Like many First Friday devotees in Phoenix, my wanderings around Roosevelt Row always include a stop at eye lounge, founded 15 years ago with the idea of being an artist-run collective celebrating and promoting our city’s visual arts scene. The oblong-shaped gallery is always crowded on art walk nights, but I manage to make my way along the walls and even to the tiny room in the back, realizing that I might need to revisit the work in the daytime, when it’s quieter.
How wonderful, then, that a 60-artists-strong eye lounge group show is getting some breathing room at Vision Gallery in Chandler through March 8, 2015. Called “Self-Made: 15 years of eye lounge,” the exhibit offers some of the best contemporary art by emerging and established artists based in the Phoenix area — in mediums ranging from paintings and ceramics to textiles and photography. The roster of artists is stellar and includes several folks I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the last few years as an arts writer. Looking at the breadth and depth of their work, I can see the pivotal role that Eye Lounge has played in supporting local artists, and I am reassured that Phoenix’s art scene will continue to flourish.
Ceramic artist Constance McBride states it well in the press release for the show at Vision:
“As a current member of eye lounge, I am honored to be a part of this historic group of artists making work in Phoenix and supporting the growing cultural community on Roosevelt Row. I am thankful for the opportunity eye lounge has provided me to further develop my work and to share it with a wider audience. Working as part of this collective to present quality exhibitions with professionalism while maintaining the standards past members have set has been an experience I wouldn’t get anywhere else and is invaluable to my journey as a professional contemporary artist.”
Roosevelt Row didn’t attract nearly the crowd it does today when Cindy Dach and Greg Esser founded eye lounge in 2000, but they correctly banked on its potential. Over the years, the collective’s roster of artists has shifted, never growing too large as to be unwieldy and thus remaining a select group. Many of the artists who were part of the collective in the early 2000s have gone on to establish national reputations.
I wish I could describe all five dozen or so works in the retrospective, but suffice it to say that many of my favorite Phoenix artists are represented — and represented well by at least one of their most recognizable works. Here’s a sampling:
— Cherie Buck-Hutchison, with archival photo prints that superimpose old family photos onto landscape views, to haunting effect.
— Sue Chenoweth, with a densely composed abstract painting called “Van Gogh is Holding Us Up.”
— Sean Deckert, with a lenticular print of an urban night scene that magically shifts as you slowly walk past it.
— Daniel Funkhouser, with lush paintings in which young men pose as wannabe monarchs (they reminded me of Kehinde Wiley’s work).
— Mimi Jardine, with a small installation that pokes fun at our throwaway society and at bureaucrats.
— Carolyn Lavender, with a surreal drawing of wildlife in a forest.
— Aimee Leon, with a 5-foot-high, yeti-like work made of hand-sheared Navajo wool that commands attention near the entry to the show.
— Chris Maker, with a large painting that mesmerizes the viewer with strange juxtapositions of objects and colors, fronted by a man on his back, lost in thought.
— Merkel McLendon, with bricolage work combining found objects such as an old violin, kitchen implements, driftwood and shoes.
— Abbey Messmer, with an aqueous nude study, done in oil on canvas.
— Mary Meyer, with botanically inspired wall plaques made of wood and metal.
— Ann Morton, with an aerial photograph of her amazing “Ground Cover” temporary installation of blankets in downtown Phoenix and a video showing how it came together.
— Kaori Takamura, with an oversized athletic shoe made of patchworked pieces of painted canvas and other materials.
— Denise Yaghmourian, with four fabric cubes precisely adorned with sewing notions.
If you’re a follower of the Phoenix art scene, you know that many of these artists show at various larger galleries — and even museums — in town, not just at eye lounge. But I’m probably not speaking out of turn when I say that they owe at least part of their success to a humble building at 419 E. Roosevelt Street.