Flicker, Spark, Flame

Flicker, Spark, Flame


The sudden, unexpected death of Rose Johnson, for years a Downtown Phoenix fixture and player in the City’s developing contemporary art infrastructure, caused our cultural community’s lights to flicker. It sparked me to look back at the rise of contemporary art in our Valley and to identify, acknowledge, and celebrate those trailblazers who came before, their legacies, and their influences which paved the way to where we are at the beginning of a new year and a new decade. It seems appropriate that Kim Larkin and Adam Murray are taking the torch from one such trailblazer Kimber Lanning, the founder of Modified Arts on Roosevelt Row in Downtown Phoenix.


Recently, after being introduced by Kimber to Adam and Kim, I went off on one of my tangents about the impressive, but actually short in retrospect, rise of the cultural Phoenix, an idea that resonated with the new guard at Modified Arts. They too had been impressed by who they were meeting, the art they were seeing, the places they were visiting, and trying to synthesize it all as they settled into their new lives here.


Paralleling the rapid growth of Phoenix, the cultural infrastructure has blossomed in the past fifty years. At one point several years ago, there were four museums being built, remodeled or added on to simultaneously. That is impressive by anyone’s standards! From a linear perspective, 1960 was a baseline year for our contemporary art community when a group of civic leaders including artist Philip C. Curtis and Walter Bimson, the chairman of the Valley National Bank (then Bank One, then Chase), founded the Phoenix Art Museum. There had been significant art practice here before by artists and illustrators who came to the desert for the natural beauty, amazing light, and new commercial opportunities, such as Jesse Benton Evans, Marjorie Thomas, John Stuart Curry, George Elbert Burr, Augustus Dunbier, Andy Chuka, and Robert Harris. Artists, like Curtis, Lew Davis and wife Mathilde Shaefer, and Phillips Sanderson, came to the Valley to work on Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) projects starting in the mid-1930s. Many stayed and others came. Artists survived through commercial work, corporate and private commissions, collector investment groups, and through sales in galleries including Scottsdale’s first gallery, The Stable Gallery, founded in 1960 by Avis Read, the Thompson Gallery on North Central Avenue, the Riva Yares, Elaine Horwitch, Suzanne Brown, Marilyn Butler, Lisa Sette, and Bentley galleries in Scottsdale.


Like other cities, we share a legacy of artists banding together to promote their work and advance their careers. Founded in 1937, Arizona Painters and Sculptors was a predecessor to groups that were either similarly organized (Phoenix Artists Coalition) or formed due to common aesthetic and/or personal interests (The House Studios, 3-Car Pileup, TRE 25). Since the early 1970s, Phoenix has benefited from resilient artspaces with long life spans such as Alwun House (founded 1970), Movimiento Artistisco de Rio Salado [MARS] (1978), 11 East Ashland (1986), and The Icehouse (1990). They paved the way for more recent iterations – Modified Arts (1999), ersonName w:st=”on”>Eye LoungeersonName> (founded in 1999 and spearheaded by visionaries Cindy Dach and Greg Esser), 515 Arts (also Dach/Esser and others), as well as Perhelion Arts (2002) and Pravis Gallery (2006). In 1989, lead by ersonName w:st=”on”>Beatrice Moore and Tony ZahnersonName>, Artlink inaugurated Art Detour and in 2004 launched First Fridays which has become the largest monthly art walk in the United States.


Establishing themselves and their business in Phoenix, Larkin and Murray’s approach includes fresh enthusiasm, open-mindedness, intense curiosity, and an admirable desire to understand the Phoenix visual, sound, and performance arts landscape. They have encountered an abundance of artists, other gallerists, collectors, curators, arts administrators, and business people, several whom they asked to make oral histories on video for the exhibition and for their website. Their strategy is smart, genuine, and passionate. From their acculturation adventure, they selected art for this exhibition which deeply resonated with them. While appearing eclectic and in no way an encyclopedic survey, the art in this inaugural re-launch of Modified Arts celebrates and spotlights the legacies of people who came before and of people still actively working today. It also demonstrates rekindled enthusiasm and response to Kim and Adam’s efforts and shared vision by artists, collectors, galleries, and private dealers who have generously lent art work for this noteworthy exhibit. Viewers will delight in seeing works which they may not be familiar with by artists Philip C. Curtis, Lew Davis, Dorothy Fratt, Phillips Sanderson, ersonName w:st=”on”>Beth Ames SwartzersonName>, and Fritz Scholder. They also will enjoy seeing current and historic work by Downtown Phoenix pioneer artists like Beatrice Moore, Janet de Berge Lange, Jeff Falk, Annie Lopez, as well as offerings by Bob Adams, Lew Alquist, Mark Klett, John Armstrong, and Sean O’Donnell. The exhibit includes art by artists who emerged on the scene in the 1990s including Randy Slack, Steve Yazzie, David Dauncey, ersonName w:st=”on”>James AngelersonName>, and Sara Abbott. Photos by ersonName w:st=”on”>Joe JankovskyersonName> document performances as well as the actual space at The Icehouse and MARS.


Is there an aesthetic or stylistic common thread connecting the art works in this exhibition? What effect does a rapidly growing urban environment whose cultural infrastructure naturally lags behind basic city infrastructure, i.e. water/sewer, streets, fire and police stations, have on artists and their art-making practices? Does the art deal with issues that are unique to Phoenix or is the content more of a universal nature? I suggest the common thread is not readily visible, but instead intrinsic to the work made by artists who give voice to ideas, emotions, and social and political concerns while living in a fused naturally beautiful yet harsh, arid, and sprawling, gridded urban environment. These are ideas to think about when viewing this exhibition and afterwards. This work, like all contemporary art, asks the viewer to respond, to finish a statement, or to ask a question.


For many years, La Phoeniquera was an annual juried exhibit at MARS Artspace during the hotter-than-hell summer months. I always anticipated and enjoyed it because it was like taking a pulse on what art was being made in Phoenix and who was making it. In the same vein, Modified Arts: Looking Back to the Future offers opportunities to ponder what is “Phoenix-like” in artistic production here. We are encouraged to celebrate an art community whose flame burns brighter because of contributions made by those who came before us, those here today, and to optimistically anticipate future torchbearers of a rich legacy. 


Ted G. Decker

Phoenix, Arizona

January, 2010



Ilcio Lopes – Inside, Outside, and the Space in Between

Inside, Outside, and the Space in Between

A visitor to Espaço Cultural Sérgio Porto, Rio de Janeiro to see O Cubo dentro do Cubo, the exhibition of new works by visual artist Ilcio Lopes, may immediately recognize characteristic elements of past exhibitions and public interventions such as cube-shaped adhesives that form urban maps, DNA double helix-like chains of pattern, and exquisite lines. Lopes’ lines emerge from the design, continuity, density, and color of cube placement. They offer routes to somewhere while not clearing identifying or even suggesting destinations. In the rich tradition and vibrancy of carioca (Rio de Janeiro) art practice since the mid-20th Century, the exhibition includes drawings, video, and installation.

However, as life repeatedly reminds us, never judge a book by its cover. More pertinent to this exhibition, it is wise not to be judgmental about the familiarity of materials, patterns, and past interactions with this artist’s work. This exhibition serves as a platform for Lopes to make an unexpected departure from the depiction of two-dimensional geometric forms and offers opportunities for viewers to make multi-faceted investigations and memorable personal experiences with the allegoric and metaphoric cube. Whereas Lopes previously sought to create things or objects, now his focus is to open the cube and to make a giant leap of faith towards opening up his own life. He is aware that such action is accompanied by potential risks, but already feels the joy and freedom from embarking on this strategic course.

Ilcio Lopes was born in Rio de Janeiro (1961) and raised during one of the most productive and rich periods of Brazilian art and culture characterized by intense creative activity and societal, cultural transformation. He establishes direct linkages with those who came before, particularly the Neo-Concretists, in conceptual language of repetition of geometric forms, the use of simple, everyday materials, encouraging public participation, creating art outside art hegemonic constrictions in a space where art and life are joined, dematerializing experimentation (analogous to concurrent Body Art and Land Art movements), and revising the visual semantics of art – line, plane, color, space, and absence and presence. At the same time, he engages in an ongoing, synergistic dialog with contemporaries who deal with issues of identity, post-industrial residue, globalization, and urbanization. Lopes reveals fascinating personal experiences and demonstrates extraordinary expertise in working with a broad spectrum of media. His research is rooted in the knowledge of art history and a keen awareness of street life and contemporary culture. 

The cube has been the focus of Ilcio Lopes’ research and art practice since 2001. Metaphorically for Lopes, the cube represents the essence of life itself. It has a base, height, depth, and volume, as well as an almost infinite number of mathematic permutations which he continually works to investigate and deplete in drawings and as building blocks in his work. His art recalls the later and most recognized works of Brazilian mid-20th Century artist Alfredo Volpi with the reduction of geometric shapes and elements of urban landscapes. Lopes recognizes that art transcends its materiality by creating new and wide-ranging meanings which integrate artist, art, and the public. 

Entering and passing through the exhibition space, one feels a floating, disorienting sensation while embarking on an exploratory voyage to discover Lopes’ own life cube…both inside and out…in the gallery he has transformed into a virtual multi-dimensional sketch book and studio. A voyeuristic feeling is evoked by the opportunity to gaze at intimate evidence of drawings, exploratory ideas, landscapes of triumph and loss, and fresh aspirations. 

A clear cube is more easily imagined, having transparent, though defined, interior and exterior spaces. The cube’s geometric shape loses its objective nature, becoming an abundant space for reflection, imagination, and expression. The basic shape of the cube suggests secure shelter from where the liberating, but perilous outside space can be viewed, imagined, and yearned for. Looking from the outside in, one imagines a contrasting point-of-view of tantalizing security. However, it comes with the potentially high price of losing freedom and being bound. Initially, there appears to be a distinct and impenetrable separation between the two spaces and in the way Lopes has practiced art making and, as he affirms, has lived in the past. 

In his art, working conceptually with the idea of simultaneous presence and absence, Brazilian-based artist Waltercio Caldas sought to inhabit and navigate the space in between things. These spaces are the highly-sought after fertile lands where the sweetest fruit grows and that yield the most bountiful harvests. They are the destinations that Ilcio Lopes’ new art works provide maps and routes to. In the past years, Lopes has lived on both sides of the cube while experiencing and enduring the ongoing, raging, and universal struggle to navigate the rigid dichotomous space between private and public, absent and present, performer and spectator, and being a part-time versus a full-time working artist. With this exhibition of new works, it is evident that he has discovered the spaces between and has harnessed the emancipating power of art to liberate his art making practice and himself from previous bindings. 

Currently, Lopes lives and works in the greater Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area, with studios in Niterói and Cabo Frio. Lopes attended the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage and the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). Also, he studied art in Paris and Barcelona during a year of living abroad. His public art works and interventions, installations, paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings have occurred and have been exhibited in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Niterói, Belém, Buzios, Uberlândia, and Vitória, as well as internationally in China, England, France, and Spain.  

Ted G. Decker
May, 2009


Posted by Melbourne, Australia (recently moved from Phoenix, Arizona) artist Eliza Gregory.


For anyone looking for a meaningful way to give back via the arts, I think philanthropist Ted Decker is an excellent example. His Catalyst Fund, set up in 2003, is designed to help artists market themselves—an expensive and yet crucial component of getting your work out into the world and moving your artistic career forward. He supports both international artists and Phoenix-based artists, and is a strong presence in the Phoenix arts community. His often-small—sometimes less than $300—grants make a huge difference. By helping a few individuals, he builds stronger ties between many people within a disparate city.


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Ted G. Decker

Ted Decker Fine Art Consulting
Ted Decker Catalyst Fund

Carolyn Lavender: New Journal Paintings

In the Journal series, Phoenix-based visual artist Carolyn Lavender clearly reveals her ample technical expertise and visual curiosity in a celebration of the elegance of mark making and the line. Forty of the initial 50+ works in the series were exhibited at Modified Arts, Phoenix, in March-April, 2009. These new works also demonstrate the latest leap forward in a career trajectory that has sustained momentum since 2001. At that time, also at Modified Arts (owned/directed by Kimber Lanning), Lavender lassoed viewer and critical response with an exhibition that revealed her reaction and frustration with the 2000 national election results. She also showcased her competence in working with a wide spectrum of art making techniques including a mesmerizing large-scale grid of mixed media self-portraits, as well as with itaglio prints and Polaroid transfers with her likeness.

Lavender works from her journals, an activity she began at age 14 and a passion she vigorously pursues. By the early 1990s, her journal collages had become more involved, and by 2005 they began to inform her art making. With acute visual literacy, she has produced an exquisite group of small works that are drawings of collaged journal pages. She does not consider her journals to be art, describing them as “completely free of self-censorship” in terms of what is appropriated adn manipulated. The opened pages of her journals immediately commandeer the viewer, resulting in a feast for the eyeballs and a voyeuristic stirring evoked by the opportunity to gaze at intimate evidence of memories and experiental impressions and thoughts. They reveal richly ornate, imaginative, and surreal collages of print imagery appropriated from personal photos and from a diverse scope of readings and research both in art history and in contemporary culture. Written journal entries fill the negative space around the collages.

Lavender is a passionate collector of images with thousands laid out on tables in her studio and then stored in boxes and folders for safekeeping. In order to show a diary/sketchbook-type effect, she maintains the exact scale of the journal collages by tracing the images onto canvas panels. She alternates between illuminating the images of specific journal pages and assembled imagery reconfigured from multiple pages. Any narrative content is an intuitive, autobiographical by-product of imageery previously collected.

To see images of a select number of paintings, click on the link below: