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Asylum "punched the clock" all night long.EXPAND
Asylum "punched the clock" all night long.
Anthony Wallace

The Best Things We Saw at November's First Friday

The sweltering heat has finally left Phoenix. We unplugged our air conditioners and plugged into the unconventional works on display at local galleries during November's First Friday. Here's a sampling of what caught our eye.

'Eleutheria'

Artwork spilled out of Cobra Flute Projects onto the street as Bill Dambrova paid homage to 13 artists he credits with inspiring him to “loosen up, lighten up, and let go” of self-imposed restrictions or limits. Outside the studio, a work Malena Barnhart created with James Bewley, set against a new mural by Dambrova and Gino Belassen, referenced recent #MeToo revelations on the local arts scene. Inside, artists showed works reflecting myriad objects, including Ring Pop candies, wishbones, and pacifiers. Turner G. Davis showed 12 pieces comprising complex visual stories, inspired by sources such as the 1954 film Creature from the Black Lagoon, 19th-century French painter Henri Rousseau, and Facebook.

Shelley Whiting showed paintings rooted in her Mormon upbringing. Samantha Lyn Aasen’s exhibited a photograph from her vajazzling series printed on a fabric banner. And Thaddeus Wike displayed mixed media pieces packed with pop culture paraphernalia, coated with glittering resin. The exhibit was a rare opportunity to see a painting by Grand Avenue activist Beatrice Moore. Nearby, Dain Gore’s grouping of 10 pieces included one paying homage to Steve Gompf, a Mesa artist who died in 2018. Collectively, these artworks highlight the evolving arts scene, building anticipation for what lies ahead. Lynn Trimble

'Stay Unconventional'

Mike Butzine, dressed in a bold pirate costume that belies his gentle nature, proudly waved the flag bearing Snood City's motto, “Stay Unconventional.” He and his partner Michelle Meyer took over Unexpected Gallery on Grand Avenue for a show with the humble goal of “representing a bunch of the homies that have helped contribute to Snood Men and Snood City."

Visitors were greeted at the front door with Halloween candy and a copy of the group’s quirky manifesto. It states, “We are not here to do what has been done before.”

A flurry of unconventional activity brought the space to life. Local artist Asylum spent hours attacking a punching bag fashioned out of plastic clocks and Scotch tape, an impressive display of endurance art that left her bleeding, but unphased. Gallery-goers took turns zooming around the crowded space on Gabriel Majalca's blinged-out E-bike.

According to Butzine, the wacky, whimsical vibe is not the product of meticulous planning, but the empowerment of the local artists who fuel his operation.

“Whatever it is they want to do, we just provide the platform, and they do it,” says Butzine. Anthony Wallace

Grand Avenue

Earlier in the afternoon, I asked someone with a fancy job title about what makes something "art." I received a pretty condescending answer, which honestly made me wonder if I should have even asked the question at all. (For the record, I'm glad I did.)

Conversations like this can make art seem sterile and unapproachable, especially when all someone wants to do is feel something when they look at an artist's work. Whether it's looking at a painting, photograph, or sculpture, they want those thoughts and emotions validated by someone, not discarded.

That discussion didn't make me eager to venture out on First Friday, but I'm glad I did. I struck up engaging conversations with everyone from Pete Petrisko, who was showing “The Shapes of Things," his exhibition with Abe Zucca at the latter's gallery, to Gino Belassen, who was kind enough to make sure I didn't trip and fall as I awkwardly entered his gallery. I connected with them and their work because they were receptive, unlike the patronizing encounter earlier.

I was not the only recipient of this generosity. I ran into some friends who were out on Grand Avenue to support a friend's exhibition at {9} The Gallery. We continued to run into each other throughout the evening, including at Five15 Gallery and Cobra Flute Projects. They were as engaged with the creatives as I was. When I started my evening feeling disconnected from our city's vibrant art scene, it was nice to see so many people along Grand Avenue eager to plug me back in. Jason Keil

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