There are no art museums in Durango to bring the community touring Van Goghs, large-scale surreal installations or other visual delights. Local galleries and Durango Arts Center are left to fill the cultural void. Yet, it’s not so easy to get people in the doors.
Events such as Friday’s Gallery Association Fall Art Walk are one way gallery owners nudge the public to get out and see new work hanging on their walls, while galleries like Studio & bring clever ideas to traditional shows that might pique new interests.
“The arts are always on the back burner,” said Gallery Association president and gallery owner Karyn Gabaldon, adding that selling art seems to be getting even more difficult. “It’s people’s priorities – younger people want more experiences than they want physical things, a lot of people are into do-it-yourself (artwork), and older folks are done buying.”
Main Avenue businesses know the smoke from the summer’s 416 Fire not only kept tourists off the river and hiking trails, the season was slower than usual for galleries as well, and the 36th annual walk will give owners a necessary boost.
“This gallery walk is to revive people coming back downtown again,” she said.
Earthen Vessel, Toh-Atin, Sorrel Sky, Karyn Gabaldon Arts, Studio &, among other galleries, are participating, and each will host a new opening or artist.
Earthen Vessel Gallery is spotlighting the work of Rita Winters, a fiber artist who creates new versions of traditional handwoven garments. Similarly, modern Navajo blankets based on traditional patterns will be featured at Toh-Atin Gallery, with Navajo weaver Laverne Barber presenting a live weaving demonstration.
Sorrel Sky will open Phyllis Stapler’s “True Myths” with bold, graphic paintings of animals that comment on environmental themes. Karyn Gabaldon Arts will showcase Taylor and Tessier bracelets. Gabaldon’s husband, Jeff Solon, and John O’Neal, a professor at Fort Lewis College, will be performing jazz throughout the night.
What may be the most inventive show is Studio &’s opening of “Old and New.” The exhibition explores 15 artists’ personal evolution in skill, medium and subject matter. Each artist has selected an old piece they have held onto to show alongside new work.
Studio & co-owner and artist who helped bring the idea to fruition, Elizabeth Kinahan, said most artists fall into one of the two camps when it comes to keeping old work. Some artist will roll up and store everything they’ve made, but most will toss out pooh-poohed pieces.
“I am of the other group who will keep a significant piece from every several years,” Kinahan said. “I have five paintings that I will never trash, but others, if they don’t get sold in a few years, they are getting whitewashed.”
This is far less aggressive – and much more boring – than other artists’ approach to moving on from the past. Kinahan said she knows an artist who uses power tools – a saw – to destroy his pieces before throwing them in the garbage can.
“There are all kinds of rituals,” she said.
Kinahan said most of the artists’ old pieces in the show will be from way back in their career and mark a visible change from how they are currently working. For Kinahan, it’s the subject matter.
“I am going to be putting in a portrait that I created about 11 years ago that was before my interests and my passion lied with painting portraits of animals,” she said. Kinahan was living in New Jersey and mainly painted the nude human form.
She naturally loved animals and became an advocate for their well-being at a young age, but never considered painting the creatures she loved because she thought it would come off too cutesy, like calendars of puppies and kitties.
It wasn’t until she moved to Colorado that the idea shifted. At first, Kinahan had trouble selling birthday-suited figures when she first moved to Durango, so she initially transitioned to portraits, but she wasn’t excited about the work she was making. It wasn’t until she photographed grazing cows in an Ignacio pasture that Kinahan found her subject to paint.
“I felt immediately at home. I felt like I was highlighting a creature who was so often seen as insignificant, as not having any emotional side, not having feelings,” she said. “I immediately felt like I was connected to my subject that was meaningful to me.”
The other piece Kinahan is showing is a portrait of a young ballerina waiting for her turn to perform, but it never sold because “who wants a picture of somebody else’s kid?” she said.
“I am proud of both of them. They are very different in subject matter and even in style. They really clearly show what I’m trying to do now and what I was trying to do then,” she said. “Both took a tremendous amount of effort. I was really trying in both of them, and that is worth something.”