Groundbreaking show is inspirational, originally appeared in The Pagosa SUN, Dec. 1, 2005



In a nondescript warehouse on Bastille Street, in an industrial area of Pagosa Lakes, is a hidden treasure: The Space@Shy Rabbit.

Nestled between a wholesale bread distributor and a drywall company, in unit B-4 (the only white door with a black logo of a bunny sitting atop the words Shy Rabbit) is a contemporary art center. While the exterior is nothing fancy – a drab metal building, oil stained asphalt, trucks everywhere – it’s the interior that matters. Inside, is a clean, well-lighted gallery space with 14-foot-high ceilings, concrete floors and light avocado green walls.

Currently on display is the Shy Rabbit Invitational and Juried Art Show, a collection 48 works of art, featuring four invited artists and 15 artists selected by a committee of jurors. Thirty-three of those works of art fill The Space. Fifteen photographs by invited artist Emilio Mercado are displayed in the much more intimate, original Shy Rabbit showroom in unit B-1.
The Space is dominated by the presence of three warrior figures created by Durango-based artist Marsan, also known as Susan Anderson. These warrior figures are over 6-feet tall and stand almost diagonally in the middle of The Space. Marsan calls them “Spiritual Warriors” – “Harvest,” “Awakening” and “Guardian.” Each is crafted from indigenous primitive materials from around the world. Old fabric is wrapped and wound, but not cut. There are ancient tools, implements, jewelry attached to the warrior. Many of the objects used to create these warriors are more than 100 years old. A scroll accompanies each warrior that speaks to its traits, materials and purpose.

“My belief about art is that it either creates, or captures what is past,” Marsan said. She believes that the warriors are created for the specific person who purchases them and those who derive insight from observation. “You will be innately drawn to the spiritual warrior most resembling the character trait you were endowed with to serve God’s purpose. Each artifact has meaning and relational qualities to the overall piece as well as to the character of the person relating.”

Marsan’s warriors are impressive, but the smaller, organic sculpture, “Unity of . . . ology,” an actual tortoise shell, feathers and wire frame is most striking for its simplicity. Marsan has five works in the current show, more than any other artist.
Marsan’s warriors balance the three giant canvases by another Durango-based artist, Sarah Comerford. Comerford has a BFA in painting from Montclair State University in New Jersey. Comerford was in New Jersey Sept. 11, 2001, and her two paintings, “The Twins,” represent her experience that day. The two canvases, hang nearly touching, each feature a blonde twin wearing a crystal chandelier. The chandeliers represent capitalism and its wealth and bought beauty, but rather than being purely esthetic, the chandeliers are worn by the human figures in a burdensome manner, one even tied around the neck like an albatross. Floating on the gold leaf-covered canvas are dozens of Frida Kahlo-esque hearts which represent not only death, but also the anticipated suffering still to come.

Comerford’s canvases are impressive in their size, 3-feet wide by 5-feet tall. Her “Self Portrait” directly across the room from “The Twins” is the more intriguing painting. The artist stands nude between heavy red velvet drapes, strategically holding a bunch of grapes while sneering, grinning skulls float around her on the canvas.

In her artist’s statement, Comerford writes: “I attempt to evoke otherworldliness or ‘the other’ that is beyond literal explanations. By ‘the other’ I refer to loss, pain, love and longing while understanding and appreciating beauty in the face of disintegration, fleeting life and degeneration of the body and mind.” Comerford’s work seems to focus on the mortal limitations of embodiment. And, like Frida Kahlo, Comerford paints her own reality, not some surrealistic dreams.

The third invited artist also deals in reality: The reality of nature. “I strive for the child’s perception in which all things become both referential and reverential,” Shan Wells said. “I try to strip away the everyday contexts – the cliché’s of ‘beautiful nature,’ and reveal components that are overlooked&emdash;the visual mechanisms of creation.” Wells, another Durango-based artist, received his MFA from the University of Canterbury, in New Zealand. Wells, whose body of work encompasses drawing, painting, sculpting and public art projects, is best known as the cartoon artist for The Durango Telegraph and his most recent “Moments” project, a conceptual work that utilizes historic photographs mounted on steel stanchions in the approximate location the original photograph was created. The purpose of the project is to make Durango residents more aware of their history and their connection to the land.

Wells’ creative approach is similar to Marsan’s. “I believe there is a creative force that runs through human culture, thought and expression,” he says. “The expression of this force is not limited solely to our species. Elephants draw it, orca sing it and bower birds sculpt it.”

His most prominent work at the Invitational and Juried Arts Show is “Leaf Press” a wooden vise compressing oak leaves. Made from recycled pine, maple, oak leaves, found steel and wood, the work implies both the structure of nature and the structure of human invention. Representing the gradual transition of loam into soil, it also represents the gradual destruction of nature by our human disconnect from the natural world. His other works, “Swabs,” are made from burn mud slurry from the Missionary Ridge Fire, steel, cotton, paper and hemp and hang on the wall like giant Q-tips dripping with the blood of the earth.

“Often, I wind up touching my ancient heritage as a human animal,” Wells says in his artist statement. “Foraging for color, collecting emotion.” With “Swabs” he seems to have collected the emotion of not only humans affected by the fires of 2002, but of the earth itself.

The fourth invited artist, Emilio Mercado does not forage for color.

“They say the world is full of color,” Mercado says. “But I’d rather do black and white. It’s more interesting.”
Fifteen of Mercado’s black and white photographs hang in the front space at Shy Rabbit. It’s the perfect, small space for the purity of Mercado’s light-painted photographs. Inspired by 17th Century master still-life painter Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin, Mercado uses only natural light for all of his compositions. Like Chardin, Mercado is a purist, insisting on precision and perfection at the shot and in the darkroom. Many of his original photographs took years to be developed and printed in the fashion that he originally envisioned, due to the advancement of film processing. An example of this is the still life, “Butterfly, Coffee Pot and Three Eggs,” which was taken in 1965, but not actually printed until 1985. The photo was shot using a common window screen to create the grainy appearance.

Mercado’s photographs are masterful. The composition of Mercado’s work is precise, like in “Small Oiler
and Leaf” (1995) where the tip of the leaf aligns perfectly and almost touches the slender spout of the oilcan. There is purity in Mercado’s work and this purity is reflected in the choice by Shy Rabbit to exhibit his photography without the adulteration of other art.
Juried and multiple artist shows are often difficult, jumbled and crammed together. At Shy Rabbit, this is not the case. The work seems to flow from one piece to the next. Each work of art pops on the soft green walls. There is an abundance of earth tones, gold foil, bronze and where there is brilliant color, in Ted Fish’s “Remember XT,” Kathleen Steventon’s “Quintessential,” and Mikki Harder’s “Away,” it is kept together and draws the eye into the far right hand corner of The Space. Work is hung horizontally and vertically, utilizing the height of the walls and ceiling. Tirzah Camacho’s “The Four Misdirection’s,” is four Masonite panels that the artists originally envisioned hung horizontally, but the work is impressive stacked one atop the other in a tall totem.

By far, the most compelling work from the juried artists is that of Pat Erickson from Pagosa Springs. Her long narrow canvas, “Scripture Bound,” of a male figure with his head bound in red cloth and wrapped in thorns, angel wings outstretched is from a series of work called “Mind Games.” This ongoing project is currently comprised of 10 images that represent the various states in one’s own mind or those states imposed on the individual from without. The wings in “Scripture Bound” are actually vulture wings, the artist explained.

Erickson said that she rewards herself for creating her more traditional wildlife images and prints, which pay the bills, by taking time to create new work in this series. She has two new “Mind Games” images planned. Erickson’s “Mind Games” canvases are primarily black and white with shots of color, like the red cloth covering the eyes and the green vine wrapped around the head, holding the wings in place. Erickson’s work is brilliant. The technique is entirely transparent watercolor painted on 8-ply cotton rag board. The artist does not use pencil, watercolor pencil, gouache, pastel or any other medium. Transparent watercolor pigments are very finely ground and mixed in a binding medium composed of a solution of gum Arabic. Very thin, transparent layers of pigment mingle with the white effect of the paper. Using a dry brush technique, mastered by artist Andrew Wyeth, Erickson, creates work of precise detail. The hundreds of hours involved in creating each tiny stroke is mind blowing. For Erickson, it’s a Zen-like meditation. The artist’s second work in the show is “Inspiration” and shows the profile of a woman, arms outstretched, back arched as if preparing for a back flip, a hawk is poised to land on her bare chest, talons ready to grip. “Inspiration” is the first positive state from the series, which includes title like “Fear,” “Right Brain Bondage,” “Suppression” and “Introversion.”

Erickson’s “Inspiration” is the work that encompasses or could represent the entire Invitational and Juried Art Show at The Space@Shy Rabbit, which, after dozens of visits, is still stimulating and innovative.

Other work of note includes the elegant lines in Chad Haspels “Above Us All,” a more contemporary sculpture than those in Town Park or at Vallecito Reservoir. Don Long’s political statement on the destruction of our National Forest and his commentary against the proposed Village at Wolf Creek, “Trapped,” is an excellent use of found objects to create a highly sophisticated work of art.

Painter Shaun Martin shows a series of three canvases from a series called “She Comes Fortified” that express the idea of discovery through the artistic process. The titles are intended as a jumping-off point, not only for the artist, but for the viewer: “Fault Finding,” (the best of the series for its design elements and structure) “Conception” and “Surplus.” One other work, “Groundbreaker,” is an exploration of the concept of what it means to break ground and to be groundbreaking. Martin acknowledges he is still discovering the deeper layers of the original concepts as he contemplates his own work.

Linda and Lal Echterhoff, husband and wife sculptors show three interesting and unique bronze sculptures. The bound wood of Lal’s “Bird Form” is an organic shape that tempts the viewer to ponder its meaning and Linda’s “Eve” is a trio of forms representing Eve, Satan and the Apple.

Other artists whose work is on display include: C.J. Hannah, Eric Cundy, Donna Emsbach and Jerry Lester.

Shy Rabbit is propelling Pagosa’s art scene into the 21st century. The work compiled for the Invitational and Juried Art Show is worth the trip down Bastille Drive. The work is provocative and the energy of the Space is inspiring and cutting-edge. Weekend hours are the ideal time to peruse and ponder and discuss art with one or two of the artists whose work hangs on the walls, as it is the artists who are helping to keep the gallery doors open for visitors.

Shy Rabbit is not as difficult to find as some think. Take North Pagosa to Bastille Drive (the road just after the Buffalo Bar and before UBC) and turn left. Follow Bastille just past Hopi. Look for Pine Valley Rental on your right. Shy Rabbit is in the warehouses next door, in the former location of Joy Automotive and across the street from the UPS warehouse. Look for the sandwich board with the bunny and the words Shy Rabbit. The gallery will be open Saturdays and Sundays, 1-4 p.m. through Dec. 18.

Don’t miss this show.

If you can’t make it to Pagosa, but are interested in perusing some of the art, log on to http://www.shyrabbit.blogspot.com for photos and more information.

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