Visual Arts

15 Favorite First Friday Art Works Seen in September in Downtown Phoenix

A glorious mix of visual and performance art infused September’s First Friday, with a cumbia dance night at Phoenix Art Museum, House of Cirque stilt-walkers activating the Shadow Play space in the heart of Roosevelt Row, and music by Native American high school students at Heard Museum.

The entertainment combined with the crowds, which included lots of college students starting a fresh semester, made for a lively affair in downtown Phoenix. We spotted plenty of interesting art as well, including these favorites.

Plant Power
Molly Koehn lined two longs walls of a shipping container in the Roosevelt A.R.T.S. Market with dried eucalyptus leaves, adding additional elements as well, and hoping to inspire reflection on the relationship of native to non-native species. It’s part of a three-artist exhibition called “Of a Place” curated by Nic Wiesinger for his new Rhetorical Galleries developed as an alternative to the brick-and-mortar gallery scene.

Social Justice Splatter
We found artist Wil Munny in the Project Room at Eye Lounge explaining several of his works, including one called Colonialism, to eager gallery-goers. Munny noted that he intentionally used various shades of white for the top portion of his piece, and created the bottom portion with mixed color to represent the rising of diverse people of color.

Waxing Poetic
Work currently exhibited at Modified Arts include oil and wax on panel pieces by Sean Thomas — some depicting serious subject matter, but others showing popular culture favorites from a children’s book and film.

Art as Advocacy
Heading upstairs at Warehouse 1005, a gallery operated by the PSA Art Awakenings program serving people with mental illness, we spotted works by Nansi Beadle Whiteis — whose pieces often feature people, plants, and animals. It’s an oft overlooked arts destination located between The Nash and The Firehouse, and we’d love to see more gallery-goers give it a spin.

Fish Out of Water
Despite the prevalence of desert environments in works by Arizona artists, it seems they never run out of ways to add a new twist. For A H (Art) Smith, whose acrylic and mixed media works are currently on view at Five15 Arts, that includes setting a fish within a desert landscape for a piece called Drowning in Air.

Landscape Twist
We’re used to seeing abstract works by Denise Fleisch, who recently showed a delightful assortment of small-scale works not much bigger than the palm of a hand, at her Lotus Contemporary Art gallery. But this time around we spotted a new twist on her acrylic and gel on canvas pieces — a 36-inch by 96-inch painting that merged her abstract sensibilities with landscape painting.

Harbor Views
Practical Art favors exhibiting affordable works, so we typically see smaller-scale pieces on view there. But Christopher Jagmin, this month’s featured artist, is showing not only smaller works, but also a single large piece with a magnificent complexity of color and lines. We loved being able to see his work both here and on the exterior of one of the shipping container galleries in Roosevelt Row.

Collective Vibe
It was great to see the cavernous exhibition space at Oasis on Grand populated with works by local artists, including James Meza, an Arizona State University geology student who was showing his paintings and ink drawings. The group show with a casual arts-market feel was organized by members of the Grand Avenue Artist Collective, and we hope to see a lot more of them sharing works in this space next time around.

Desert Surrealism
Phoenix artist and Iraq war veteran Jason Huggar says he uses extremes in scale and perspective to create drama in his paintings and silverpoint drawings, which are currently featured in a solo exhibition at {9} The Gallery, where we also had fun exploring nooks and crannies filled with art shown during previous shows.

A Pop of Color
The newest gallery in town, operated by Hazel & Violet owner Nancy Hill and dubbed Chartreuse, is filled with works by three photographers who caught the colors of our vibrant city at night. We’re hoping the arts venue, located in the space once home to Frontal Lobe Community Space and Gallery, is going to be a key player in making the Grand Avenue arts scene more vibrant and alluring.

Geometric Abstraction
Near the space at Warehouse 1005 often used as a stage for musical performances during First Friday, we noticed a new crop of acrylic paintings — geometric abstractions by R. Alexander. They reminded us once again that it’s good to meander into less well-known art venues, because you never know when you might discover something that strikes your fancy.

Junkyard Futurism
We’re keen on seeing new spaces activated during First Friday, so we loved stumbling onto whimsical metal works by Mesa sculptor Aaron Voigt tucked into a space under the new migrant-theme mural recently painted along Grand Avenue by national and local artists inspired by the work of Tucson’s Colibri Center for Human Rights.

People as Perches
Birds perching on people are prevalent in the large-scale drawings of Anne Howley-Falvey currently on view at Five15 Arts. People pictured in her works, many of them family members, often exude joy or contentment — although some of her drawings are made more interesting by subjects sporting more puzzling facial expressions that give viewers something to ponder.

Metal Works
Metal abstractions of flying objects dot a gallery space at Modified Arts. They’re works by Tucson artist Joe Dal-Pra, whose other sculptures on view include a slightly bigger than life-size human head with a jaw partially wrapped by a metal strap.

Pedagogy for Pigs
In a clear case of saving the best for last, we lingered over works by Takashi Hara currently on view at Eye Lounge. Hara’s installation includes not only a caged bird placed in front of poetic text, but also pigs used as stand-ins for people — including students sitting in propaganda-laden classrooms. Hara’s take on traditional blackboards features these, and other phrases: Open your textbook. No question. Believe what is there. Be happy. Do not think. 

Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version to correct a photo caption.
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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble