First Friday show offers eclectic mix of artwork

The First Friday art walk on Feb. 3 contained several lessons for those aspiring to contribute to Anchorage’s art community.

The first lesson: the power of small beginnings.

At Side Street Espresso, owners George and Deborah Gee hosted George’s annual showcase of work. Theirs was one of 65 First Friday shows listed in the Anchorage Press, which also included 13 receptions in Fairbanks.

When the monthly tradition was in its prenatal phase more than a decade ago, the Gees’ coffee shop held art openings in concert with just one other venue.

“We were hosting art shows,” George Gee said. “The Decker Morris Gallery _” which was next door at the time _” asked Deb if she would cater for their art openings also.”

Deborah Gee agreed, suggesting that the two businesses hold their events on the same day. They settled on the first Friday of each month. In an interview for the Anchorage Press around the same time, Gee proposed that downtown galleries and other art spaces should cooperate to form an art walk. The Press printed her plea, and the movement grew organically as more businesses joined the “First Friday” event.

As Side Street Espresso’s reception drew to a close around 7 p.m. last Friday, Lee Post’s first art show was gaining velocity at Noble’s Diner in Mountainview. The creator of “Your Square Life,” a comic that runs weekly in the Northern Light and the Anchorage Press, Post also started small. His work began as a self-published zine with a circulation of around 100 copies. That was seven years ago. His success exemplifies a second maxim: the importance of hard work.

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Post’s recommendation for nascent art stars is, “Just get started and do it. Make a commitment to deadlines, and keep your deadlines.”

Post and the Gees shared a commitment to a third rule: Don’t do it for money or fame. Do it for love.

Sidestreet Espresso has carried monthly art shows for more than a decade, and the Gees have noticed some trends.

“We get artists who just want to sell as many pieces as possible,” Deborah Gee said. “And they’re not trying to develop their art.” She’s noticed these artists tend to hawk the same show at multiple venues instead of working on new projects, and this leads to stagnation. But artists who are serious about improving over time make it in the long run.

Post’s passion has always been the driving force behind “Your Square Life.”

“I was never trying to break into a scene,” he said. Over two years he cultivated an evolving body of work that caught the attention of Anchorage Press editor Robert Meyerowitz. By November 2001, Post was asked to do a regular comic for the Press, and the current incarnation of “Your Square Life” was born.

The final lesson: Plan ahead.

Deborah Gee stressed the importance of regular First Friday attendance for students who would like to have their own shows in the future. She said it’s a good way to get familiar with the characteristics of different spaces where art shows are held, and to gain a better understanding of the work involved. New artists who already grasp what it takes to put up a show will fare better than those who don’t.

What appeals to the Gees is an artist who presents a specific plan for a show and takes the space into consideration.

“It doesn’t mean I pick artists based on that,” Deborah Gee said. “But I find myself gravitating toward it.”

The International Gallery of Contemporary Art introduced the public last Friday to “Family Secrets,” a new body of work by UAA alumna Brenda Roper, who received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from UAA in 2004. She understands first-hand the process of bringing her art forward to interact with the community.

“This is my first big solo show,” Roper said. “Putting the show up took a couple of days, but I spent a year putting the work together.”

However, this month’s First Friday also revealed that a derailed show can be a blessing in disguise. Subzero unveiled a unique presentation, one that never would have made its appearance if the artist for the planned show hadn’t backed out on short notice.

Scrambling for artists to fill the space in time and finding none, Subzero’s manager Cindy Ramirez turned to her record collection, which she estimates to total between 7,000 and 9,000 albums.

Several inch-thick 78s, some engraved with the pressing label “Edison,” make their home with Ramirez. And she has the hand-crank Victrola to play them on.

Selecting approximately 30 album covers for the Subzero show breathed new fire into Ramirez’ love affair with records. She read liner notes and other details she had paid less attention to before. She inhaled musician’s biographies and found things that fascinated and surprised her. Among these was her discovery that some of her favorite musicians had created their own album cover art. Ramirez added these to the repetoire of album covers by big-name photographers and artists. Just for fun, she added what she terms “cheesecake row” — a spread of album covers from the 50s and 60s featuring pin-up drawings.

Ramirez thinks she’s noticed patrons grazing on the free food a little less this month, and gazing at what’s on the walls a little more.

“I’m a little puffed up about it,” Ramirez said.

She added that UAA students should know she’s desperate for new artists. Ramirez is looking for artists over the age of 21 who create colorful, playful and abstract works. She warns that the space is deceptively small, requiring a significant number of pieces to fill, but is willing to negotiate with two or three artists cooperatively organized to pitch a show.

Ramirez manages both Humpy’s and Subzero, and can be contacted through either business.

In the meantime, she plans to keep the show up for the remainder of February and may produce other vinyl debuts in the future.