Dig the Diagonal Come Revel in the Grand Revolution
Text: Amy L. Young : Photo: Wayne Rainey
The majority of current neighborhood activity going on in our various downtown communities is focused on development issues and preservation. Artists, residents and business owners have banded together to maintain a consistent communication with city officials to keep and build upon the value that makes the hawkeyed developers so eager to swoop in and try and achieve their goal of financial maximization of a locale. Generally that usually ends up in the form of sprinkling sterility dust and turning a neighborhood into what Times Square has become—NYC’s official yawn zone.
Luckily, we have a superb community-minded, active force of residents to be a part of the process and keep interest and integrity within our city limits. There’s not a lot comparable to being part of a diverse neighborhood. It’s something a lot of my East coast chums thought I’d be giving up moving to Phoenix and, it turns out, I’m soaking in it.
As I open the door to leave the gallery and bookstore that I operate with my partner on the corner of Grand and 15th Avenues, I never quite know what may be in store for me. From having to roll out a breathing but immobile body from beneath the car to bumping into one of the local artistic geniuses to reminiscing with an old-timer about neighborhood history or to just being in awe of the agility of the teens racing in the alley behind the long standing Rodriguez Boxing Club just across the street as they gear up to go inside and take it to the ring, I always experience a wealth of emotions. I inhale it all in and maintain the general conclusion, as I release my breath, that I absolutely love my neighborhood. And that’s often all before I even have a chance to close the door behind me
Grand Avenue, once the main highway toward Los Angeles, and the lengthy diagonal of Phoenix’s paved grid street plan, is a hotbed of activity and spice. Though spice on any level strikes the senses subjectively, it sure is a hell of a lot better than having nothing to smell, so to speak. Much of Grand’s aesthetical richness lies in the buildings themselves. Weathered brick and steel allow you not only to see but to feel an honest history of the city. The old motels are reminiscent of some of the remaining bungalow motels on Hollywood Blvd., and much like those, while probably not the first a chamber of commerce representative might recommend to you, they exude the stuff that many a good tale has been woven from. The rest of the meat (or chosen meat substitute for you veggies, if you will) of the Grand Avenue sandwich is made up of the people.
While there are currently over fifteen relatively newer spaces on Grand, including live music venues, bars and coffee, some folks had the vision of moving into the diverse, fairly untouched neighborhood over a decade ago. Artist and craftsman Mike Miskowski, currently of The Annex, which is composed of artists Abby Messmer’s Lucky Rabbit Studios and Brad Konick, has been around for some time. Prior to The Annex, Miskowski was at the Citywide studios, which also has seen a steady flow of greatness including Rachel Bess, Sue Chenoweth, Karolina Sussland, Thuong Nguyen and Richard & Michelle Bledsoe. Bledsoe loved the neighborhood because it was “urban and gritty. Afforadable and just dangerous enough to keep the yuppies out.”
Chris Duran bought his Icon Studios twelve years ago to house multi-faceted mediums, including painting, block printing and metal works. Still going strong, Icon has also opened its doors to the public every Tuesday for the last 5 years for life drawing workshops.
The art world’s best kept secret, Beatrice Moore and her partner Tony Zahn, are synonymous with the Phoenix downtown-- specifically Grand, as they’ve devoted all of their personal time to purchasing, renovating and creating affordable studios for artists and small business owners, as well as participating in community programs and then eking out extra time in the day to sustain their own creative endeavors. The two came to Grand in 1992 after being relocated from the Jackson Street area when developers marked their old studio for demolition to make way for the America West Arena.
They were drawn to Grand for practical reasons, such as less expensive property and also a chance to showcase their buildings as a form of artistic expression.
“We were tired of seeing the city do visually unstimulating things to building facades,” says Moore, we wanted to add to the character of the neighborhood by creating buildings that were also interesting on the outside.
Their light and multi-colored Stop & Look was the first result of that. On top of being a work of art as a building, its large display window has been a place to present deliciously bizarre and detailed displays that bring something new to the attention of your eyes every time you, ahem, stop and look. Beatrice currently showcases her paintings at her studio, Weird Garden, and Zahn is crafting his Shabby Chateau a little further northwest. The two are also working on the renovation of a historic building on Grand, once a bakery in the 1940’s, near 13th Ave. The plan is to house multiple studios and/or small businesses and opportunities still exist for potential occupants.
The corner of 12th Avenue and Grand houses Mykil Zep in The Lodge, a great space that has been home to other Phoenix artists like Leslie Barton and Bill Dambrova. Mykil, ever the groovy cat, strives to present a myriad of bold, pop-based art with extreme talent and DIY sensibility, including his own works as well as fashion and live music.
The girls next door at The Red Door are anything but stereotypical girls next door. Indigo Verton is a multi-talented photographer, painter, fashion designer and make-up artist, with a personality you couldn’t buy with a million bucks. Laressa Manning is a painter who is moved by the strong community vibe. Her strong colors and ability to capture emotion and expression are reflective of her current interest in realism and the evolution of one’s self. She also teaches art at Saguaro High in Scottsdale. Natalie Borchers came to Phoenix from Chicago where she had the opportunity to create an art space in a long-closed Pharmacy in a very untapped neighborhood. As she embarks on new beginnings with her art career, Natalie also works at the downtown Phoenix YMCA with upstairs neighbor and artist, Luis Guiterrez, and the two are currently working together on a mural program with local kids. Gutierrez shares his studio with ASU gallery preparator Fausto Fernandez. Though their art is at opposite ends of the spectrum, Luis’s being a stunning combination of Pop & Mexican Folk relating obvious inner conflicts while Fausto’s multi-layered collages of maps and text portray a more subtle humanistic logic, the two live and work well together within the space.
Lee Berger aka Leros has recently opened his Phix Gallery with a show of dark, almost-fantasy inspired paintings by Tara Miller, which will run through August. He was attracted to Grand by “the fantastic buildings that haven’t been torn down yet.” and hopes to bring something that will be appreciated and well received by the community. He loves the neighborhood folks and involves them in his project by giving them employment when opportunities arise. His space also doubles as a live music venue on certain nights.
Scott and Jen Sanders moved their well-loved Paper Heart Gallery, “an art space with music,” from Van Buren to Grand this past year. Taking an incredible mid-century building and renovating it to only enhance its original charm, Scott and Jen have created a spacious home for art shows, music/theatre/performance events, and yes, there’s even a bar. The upstairs provides studio space for local legends like Jeff Falk, Annie Lopez and JA Jurewicz. Like most of the space owners and proprietors on the street, the two were responsible for the majority of elbow grease that went into the rebuild.
Newcomers Dan Montes and Kathy Cone of the Cone Gallery, who’ve subsequently taken well to adopting Cone as their last name, also put the blood, sweat and tears into turning a less than lively property into a cozy, loungy and devoted art gallery and performance space. They were touched by the support of Kathy’s artwork by Derek and Gina Suarez of the Paisley Violin and felt it was time to make a move from Mesa to the downtown. LA area natives, the two hope to utilize their blend of musical and artistic talents to foster a creative collective and hub. Derek and Gina also are renovating El Museo, a soon-to-be coffee shop & art space on Grand that will hopefully also feature Gina’s amazing culinary delights. Their space also includes work studios in back featuring the art of Shari Bombeck, Randy Kinkel, Ruby Farias and the Beatnik Loft furniture studio.
Down the 15th Avenue way is the Grandevelt. Once home to the brilliant Steve Yazzie and sensational 3-Car Pile-Up artists Randy Slack and Sara Abbott, the block now resonates with motion due to the exceptional precedent set by talent and good neighbor behavior. When we settled into our corner space, Perihelion Arts, in October of 2002, we couldn’t have felt more welcome. Perihelion, once the dance floor to The Bikini Lounge, our town’s oldest Tiki Bar, was also once the R&R Cycles shop. Just as many bikers pass through looking for their old R&R pals as do locals who want to know where their beloved Yazzie has gone (across 7th st, north of Roosevelt, by the way).
The owners of the Bikini Lounge, Richard Gordon and Mary Fimbres, have taken the reigns of this 50+ year old watering hole and emphasize fostering an environment for the variety of neighborhood folks to gather. They fully support the First Friday art walks and often offer their space to artists to show their work.
Performance artist JRC and partner Stephanie Carrico-- photographer and perpetrator of all things Sock Monkey in Phoenix-- have taken over the last 3-Car Space with their gallery and performance space that also has a full spread of coffee drinks and cool beverages. Their art shows have featured local artists such as Susan Copeland, Lisa Takata, Justin VanDerCook and Doug Oland as well as themed events like the comic art show and the upcoming mail art event. They have created an environment that blends art, theatre, music, poetry and unlimited possibility.
And in a move that surprised a lot of people, Scottsdale’s Art One has opened a new gallery next door to the Trunk Space. Gallery manager Steve Hofberger, who also utilizes the studio for his own work—paintings on glass and a new line of furniture with his brother Kevin, is excited that his interest in development and affinity for the downtown has culminated in this current Grand location.
Excitement heightens as not only the new season approaches, but the possibility of seeing the community flourish, with the hope of maintaining its specific character and identity. With no lack of hard work downtown, residents are getting more and more encouraged by the increasing and diverse crowds that come and participate in the art and music events.
Look forward to even more doors opening at the Lumbre Metal Gallery, Pete Deise’s new outdoor studio, Triptych Studios, artist Hector Ruiz’s Chocolate Factory and Jaron Neal and Jamar Jones’ DemNoLikUs; a new gallery featuring a non-exclusive forum for up and coming black artists to showcase their work.
And that ain’t all. Grand can feed you at places on and around like Bistecas and El Norteno—for real Mexican food, Pat’s Diner and Numero Uno pizza. Grand can drink you at The Bikini Lounge, Fat Cats—which offers a variety of live music and great local dj’s, or you can just even brown bag it at Henry’s market or the liquor store. Grand Avenue Motors can fix your car, and you better believe that Tom is not going to try to Midasize you into any extra unnecessary repairs. Heck, he even drove me to work after I dropped my car off. Now, that’s what I’m saying about neighborhood.
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