by Tom Sims
I have been many things in my life – an art critic is not one of them. So, my first question was, “Who me?”
My second was, “Why did you wait so long?”
The Fresno Arts Council’s ArtHop is a local treasure. On the first and third Thursdays of every month, the art community opens its doors to the public to browse, appreciate congregate, and communicate with artists and others who love art.
On the first Thursday, the venue is the Tower District and the downtown area. On the third Thursday, the “movable feast” moves north.
Fortunately, as a novice, I had the good fortune to first meet Diane Johnson-Mendes at her own Studio-74. Diane’s story captured me and framed my experience for the rest of the evening.
She was teaching art to Junior High School students when she noticed that they were not taking their work seriously. When she pressed them for a reason they said, “This is not art; this is school.”
Mendes wanted a real answer. “What is real art, then?” she asked them.
“Real art is what is in art galleries,” they replied.
With that, Diane went home and announced to her husband, “We’re opening an art gallery.”
That was five years ago and since then she has been encouraging young, local, emerging artists. She said, “As a gallery owner, I am inspired by the amount of local talent we have. As an artist, I enjoy bringing an element of nature to my work. Whether painting, sculpting or in photography, nature is my muse.”
The gallery’s current show is “iGallery.” Among the exhibits of the college students who contributed is the Painted Violin Project.
At Studio-74, I met two young artists, Chelsey Greenhaw and Jordyn Bsharah. Chelsey is experimenting with acrylic canvas paintings among other artistic media. “All my stress is released when I just focus on whatever art project I am doing and I don’t know what I would do without it!”
Jordyn is a photographer who said, “I love to look at the world through a camera lens.”
These two, gifted young women helped me to understand what Diane was saying. Now I was energized. I even deluded myself into thinking I could visit all the sites in the three hour time allotment of the show. I was able to get to about a third of the venues.
Don’t eat before you go. There will be food to taste and the menu will range from store-bought cookies and soda to gourmet cuisine and wine.
Tamela Ryatt is an accomplished photographer with a polished presentation. Her exhibit, “Faces of India,” was compelling and well attended. In her portraits she captured mood as well as mannerism.
Hannah K Joseph is a senior at Fresno Christian and is photo editor of her school’s publication, “The Feather.” She sees ArtHop as an opportunity to “get my name out there.” She describes herself as a writer and a visual artist working with painting, drawing, and photography. What drew me and captured my attention most were her depictions of some old buildings in Portland, Oregon. She has a keen eye for the art in her environment that most people overlook.
Lisa DeFehr makes glass jewelry and other “jewels” out of treasures she finds beside the road. She is not just recycling; she is recreating beauty from beauty. She sees these treasures in tiny bottles, discarded pieces of glass, and previously loved, now forgotten necklaces. She takes things apart and puts them back together in ways that she describes as “slightly off balance, just like me!”
If you visit her at the Iron Bird Lofts, be sure to pick up an “Einstein” plant. It is a cactus-like succulent that she uses to create “stonecroft” art. Adopt one!
Nick Parmentier is a potter, expressing himself through “raku” pieces. He becomes animated as he describes the process of creating his work, especially the firing and subsequent finishing steps. His work is unique and he never knows how each piece will come out. He describes it as “random” and adds, “It’s like opening a present at Christmas.”
It really is!
Deserai Davis was exhibiting her paintings at the African American Historical and Cultural Museum. I was most impressed and deeply moved by her work. I was especially drawn to her portrayal of a lynching. The victim hangs from a tree, head bent forward, forlorn. Grieving family members comfort each other in the near distance. All of this is set against a backdrop of unfolding yellow suggesting a hint of hope in a sea of despair.
Piece by Peace Designs is the outlet for Sarah Gonzalez, designer of handmade jewelry. Like other artists on the ArtHop, Sarah was ready and willing to tell her story of discovery and how the ArtHop affords her the opportunity to develop her business and display her work. From the relationships she builds, she hosts parties and utilizes the internet to market her products.
Caroline Wade makes edible art. Caroline’s Creations is about all sorts of artistic expressions of food, especially cakes. Online she says, “I think outside the box! I was told that I make HAPPY CAKES! What a great description.” Wade is building a successful business out of her art form and is doing it all through social networking with not one dime spent on traditional advertising. There are currently over 2000 “likes” on her Facebook page.
Bill Bruce is an established artist in Fresno, but his work is fresh and compelling.
Nelson Baker, on the other hand, is an emerging artist. I called him a “photographer of out-of-the-way places,” and he liked the description. He loves to look inside empty buildings and see the left-behind things that no one else sees. Through his lens, he captures imagination and mystery.
My questions were being answered as I walked and viewed tattoo art, fashion, paintings, sculpture, and a variety of visual art expressions.
Who me? Why not? Art is for the people. All people. Why did I wait so long? I just didn’t realize what a great evening ArtHop could afford. I will be back!
Nelson summed up the artist’s experience of ArtHop nicely, “This was my first Art Hop. The turnout was way better than I had hoped. I truly believe that ArtHop is keeping poor artists like me going during our recession. I also want to thank God for this opportunity to let other people experience his creations the way I do.” Finally, he thanked Café Corazon, the venue that sponsored his show.
Every gallery, coffee shop, store, studio, or business that I interviewed had the same positive attitude toward the event. It helps business and creates good will. But more than that, said Café Corazon owner (and coffee bean roaster-artist extraordinaire), Leo Rios, it is about “finding gems.” He doesn’t seek out the artists. They find him. “We’re like a kind of gem. We find gems and gems find us.”
ArtHop is a gem that everyone ought to find in Fresno on the first and third Thursdays of every month.