Art Junkies

TRA 25 Capsule busts into the Phoenix Art Museum

They call it "Phantasmagoria: De Trop Capsule Episode #2," but the scene looks like Trading Spaces meets Alice in Wonderland. Mark Freedman and Grant Wiggins wrestle with the sand-colored carpet as Oliver Hibert looks on, dark circles rimming dazed eyes.

It's one day before the innovative exhibition is set to open in the Phoenix Art Museum's Marshall Gallery, and ladders, levels and extension cords litter the tiny space. Dozens of Styrofoam clouds in varying shades of green hang from the ceiling. The walls are an explosion of color, murals, paintings, and Plexiglas display cases containing collages and "boob snake" sculptures, multicolored spirals with suggestively rounded heads.

This is the first attempt by the trio of artists collectively known as TRA 25 Capsule (the name comes from a modular Japanese style of housing popular in the '70s, and also is an acronym for Time Released Art), and also a first for the Marshall Gallery, which showcases the work of significant and under-recognized living American artists. The gallery has never shown work by local artists before, and curator Brady Roberts is particularly excited about TRA 25 Capsule's participation, along with artists from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas. The show will run through mid-February.

From left, Grant Wiggins, Mark Freedman and Oliver Hibert.
Emily Piraino
From left, Grant Wiggins, Mark Freedman and Oliver Hibert.


Continues through February 15, 2004. Call 602-257-1222
Marshall Gallery at Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 North Central

"It's a really important time to pay attention to the art scene in Phoenix," Roberts says. With the museum so close to the galleries of Roosevelt Row and Grand Avenue, which draw thousands to First Friday art shows, "It would be ridiculous if all this was happening and we had blinders on."

The Capsule's first show was at monOrchid this past May, and the museum show will be their second.

It's been an explosive past six months for Freedman (by day, an art teacher) and Wiggins (an accountant), but it's been one hell of a year for the youngest member of TRA 25 Capsule, Oliver Hibert.

Last year, Hibert created a buzz when his colorful, retro paintings, hanging on the walls of Spine, a vintage clothing boutique near 16th Street and McDowell, were spotted by a video production team working on Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle." The paintings were perfect for the video, and the production team wanted to see more.

So Hibert, now 20, called a friend with a truck and took 15 large canvases over to a house on Lincoln Drive in Scottsdale the following day. The producers invited him to stay for the shoot. "I hung out with the band for two days in this party house," he says. "There were about 100 people my age dancing around in their underwear." Hibert smiles shyly. "It was fun."

By the time the shoot was over, Hibert had sold nine of his paintings to the band's manager, producers and set designers. He walked away with $5,000 and an invitation from video director Paul Fedor to come to New York for an introduction to Manhattan's gallery scene.

Hibert was overwhelmed. "I wanted to [go] really badly; I mean, I know something like this is kind of unusual, but I didn't feel ready. I didn't want to appear somewhere and have that be it and then everything just die." He also didn't want to leave his girlfriend.

Hibert stayed and worked on replenishing his inventory. When pop art icon Peter Max came to the Valley for a book signing in January, Hibert managed to ask his idol what he should do with his career as an artist. Max suggested Hibert work in a collective, advice that would prove prophetic.

David White, owner of the now-defunct New Urban Art gallery in Phoenix, was interested in doing a pop art show. He was familiar with Hibert and Wiggins' work (Hibert had been profiled in Shade, the local art magazine published by monOrchid owner Wayne Rainey, in May 2002) and had recently been approached by Freedman as well. Both artists painted within the pop art genre, spoofing packaging and mass-market images in their work.

White introduced the three of them, and the Capsule was formed. "They did that mind-meld thing and really created a fraternity," White says. "They found a lot of support and commonality between them speaking not only the same visual language, but philosophically as well."

When White's gallery closed this past spring, the show "Popped Out: Imagery From a New Generation" was switched to monOrchid and opened on May 16. White says it justifiably generated excitement, strong imagery and a fresh take on retro stylings and generational icons. "It's pretty standout work; not a whole lot of other people are doing work referential to that time period," says White. "What's twisted is that these are people who didn't live through that time period and are captivated and inspired, but not by the same thing that inspired those [original] artists."

At the time, Hibert and the others were worried about outgrowing Phoenix. "There's only so far you can go in Arizona," Hibert told New Times in June. "I think we'll have hit the brick wall after this show. I mean, besides monOrchid there's really nowhere for us to show."

They planned to prepare media kits and send them to a carefully researched list of galleries in Tokyo, London and New York.

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