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“Celia” by John Petrey

When John Petrey worked in advertising he had two mottos. The first was “Beauty is in the eye of the checkbook holder,” and the second was “If you can’t have fun, why show up sober?”

It’s not surprising that John had a successful 23-year career as an adman, but at some point things turned on him.

“It’s very high pressure,” he said. He had a Florida studio where he produced commercials with big clients who would often make last-minute changes. “You have to make split-second decisions. I got burned out to where it wasn’t fun anymore.”

John was feeling a different sort of heat when I called him this Tuesday. It’s been in the high 90’s in Chattanooga, TN where he has a new studio that’s nothing like the pressure cooker he left in Florida. This workspace is devoted to art, and there’s not air conditioning or janitor.

Not long after retiring, John started painting and sculpting again. He soon found a second career that’s as big of a commotion as his first. He’s a fashion designer of the most avant-garde variety, crafting miniature dresses and suits from bottle caps, sheet metal, playing cards, yardsticks and/or the kitchen sink. Prêt-à-porter this is not. The artist has shown all across the country, and is making his Santa Fe debut this season at Canyon Road Contemporary Art

“Lori” by John Petrey

It all started with a miniature suit, and then a gown made out of copper with a skirt of vintage barn wood. John built “Doris Day” from a sea of blue bottle caps, and adorned “Joan of Arc” with asphalt shingles that somehow flow like cloth.

“My work is very nostalgia-oriented,” said John. Many of his pieces mirror styles or highlight female heroes from the 1950’s and 60’s, John’s early years. “I didn’t want to use fabric, though. That has already been done.”

The result is a wacky smorgasbord of would-be Pop art; these pieces are a little too sincere and full of quirky individuality to land in Warhol’s camp. Besides, John is less focused on concept than he is on materials and visual effects. The name of the game is trompe l’oiel.

“My rule is that I have to win,” John said. “The viewer will see the dress from a distance, and they’ll think it’s something real. Then they touch it and it’s bottle caps.”

John’s current challenge is a piece for CRCA’s front lawn. It’s an aluminum gown that’s 70 inches tall and looks “ultra contemporary, spacy, a little Jetson’s.” He tends to design as he goes, starting with an initial idea and then puzzling his way through the substructure and exterior of a piece.

All of it, from the flashy facades of the dresses to the relentless promotional schedule that takes John on weeks-long road trips, is informed by his years in advertising. It’s a bittersweet truth.

“I’m really glad I don’t work in the industry anymore,” John said. “But I’m really glad I worked in the industry.”

Go see John Petrey’s work at Canyon Road Contemporary Art, and don’t forget to swing back through when his new outdoor gown comes to town!

BONUS: Here’s a video of John Petrey working in his studio, which he and his wife Peggy fondly call “the man cave.”

Zen at 70 mph

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Sunset, Casey Horn

Casey Horn was standing by the door with a serene smile on his face at Friday’s opening of “Zen,” Canyon Road Contemporary Art’s latest show. He seemed to be channeling his work, a dynamic series of metal sculptures in the shapes of Japanese characters that possess gravity-defying balance and soothing symmetry.

In fact, to find any of the featured artists at the opening was a simple matter of picking out the peaceful nodes in the hustle and bustle. Casey, glass artist Doug Gillis and painter Javier López Barbosa are true Zen masters.
Well, most of the time. Casey was considerably less calm on his drive down from Denver.

“I was driving down the road, 70 miles an hour, with a $40,000 sculptures behind me in a trailer,” he said, gritting his teeth at the thought.

Now the piece hovered in the CRCA’s new Japanese Zen garden outside. “Sunset” literally and symbolically conveys the idea of sundown. Three curvy lines—the horizon, the falling sun and the rising moon—engage in an acrobatic interplay. Dusky red and orange patinas make the sculpture almost seem like three leaping fingers of lava.

Casey has been studying Japan’s written language for several years now. He draws the characters with ink on paper, and then literally casts them into the third dimension. Great ribbons of metal twist and swirl, undulating to mimic the flourishes of the brush on paper.

“Movement is really important, otherwise they would look like block letters,” he says. “I think of it as painting in the air with metal.” “Water” splashes out toward the viewer, “Tree” transforms into a literal branch a la Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne,” and “Fire” flickers and curls.
It’s not surprising that when Casey creates, he meditates.

“I actually have to get into a state of mind to do the calligraphy,” he says.

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Kiln Worked Glass, Doug Gillis

Glass artist Doug Gillis’ pieces hang in the room to the right of the front door. At the opening, the artist drifted in circles, discussing his pieces with visitors as he ran his fingers over them.

Gillis grew up in Ohio and lives in Albuquerque. He had a long career in graphic design before switching to find art more than 20 years ago. His roots as a designer are visible in his pieces- they’re spare and simple, with appealing lines and bold flourishes.

“I kind of took Zen as being simplistic, so that’s what I was going for,” said Gillis. His favorite piece in the show is “Kiln Worked Glass,” which relies on spontaneous reactions in metal for its central element. The result is an explosive golden river cutting through a placid lake of blue and white- yin and yang.

Swing by “Zen” at CRCA and experience the immense calm of this spectacular show.

BONUS: Check out this preview over at Southwest Art.

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The Rhino Returns

“Durer’s Rhino” by Graham Ansell

When Graham Parker Ansell was 19 years old, he put an aluminum rhinoceros in a red wagon and wheeled it to the foot of Canyon Road. He’d created the rhino himself, with Durer’s famous woodcut as a guide and the molten ashes of a dying relationship as a forge. It was a glowing beast that rested on its belly as though its enormous plates of armor had become too heavy to bear.

One of Graham’s first stops was at Canyon Road Contemporary Art where he asked then-owners Bob and Debbi Brody if they’d like to put the rhino on their lawn.

“They told me I should come back when I had more things to show,” Graham says. “That I should build up a body of work.”

Graham walked his rhino all the way to the top of Canyon and back down again. Legend has it that he collected a trail of curious gallery owners along the way (full disclosure: this tidbit isn’t from Graham, who laughed aloud when he heard it). When he passed CRCA again, Bob was waiting on the porch.

“He said, ‘I’m so glad you still have the rhino! That was crazy of us,'” recalls Graham. “‘This is going to be our showpiece.'” That was six years ago. The rhino sold soon after, but gallery goers have been asking about it ever since.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact start of Graham’s career as a sculptor. Perhaps it was when, as a young child, he took to collecting shiny metal objects that he called “S.M.O.”s. Or maybe it began with the “fake taxodermied animal” (complete with peg-leg) that he built for his brother.

Graham’s first formal introduction to sculpture came at his Albuquerque high school. His art teacher pulled together three students, the minimum number for an official class, and taught a course on sculpture that would change Graham’s life. Their final project was “The Battle,” a grand assemblage of more than 200 sculptures-turned-soldiers (or vice versa) that they placed in a moonscape of sand and lava rocks.

Back then, Graham was working mostly in ceramics.  “A huge, huge problem for me was that shit would blow up during the firing process,” he says. “That really pissed me off.” After graduation he moved to New York with his girlfriend, and then to Portland with his brother, and then to Tucumcari  to attend a fine art program at Mesalands Community College in 2005. He’d taken a two-week workshop on metalwork at Mesalands a year before, and fell in love. It was a material that would never shatter, that he could polish to shiny, seamless perfection.

German Renaissance master Albrecht Durer did his “Rhinoceros” print based on a vague note and sketch of an animal he’d never seen before. Graham had always been fascinated by the work, and used it in graffiti art he created with his high school girlfriend. Just as he was learning to cast, their relationship was ending. He decided to create the tired rhino as a symbol of letting go.

The process seems perfect for such a shift in identity: you start with an object, create a mold of it out of rubber, pour wax in the mold, carve and perfect the wax positive, coat the wax in a ceramic shell, melt the wax out and finally fill the ceramic mold with metal.

“It comes out as ugly as sin,” says Graham. Then the polishing begins. “If anyone can see a scratch on it, that just screams out to me. I want to get all that effort to be invisible.”

Graham says “Rhino” is meant to conjure the feeling of presque vu– the “almost seen.”

“To me, that means what’s on the tip of your tongue,” he explains. “What’s so close to real that you can’t even express it. I think artists are making an attempt to express it.” For Durer, that was a mysterious creature called a rhinoceros. Graham wanted to bring the “almost seen” creature into the third dimension.

Last week, Graham Parker Ansell pulled up to Canyon Road Contemporary Art with an aluminum rhino in the back of his car.  He’s reproduced “Rhino” far more than any other piece and sold it from coast to coast, but another version of it has never made it back to Canyon Road Contemporary. That is, until owner Nancy Leeson commissioned one.

“Delivering this piece felt the best since delivering that one in 2006,” says Graham. Despite its heartrending origins, the piece has been quite a blessing in his life. He recently used his rhino funds to build a house in Albuquerque. “Every time I try to steer my life in a another direction, it steers me back to the art world. It just feels like yeah, I’m Graham, this is part of the deal.”

CHECK IT OUT: Here’s Graham Ansell’s page on CRCA, and here’s a shot of one of his latest pieces, a Glyptodon piggy bank. Stay tuned for more on that!