Updated: Jan 17
Yes, that is a typical First Friday Art Walk at G44 Gallery. People line the streets waiting to get in. G44 is one of the big successes of Colorado Springs' NoDo (North Downtown) art scene. Sometimes called the Creative Corridor, of the nine businesses involved in creating this special destination area of downtown, the E. Boulder Street location holds two of the most heavily visited art galleries in town, Kreuser Gallery and G44 Gallery. The two contrast and complement one another. While Kreuser presents a diversity of art by local artists, much of it is representational and some regional in flavor. G44 Gallery moves to the beat of a different drummer and grooves with contemporary abstraction, again done mostly by local Colorado Springs artists.
As an area known for its beautiful landscape painting that highlights the majestic physical environment, Colorado Springs is not often thought of as a likely place for modern abstract art. Gundega Stevens, the owner of G44 Gallery, realizes that the growth of the city is changing its level of art awareness and taste. She says, "I am excited for people to realize that we have some of the most talented artists along the Front Range." Part of that excitement has to do with presenting what Stevens calls, "sophisticated but approachable art." One of her goals for the gallery is to "provide artists a small but mighty venue where they could show their work." The fact that G44 Gallery focuses more on the abstract in its art selections opens a special venue for artists who want to express in that fashion. Stevens believes that "art is for everyone." Obviously, she also believes that art has many forms of expression, hence her engagement not only with more abstract painting but also with performance, something she combines with Kreuser Gallery to present to the public.
When one walks into G44 Gallery on a quiet Saturday afternoon, after the First Friday Art Walk, one is presented with an open and spacious setting, even though the gallery is of moderate size. The art is hung so that there is enough white space around it to allow the viewer to really see the work, even to stop and focus on it for a while. Its moderate size does not prevent there from being special areas to delight the visitor in other ways. One is an alcove in the back of the gallery, where special items, like sculpture can be shown. Walking around the corner into that space offers the visitor lovely surprises. Closer to the front entrance is a separate area that holds small items, jewelry, pottery, and even neatly packaged soaps and hand creams. In another expression of Stevens' belief that "art is for everybody," she has something for everybody. While not every visitor may be able to buy a painting, there is always the possibility of a nice little item of jewelry or perhaps a fragrant cream to create a fond memory of the visit to the gallery.
Though Stevens grew up in Colorado Springs, she went off to study in different places. She holds two degrees in Art History, a B.A. from CU - Boulder, and an M.A. from the University of Michigan - Milwaukee. Along the way she also studied languages and philosophy. This cultured approach to her studies comes directly from her family background as her parents came from Latvia and brought with them an appreciation of the arts. She says, "I grew up with art displayed salon style (floor to ceiling) in the house. We went to the symphony, opera, and museums often. We sang and danced at home all the time. My parents instilled an appreciation of the arts from a young age." Stevens started working as an intern in a gallery while in high school. She continued working in galleries off and on, as well as spending six years working at the Milwaukee Art Museum. From there she decided she wanted to become a gallery owner, so once back in Colorado Springs, she started G44 Gallery in the southwestern part of the city near the Cheyenne Mountain Branch Library. That was some ten years ago. More recently after a two-year search for a location downtown, the space near Kreuser Gallery became available. For Stevens, it was a dream come true, as she was able to work in close conjunction with her friend Abigail Kreuser to make the two galleries form what she calls an "art hub." That E. Boulder Street hub is, of course, a part of the NoDo Art Block, the place to go for anyone looking for art.
Stevens is not afraid to challenge her visitors. She admits that the current show, Boca Sucia by Jasmine Dillavou is not readily comprehended. The works made in various sizes are streams of lipstick-made mouth prints, kisses, if you will. They flow along in lines like some ancient undeciphered manuscript. Upon seeing them I thought of the kiss that artist Rindy Sam gave to Cy Twombly's all white painting, Phaedrus. She told the French court is was "an act of love," a sort of crime of passion. The lipstick used was Bourjois true red satin Rouge Best, which left an indelible stain. Here the artist kisses her own painting. (Does the name of her lipstick have a special meaning perhaps?) Those kisses leave the trail of and tell the tale of the "dirty mouth," Boca Sucia. After contemplating the paintings (and the interpretation given here is solely my own; you must go see the work for yourself) a wonderful surprise awaits in the back alcove, as one turns the corner to find an altar of family possessions, from books to a string of pearls, all arranged as a testament to her family, the lineage that produced the artist that Dillavou is. This unusual and challenging work is a great example of how Stevens pushes art forward into a new arena for people to experience.
When asked whether or not she would open another gallery in the vast eastern reaches of the city where so much of the new growth is, she replied that she was in fact already engaging people there. Along with Abigail Kreuser, Stevens created a business called Curate Your Space. While both gallery owners' main focus is drawing people to that downtown art hub, NoDo, all those new businesses and new homes need art, too. Curate Your Space will visit and review a home or business, work with the home or business owner to create a personalized proposal for art to go in that space, and finally place the art in the proposed location. It is a unique and engaging way to put art into places where people live and work, and make art accessible to everybody.
When asked where she saw her work as a gallery owner in 10 years, she replied, "I would like to continue expanding my repertoire of artists, continue to curate high quality exhibits, and bring people exhibits that are thought-provoking, subtle, inspiring, and a true showcase of the amazing artists we have here in Colorado Springs." She also wants to see more and more galleries, as there is such a wealth of talent in the city that there is not enough curated exhibition space. She says, when asked if she is an artist also, that she is the creator of a space where artists are comfortable and willing to be vulnerable. She takes care of them and makes their work look good. As for the collectors, she says that they have come to trust her eye. In the final estimation, Stevens comments, "My gallery is my art. Even though I display others' work, I feel that I am on exhibit every single day." No truer artist's statement could ever be made.
CONTACT INFORMATION FOR G44 GALLERY
Gundega Stevens, Owner/Curator
121 E. Boulder Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80903
© Marjorie Vernelle 2022