There’s a new gallery in Phoenix, created by artists and married couple Joel Coplin and Jo-Ann Lowney. It’s located at 119 South 11th Avenue, just east of the Arizona State Capitol. The artists held a soft opening on Third Friday, November 16.
The first exhibition, featuring Lowney and Coplin’s work, will open on First Friday, December 7. Lowney specializes in still-life paintings imbued with symbolism. Coplin creates primary large-scale paintings that highlight the contradictions in contemporary society, using history and humor to punctuate both the tragedy and joy inherent in the human condition.
The couple met more than 30 years ago while studying art in New York City, and moved to Phoenix in 1985. For many years, they were part of an artist collective called East Side Art in Mesa, an art space comprising 10 studios, a framing shop, and an art supply store on a five-acre site. Owner Katherine Leegate died in 1997, leaving the space to Coplin and Lowney. Recently, they sold it, and made the move to 11th Avenue. "We wanted to bring the dream to a new place," Coplin says.
Their new space is farther west than other Phoenix galleries housed in renovated warehouse spaces, which include Bentley Gallery at Bentley Projects and Step Galley inside Grant Street Studios. But they're in good company. Recently. Walter Productions opened its massive Where?House gallery at North 21st Avenue south of McDowell.
Coplin and Lowney have a two-story studio and living space that overlooks several surrounding blocks, in addition to a cavernous warehouse space that includes two galleries, an office, storage space, and more. They’ve created a small garden out front, and often invite homeless people from the surrounding area to enjoy it.
They’re hoping the gallery space will draw others to the area, and help develop a thriving art enclave that lifts the whole neighborhood economically, while creating a sense of community. Coplin gets to know the homeless people he sees walking nearby streets by inviting them to the studio, then painting their portraits while they share stories of their life and times.
The portraits line part of the perimeter of the space where Coplin paints each day. Small landscape paintings of desert scenes line another wall, revealing the artist’s facility for moving between diverse subjects and styles. Works by both artists hang in other parts of the former warehouse.
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Moving forward, the couple plans to feature works by other artists as well. Jeff Falk, another longtime staple of the downtown Phoenix arts scene, who was part of the MARS art collective his wife and fellow artist Annie Lopez helped launch decades ago, is curating the January exhibition. That show will feature works by Lopez, Falk, Lowney, and Coplin.
February’s exhibit will feature works by Marilyn Szabo, a longtime Phoenix photographer best known for her black-and-white portraiture of fellow creatives including Philip Curtis, Agnese Udinotti and Tony Zahn. She’ll be showing a series of portraits featuring soprano Maria Callas, one of the best-known opera performers of the 20th century.
In the meantime, they've planted their first tree on the property, and transplanted small pink bougainvillea along a west-facing wall. "I would like to see our space change the neighborhood, turning it into a beautiful place like a real phoenix rising out of the ashes."