Arts September 26, 2013

Budding Creatives

The Emerging Art Scene in Sun Valley

Ochi Gallery’s “Death to Day Jobs” opening, summer 2013.

Has “emerging art” become a dirty word? While some would argue that “aspiring,” “newly-exhibiting” or “undiscovered” are politically more fitting, L’Anne Gilman of Gilman Contemporary in Ketchum explained, “You want to be careful about pigeon-holing an artist as ‘emerging.’ While it can generate interest, unfortunately, to some, it has a negative connotation. But we are hoping to change that.”

This criticism is mainly due to its slippery definition—although most agree that all “promising yet unrecognized” artists are considered “emerging,” others insist on its synonym with “young.” Australia’s National Association for the Visual Arts went as far as to define it as “[one] that will have practiced as a professional artist continually for less than 5 years.”

David Haslett’s “Milky Way #1”, Black marble with calcite crystals at Gail Severn Gallery

But, as Gail Severn of the Gail Severn Gallery in Ketchum points out, “There are emerging artists who are recent graduates, but even more who waited to pursue a career in art until after they’d lived another life—had babies or owned a business. Then there are those that have been creating art their entire life but are just now gaining notoriety.”

Despite its ambiguous definition, both Gilman Contemporary and Gail Severn have been doing their best to promote emerging artwork in Sun Valley. “We considered it part of our mission when we opened,” said Gilman. “We felt that the emerging art scene here, especially for local artists, was very important and yet underdeveloped.”

Gilman Contemporary has had a local artist show almost every year since 2007, including now big names like Valerie Stuart, and this October they will be presenting Wendel Wirth, a local contemporary photographer who mentored with Gilman while getting her Master of Fine Arts online.

“The directed study with L’Anne helped a monumental amount,” said Wirth, who had been practicing photography for 18 years while shooting advertorial and product shots for her (now closed) local pet shop. “So few photographers have the opportunity to learn the gallery aspect of a show, how they work and what they want and need from me, as a beginning artist.”

Wirth isn’t the only emerging artist doing solo shows in Sun Valley, young local talent like Aaron Pearson, Chatham Baker and Andrew McCabe all recently had exhibitions at Ochi Gallery.

Wendel Wirth’s Fairfield winter photograph at Gilman Contemporary

Pauli Ochi, daughter of owner Denis Ochi, has been making strides for the young art community in the Valley. “There is a lot of art here,” she said, “But not a lot of it is local or young. I think these shows are important because they inspire other ‘young’ artists.”

Shows like the 2nd annual Death to Day Jobs exhibition each spring, which featured 11 budding local artists, helped “bring everyone together,” Pauli said. “Artists need to be talking to other artists. The more people are aware, the more it will catch on.”

When The Coffee Grinder in Ketchum opened in 1976, the goal was to not only bring great coffee and tasty treats to America’s original ski town, but to also help expand the local art scene. Founded by now famous wildlife painter Debbie Edgers Sturges, “the Grinder” was the first city-style coffee house in the Valley. And its goal to marry local art with coffee has been undeniably successful. It’s a goal that continues, thanks to current owner Nikki Potts. The walls of the Grinder are adorned with the work of local emerging artists of all kinds, from photography to encaustic paintings to handcrafted wooden bowls. “There is so much local talent, it’s extraordinary,” Nikki said, explaining that the rotating art at the Grinder offers a different type of feel. “This kind of art display has a certain vitality and uniqueness that you don’t get from main-stream galleries.” Unique is definitely a good word to describe what’s going on at Silvercreek Realty in Ketchum. The place looks a lot more like an art gallery than it does a real estate office. “It’s a lot more inviting and less intimidating than a regular real estate office,” agent Margaret Sundholm said. Since Silvercreek Realty is a paperless company, they decided to replace the file cabinets of traditional offices with art, explained the office’s founder, Levie Smith. The real estate office/gallery has been well received and features the work of a variety of artists that rotates in conjunction with the monthly Ketchum Gallery Walks. Of course, the future of art lies in the hands of the kids, and thanks to the annual Hanging Art Exhibit at the Community Campus in Hailey, the future in the Wood River Valley is looking good. Sponsored by Hailey Rotary and the Blaine County Recreation District, each year a selection of juried art from local 6th through 12th graders is on display at the multifunctional campus. “It’s just a terrific way to support young artists,” said Teresa Gregory, the Community Campus coordinator. -Mike McKenna

Unfortunately, showing emerging art isn’t always a realistic endeavor for galleries—while they appreciate the potential, it is admittedly a risk for their business. “It’s hard,” said Gilman. “We would love to do more shows like that, but it’s just not possible financially.”

Brooke Bonner is a fine art photographer and owned Green Antelope Gallery in Bellevue for seven years. As she explained, “There is limited wall space in galleries. I know that better than anyone. Local artists can’t expect representation. They need to get comfortable marketing themselves and searching for other avenues to display their work.”

That’s one reason Bonner helped create the Wood River Studio Tour, together with Suzanne Hazlett, which begins this October. Over 50 artists from all over the Wood River Valley will open their homes and studios for two days, allowing locals to meet the artists and explore our Valley’s network of talented creatives.

The tour also provides an ongoing Artist Education Series, which helps beginners learn how to present shows, take quality photographs of their work, market their art or create a digital presence. “There are a lot of wonderful artists out there, and this is a great opportunity for them to gain exposure and learn the industry,” said Bonner.

Chatham Baker, one of the local emerging artists recently featured at Ochi Gallery, noted, “This town has a very sophisticated art scene, but there is a gap somewhere between the coffee shop shows and the well-established galleries. I would love to see the rise of artist co-ops, more street art and alternative displays.”

Deborra’s “The Triad,” Wood River Studio Tours

Because the physical space for a show is typically expensive to rent and renovate, and gallery walls are both limited and competitive, these “alternative displays” are becoming more and more popular.

Many young artists are moving their work where the rent is free and easy—to the streets. Innovators like the British street artist Banksy have resurged the 1980s Graffiti Movement, and in metropolises like Buenos Aires, they have tours of some of the best and freshest in urban art—using the city streets and subway trains as their own avant-garde galleries.

Dev Khalsa’s “Untitled” icicle photograph; Steven Hout’s art panel, lighting and room screen “Untitled #49”, created with handmade paper, dogwood and willow, copper and brass sheeting. Khalsa and Hout are a part of the Wood River Studio Tour— a group of over 50 artists from the Wood River Valley opening their homes and studios to clients for two days each fall, allowing locals to meet the artists and explore our Valley’s network of talented creatives.

In Ketchum, on a much smaller scale, they have planted the seeds for something similar. The “Cover Art Project” has four Idaho artists wrapping vinyl images around utility boxes, otherwise awkward and ugly structures made beautiful by local hands. Hoping to gain momentum in 2013, it’s “aimed at beautifying the city’s existing infrastructure,” according to the Ketchum Arts Commission.

Melinda Tidwell’s “Facinating” media collage on paper, matted at Gail Severn Gallery.

Another ever-expanding and rent-free space where many artists have turned is online. Barbi Anne Reed, former owner of the Anne Reed Gallery in Ketchum, recognized the potential in this forum and decided to turn her entire gallery virtual. ARTProjectA, as it’s called, explains on its website that they “recognized the growing need for easier access to affordable fine ART that is also high quality, distinctive, and unique.”

Whether popping up on street corners, hanging on virtual walls, displayed prominently in galleries or being produced feverishly in dark studios, it seems that art—especially here in Sun Valley—will always find a way.





This article appears in the Fall 2013 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.