This past Gallery Stroll, if you dared to brave the 14-degree weather and hellish ice-filled sidewalks, was a fantastic display of local art. --- As is the case with every Holiday Stroll, which is held on the first Friday of December, the majority of exhibitions you can check out in an evening are group showings, with anywhere between 10 to 50 artists with something on display in each gallery, giving you as good a sample of what our scene has to offer as you could possibly get.
This month, I headed over to Art at the Main, the gallery of artwork on display in the atrium of the Main Library, where you can check out a dozen artists' works year-round. Today, I chat with one of those artists (and gallery PR rep) Sue Martin about her works and what you can see this month -- all with photos I snapped of the evening for you to check out here.
Gavin: Hey, Sue. First off, what got you interested in art, and what were some early influences on you?
Sue: I was interested in art in high school and took every class offered. My specialty at that time was painting plein air, using a palette knife for an Impressionistic style. However, I didn't have the courage to pursue visual art in college. So, I majored in theater and minored in broadcasting. I got a BA and MA from American University in Washington, DC. My next goal was to move to New York and work in theater, but I decided to stay in D.C. long enough to pay off some school loans. I got a job doing PR for Amtrak, and over the next 23 years moved up the ladder to head the department. I never made it to New York to pursue theater. However, the saner life of communications made it possible to get married and have two children, so I have no regrets.
Gavin: Prior to your art career, you had a very different one in communications in Washington, D.C. How were things for you then, and what made you decide to move to Utah?
Sue: Though I loved working in PR for Amtrak, I had a restless feeling that I needed to do something more with my career. I took advantage of a management buy-out in 1995. Then, my husband, an industrial designer, took a job with a company in Salt Lake City and we moved here. I began doing communications consulting and training for various businesses along the Wasatch Front. By this time my boys were teenagers, I had the time to begin painting and taking a few classes; 2007 was really the turning point. My mother died from cancer and it hit me that life is short and I'd better get busy doing something I really love. That's when I joined Art at the Main and began painting a lot more.
Gavin: What influenced you to start pursuing an art career, and why watercolor works?
Sue: Though my earlier art from high school had been in oils, I thought watercolor might be less messy, take up less space and fit my lifestyle better. After taking some classes with Willamarie Hueleskamp, I began to love it and to get good enough to have paintings accepted into Utah Watercolor Society shows. Joining that group, which offers support, education, camaraderie, and exhibition opportunities, really made a huge difference in my development.
Gavin: You received your BFA from the University of Utah back in December 2012. What made you decide to go to college, and what was your time like there?
Sue: I had taken a few semester-long classes at the U as a noncredit student, but I didn't have access to all classes and all professors. So, I decided that if I really were to dive deeply into art and get as good as I possibly could, I needed to enroll in the degree program. I started in 2009, and took just one or two classes per semester until I finally finished my BFA degree in December 2012 -- class of 2013. It was a fantastic experience. I loved being among the young students, who treated me as a peer and not their grandma. The instructors were excellent, both for teaching the basics and encouraging me to develop my own visual language and style. I also found it extremely helpful to learn about art history, the place of art in society and the social/political influences on artists, particularly in the 20th century.
Gavin: During that time, how was it for you breaking into the local art scene and participating in shows?
Sue: My affiliation with Utah Watercolor Society and Intermountain Society of Artists helped me learn how to enter shows, how to be competitive and professional. I also met many very fine artists, gallery owners and others who have been encouraging. But participation in Art at the Main has been the best way to test the market, meet art buyers, and acquire some art-business skills. Furthermore, the people at Art at the Main have always been extremely compatible and supportive; not only do we take turns staffing the gallery, but we also meet monthly for art discussions and critiques. We all jump in and help if someone is sick or needs some kind of support. It sounds corny, but we are a lot like family. The other thing that has helped me get acquainted with the art community is writing for 15 Bytes, the online arts magazine for Utah. I've had the opportunity to meet and write about some extraordinary Utah artists.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in creating a new piece, from early concept to final product?
Sue: I work in a series with a theme. The idea for my next series might take a while to evolve, but once it does, the paintings just flow; I don't have to stop and think about what to paint next. For example, the series that I showed at Art at the Main in October evolved from images I took with my iPhone out the car window on a cross-country trip. At first, I was fascinated with the subtle colors of winter, so the series began as In the Bleak Midwinter, but then after more road trips in spring and summer, I decided to include all the seasons in this series of landscapes, and called the series Seasonal Affection. Now, I'm working on two more series: To Have and To Hold and La La Land. These are very much in the beginning stages and may take significantly different turns, but the first paintings in both series are on my website.
Gavin: Do you usually play around with your designs as you make them, or stick to the original idea?
Sue: I don't enjoy painting highly realistically. I'd much rather interpret what I see in nature or in the photograph, playing with patterns and line, and pushing color. So, I would call my style "abstracted," whether I'm painting in watercolor or acrylic. I sometimes begin with a value sketch or a small color study, but more often I just dive into the painting. I enjoy doing an underpainting – solid color or abstracted color shapes – which gives me something to react to as I am coaxing the subject into being. I also enjoy beginning with blind contour drawing or stamping with relief print stamps I've created. Again, it is the challenge of having a problem to solve that excites me and makes my finished painting uniquely my own.
Gavin: When did you first discover Art at the Main, and how did you come to be involved with them?
Sue: I was part of a Utah Watercolor Society group that had a temporary exhibit in what is now the Art at the Main space, so I was familiar with it. I knew Joy Nunn and the other directors and felt it was a group I'd enjoy working with. I applied in the fall of 2007 and was accepted.
Gavin: What was it like for you taking an active role in the gallery and its displays?
Sue: As a member of Art at the Main, I share responsibility for staffing the gallery, as well as other volunteer roles. Since I have a background in PR, it made sense for me to assume a role on the marketing committee.
Gavin: Tell us about the artwork on display for this Stroll.
Sue: In November and December, we have traditionally held a group show that showcases the diversity of our artists. We're very proud of the fact that we have artists working in almost every medium, style and subject. And for this exhibit, we typically paint smaller, and therefore less expensive, artwork that is perfect for gift giving. Our theme this year is A Few of Our Favorite Things. We also tried something new and different: Each artist was invited to create a 10x10 self-portrait using any medium and style he or she wanted. Some of our members who don't consider themselves figurative artists stretched their creativity in some unusual and fun ways. It's a delight to look at our wall of "Selfies" and see our diversity and our individual and collective sense of humor!
Gavin: How has it been working with Gallery Stroll and bringing more attention to your Artspace area?
Sue: Gallery Stroll is a blessing for all the galleries who participate. We joined in 2007, and have found the publicity generated by the monthly strolls, as well as the Gallery Stroll social-media presence, to be extremely helpful in drawing people to our gallery. We really take advantage of the opportunity by having live music and refreshments every month during Gallery Stroll.
Gavin: Going local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Sue: Utah artists are as good or better than artists anywhere. The opportunities for art training, universities and private instruction are as good as anywhere. And I love the camaraderie among artists and the interest in collaboration. Unfortunately, in the past six to10 years, partly due to the recession, we've lost a number of fine galleries. This means that artists have fewer opportunities to show and sell their work and some feel they have to focus their marketing efforts outside Utah.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Sue: Though I believe our local and state governments value the arts community, I don't think they are yet envisioning what the visual arts could do for the economy with the right kind of infrastructure and art-friendly policies. There are many other cities -- Kansas City, Baltimore, Padukah, Ky., to name a few – with well-defined arts districts, low-cost or tax-friendly properties for studios and galleries, free buses for gallery strolls, etc. Given the right kinds of support, our artists could make Salt Lake City a top arts destination.
Gavin: Who are some local artists you like checking out or recommend people should look for?
Sue: Of course, I'm very partial to our 16 artists at Art at the Main. This month, we're introducing a new artist, Mary Pusey, who will be our featured artist in January. Other than Art at the Main, these are some of my must-see exhibits this month: Aerin Collett at Alderwood Gallery; Steve Sheffield at 15th Street Gallery; Paul Davis and others at Slusser Gallery; Joy Nunn, an AATM artist, at Charlie Hafen Gallery; and those wonderful printmakers at Salt Grass. And I've already been to the Art Access holiday show three times and will go again before it closes.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and the work it's doing to promote local art?
Sue: Gallery Stroll is continually finding new and creative ways to focus attention on the participating galleries. Kristina Robb has great ideas and will sit down with artists and gallery owners to brainstorm ways that we can all work together for mutual benefit.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and the gallery going into next year?
Sue: Art at the Main, other than providing gallery space for our member artists, also serves an educational function in the community. We demonstrate art processes in the library during the summer, for example, and we've sponsored several exhibits by outside artists, including school kids, college students and refugee artists. I can't say specifically what we will do in 2014, but you may be sure that we will continue our community outreach and education.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Sue: I've already sadly noted the closing of some fine galleries in Salt Lake City. If we don't support our local art businesses, more will close. A vibrant arts community depends on people in our community who value original art and the artists who put their hearts and souls into creating it. Buy local. Buy original. Become a collector.
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