Viewing art, talking to artists and watching them work in Scottsdale, Arizona
What makes an art exhibition special for you? The opportunity to view great art? Perhaps the chance to buy some pieces, if you have the money to do so?
Is that enough? Would you like to discuss the works with the artist? Would you like to watch the artist at work? Would you like to gain more insight into process and technique? If so, the Arizona Fine Art Expo may be for you.
This ten week long exhibition debuted in 2005 and takes place in an open field in north Scottsdale, where Scottsdale and Phoenix meet. The exhibition runs from mid-January to late March and is housed within tenting arranged in a u-shape around an open courtyard containing a sculpture garden.
When I visited the Expo, art on display included oils, acrylic, watercolour and mixed media painting, sculpture, jewelry, pottery, furniture, photography, and kaleidoscopes. Artists were in attendance at their booths, working and/or available for discussion. Although not all artists may be there on any given day, many will be. The art covered a broad spectrum of topics, although Arizona themed work—landscapes, cowboys, native American culture—was prevalent.
Talking with the artists was a highlight of the visit. I gained some insight into how Dwight Bennett does the silver inlay in his amazing wood sculptures. He told us about adding silver inlay into his piece “Life” after it had toured for eight years. People were aghast that he was going to cut into it. He admitted feeling nervous as he started to cut. The result is stunning.
I learned that Sandi Ciaramitaro uses crushed minerals, such as turquoise and lapis lazuli, to colour her paint and frames her pieces with old Arizona ranch wood. Husband and wife artists John Mortenson and April Lafferty live on Vancouver Island, British Columbia in the summer and winter in Arizona in an RV. I asked how they managed with their art supplies and artwork in an RV. John told me they have climate controlled storage units in both Arizona and British Columbia to store supplies and work.
I watched artists at work. Some worked on new pieces, where we could see how and where they started. Dark lines first? Background first? Others put finishing touches on pieces. In the back of the courtyard, we talked to Debra Steidel about her high fire porcelain clay pottery, while she glazed pieces in progress. She had a small kiln set up in the courtyard. She’d purchased the kiln through craigslist. Her home kiln was too large to bring with her.
I wondered how easy or difficult it is for the artists to work while people walk by and browse. My friend asked one of the artists about that. He said you learn to tune things out. However, I think the artists likely don’t want to completely tune out everything. They will want to respond to questions and talk to potential customers.
What amazed me more than the ability to work while people wandered by was the ability to work in a small neat space. Most of the artists were dressed in clothes appropriate to meeting people and talking with them. Some artists wore thick aprons over their clothes, but not all. I watched in amazement as one smartly dressed woman worked on her watercolour painting without anything to protect her clothes. How could she stay so neat? How did everyone keep their work spaces so tidy? There were “back rooms”. Maybe that is where all the messy stuff took place.
Ten weeks is too long to go without working at all, so the artists adjust to the environment. I wonder how well I would work under those circumstances. Writing is different than visual art. It is not that interesting to watch a writer work, so I doubt I will ever have to face that challenge.
There was a restaurant on site. And mobile restrooms, unlike any I have seen before, set up at the back of the tents. Flush toilets, running water, piped in music and granite counter-tops.
The weather was warm the day we attended. It was cool and comfortable under the tents. However, it can be chilly on cooler winter days. Heaters are not allowed in the tents. Steve Failows, whose kaleidoscopes made me smile, told us those days are survived with lots of hot tea and coffee, long underwear, and layers of clothing.
Have you attended the Arizona Fine Art Expo? What was a highlight for you? What other exhibitions do you recommend?