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The Phantom of Tucson

Photo Courtesy of Jason Falk. Photo Illustration by Rachel Rainbow
Work by local artist Steven Derks, including "12 Landscapes For Rent," above, feature in "Phantom Gallery Exhibits" on Congress Street. The exhibit, which is displayed in vacant store-front windows downtown, also features work from Lorenzo Rascon.
By Lindsay Walker & Biz Bledsoe
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 12, 2002

What does the idea of normally vacant downtown windows suddenly inhabited by an unusual presence bring to your mind? What strange occurrence temporarily lurks in the downtown Thrifty Building? What art phenomenon is so elusive that even The GoWild expert team of reporters had trouble locating it?

The "Phantom Gallery Exhibits," of course.

The exhibits, which feature the works of various artists in vacant downtown Tucson locations, are part of a twelve-year-old ongoing program put on by the Tucson Arts District Partnership, a cultural arts project focused on revitalizing downtown Tucson. The galleries, though possibly difficult to find, are quite the aesthetic experience when one succeeds.

Depending on available space, the artwork in the galleries is switched out every six to eight weeks; however, if the vacant building in which art has been appearing is rented, the artwork is cleared out before this time period. Just like that the exhibits can disappear like a ghost in the night.

All kinds of works are displayed in these scattered galleries throughout downtown Tucson.

The Phantom Gallery program finds its artists in a way similar to permanent art exhibits. Artists are not contacted, but rather the TADP releases a call for work. Samples of artwork are then reviewed by a jury and selected to be displayed in various vacant windows across town.

Lists of prices for pieces of artwork available for purchase are also displayed at the exhibits.

But what is the purpose behind filling vacant buildings with random artwork? Nina Welch, Program Coordinator for TADP, said that the purpose behind Phantom Galleries is two-fold.

"It (the purpose) is for exhibition opportunities for Tucson artists, and I believe it promotes the availability of space for lease in the downtown area," she said. "We clean the windows and it kind of spruces it up a little bit and makes it look more inviting."

Currently, there are two phantom exhibits on Congress Street displaying the artwork of prominent artists Steven Derks and emerging artist Lorenzo Rascon.

Derks is an experienced artist of fifteen years whose work has been, and is currently, featured around the country everywhere from Santa Fe to Martha's Vineyard. Locally, he has displays in Plaza Palomino, Hacienda del Sol and The 3 Falk Gallery. For the last month and for who knows how much longer Derks's Phantom Gallery Exhibit has been located (listen carefully!) inside the Thrifty Building at 38 E. Congress St. between Scott and Stone, and between the businesses Bank One and Indian Village.

Derks' artwork includes a collection of 3-dimensional steel sculptures and large oil paintings, some of which incorporate the themes of earth and original sin. Derks did not create art specifically for this phantom exhibit, but rather took artwork from various galleries of the past and put them all together into one large exhibit. Derks describes the artwork displayed at the Thrifty Building as contemporary and eclectic.

Photo courtesy of Steven Derks
The painting "Ascension Green," above, is an example of the different disciplines local artist Steven Derks has practiced. Derks beleives the Phantom Gallery Exhibits has helped increase awareness of his work.

"It's kind of a little sample of different disciplines that I've practiced in my art," he said.

According to Welch, these disciplines work very well with the TADP's attempt to reuse the vacancies downtown.

"Steven Derks has the kind of artwork that works really well with this kind of setup," she said. "It's big, it's rusty, and it doesn't matter if the place leaks on you."

Derks, who serves on TADP's Board of Directors, claims that the program has been very beneficial for him and that he has received a lot of positive feedback on his work.

Lorenzo Rascon is a newer artist with work exhibited in Mexicali, Mexico, and at the Barrio Grill in Tucson. His work, featured at the Phantom Gallery Exhibit at 222 E. Congress St., includes still-life oil paintings on canvas that are strongly influenced by his Latin heritage.

Rascon describes the colors he uses in his paintings as "strong and vibrant," representing "the colors (he) grew up with."

If you decide to visit this cultural display of talent, you had better hurry! The vacant space at 222 E. Congress St. has now been rented, and soon Rascon's artwork will vanish from its current home by the end of this month.

So, have these galleries been successful in their mission to revitalize the Tucson area? Has anyone even been able to locate the evasive phantoms of art flying about downtown? Welch believes that they have.

"The city did a wonderful thing for us by providing lighting for these exhibits, so when people are walking by at night, there's light on the paintings," she said. "They're attracting a different kind of audience than usually goes to these art openings. Somebody who is just strolling along Congress can look at these works and maybe get an appreciation that maybe they wouldn't think they would."

So, if you happen to be strolling along Congress one fine Tucson night and decide that you desire a little taste of something different to revitalize your life (or just to take up some time in your dull day), go on a spirited hunt for the Phantom Gallery Exhibits.

And remember to watch out for those leaky roofs.


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