook group and a step forward in eliminating that feeling of isolation that so many artists experience.
This consortium of artistic creativity found in this trio of artist-owned galleries, schools, and studios is a valued and vibrant addition to the art scene in Colorado Springs and not to be missed on First Friday Art Walk evenings.
Jana Bussanich has a book coming out on October 7, 2021. Click the links below for information and advanced sales.
Contact Information for the Galleries
Chris Alvarez Gallery & Art School 218 W. Colorado Avenue Colorado Springs, CO 80903
(719) 337-2863 alvarezschool.com
The Bridge Gallery
218 W Colorado Avenue
Open on Saturdays, noon to 3pm
Jana L. Bussanich Art, Yellow Couch Creative
218 W. Colorado Avenue
Colorado Springs, CO 80903
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© Marjorie Vernelle 2021