BEST STOP ON ART DETOUR 2007 | Gypsy Village | People & Places | Phoenix
With apologies to the hard-working artists of the downtown Phoenix scene, the grooviest thing going at this year's Art Detour wasn't found in any of the galleries dotting Roosevelt Street or Grand Avenue. Nope; instead, our favorite place during the annual three-day artwalk was a raucous ramshackle collection of cardboard and wood shacks occupying a garbage-strewn vacant lot next door to the Firehouse art collective on First Street just off Roosevelt Row.

The Gypsy Village, subtitled "Artist Loft: Low Rise, Low Rent," was the bizarre brainchild of agitprop artists C.R. Vavrek and Pete Petrisko, a satirical stab at how the ongoing gentrification is displacing hardscrabble artists like themselves in favor of lofts and multimillion-dollar developments.

Consisting of four hovels, the hipster Hooverville boasted an art gallery, tarot reader, fire pit, sleeping quarters for Vavrek, and a boombox disco blasting music for those who came after dark. In addition to entertaining the hundreds who stopped by, the event reportedly raised the ire of one property owner who threatened to call in the cops and clear the lot. Vavrek and Petrisko managed to defuse the situation, and the derelict domiciles were allowed to remain. It's a good thing, too, since where else could you find grubby artists talking in faux Eastern European accents, à la Borat? Very nice!

A small gallery at ASU is the best place to catch art students at the end of their academic careers — and at the top of their games. In other words: the master's thesis show.

With a studio on-campus and materials and tools provided by ASU, it may be the most convenient and economical art cough-up of these artists' careers. And with their fresh egos, the prices will be incredibly reasonable, making for a wise investment should you pick the right pony. Shows cycle during the last three months of the semester and are on display for only four days at a time — making for a crazy rush to grab up some pieces by the next big artist.

It's nothing new for a hair salon to put art on the wall. But don't be mistaken. These folks don't know just hair. The Root Salon actually doubles as a real art gallery — with works that are so compelling, you might just shell out an extra couple of hundred bucks to bring one home, in addition to the fee you just paid to cover your hideous gray.

A number of relatively unknown but appealing artists have cycled through the space, and with each salon appointment (not necessary — you can also walk in off the street, just to look), you're sure to see something new. Recent displays included eye-popping color photography by Bob Estrin and stunning abstract works by California artist Jan Fogel. And take note: The salon's owner is constantly on the lookout for creative visual images that may work well on that blank living room wall you've been looking to fill. Not only is the art great, but purchases are guilt-free, with the artists receiving 100 percent of all sales.

If Barbara Stanwyck blew you away — as she did poor Fred MacMurray — in Double Indemnity, or if you just dig Veronica Lake's swell combover, you'll love the art of Rachel Bess.

Her paintings are dreamy polychromatics that shimmer like black magic, capturing a surrealistic netherland inhabited by funereal femmes fatales and... dead bugs? Yep. Bess' vocation may be art (she got her BFA in painting at ASU), but her avocation is science — specifically, biology, botany, and natural history. We're betting she was one of those kids who poked and prodded at doodlebugs and trapped fireflies in mayo jars — a surefire way to familiarize oneself with death at an early age. "I make paintings that feature biology or botany in almost a religious way," Bess says. "Often, the animals and insects — and sometimes people — in the paintings are dead, so people interpret that as morbid. But for me, it's more out of respect, like, 'Here's this thing that may be dead, but that doesn't make it any less fascinating to look at and learn about.'"

Teach us more, please! Or at least show us more: Bess shows often at Modified Arts on Roosevelt Row.

Is it possible that the street artist known as The Mac is our Raphael, our Rembrandt, our Bouguereau? Despite the fact that his blue Madonna with palm trees appears on the corrugated garage door of a tattoo parlor, or that his portrait of Marcus Garvey is on the side of a building in Watts, The Mac's works have a touch of the masters about them, both old and new.

Only 27, the Phoenix native has traveled extensively: San Francisco, San Diego, Montreal, Mexico City, Hollywood. Each time, he leaves behind once-vacant walls filled with alluring, shapely women, jazz legends, cultural figures, and religious icons. The Mac's canvas is the world, and he's highly regarded both on the street, for his aerosol work, and in galleries, for his acrylic, pen and ink, and stained-glass efforts. He brings the aesthetic of the museum to the street and vice versa. He's the Goya of the ghetto.

She's been a guest on downtown's one and only talk show, Grand Avenue Live!, as well as the Uncle Sku's Clubhouse performance art show. We once spotted her occupying a booth along with the other boozehounds at one of downtown's best dives, the defunct Pete's News Room. She was the only non-human allowed to use the bathroom at Thought Crime, privileges that have carried over to The Firehouse collective. And local band Nightwolf wrote and performed a song just for the Australian shepherd/greyhound/coyote bitch.

Her name is Starflash, and she can be spotted whenever photorealist painter and illustrator Suzanne Falk ventures from her east Phoenix work/live studio to various downtown shindigs. From First Friday receptions and Modified Arts shows to the First Phoenix Annual Parade of the Arts and the Willow House outdoor patio, Starflash solicits mad love from the close-knit arts community. Nightwolf best summed up our feelings about the lovable Flash in their dedication ode to the black-coated pooch, "Starflash/You're a dog/And we love you!"

Most of us writerly types are quite challenged when it comes to tying our own shoes, much less trying to create a work of fine art. But that doesn't stop us from trying, which is why we're glad we've found our art groove at this downtown Phoenix haven, located in the back of a former church a few hundred yards southeast of the library.

Sponsored by Phoenix Parks and Recreation, classes offered at the Phoenix Center range from metal work to ceramics to glass, and wanna-be artists who favor unconventional expression (translation: don't know what they are doing but want to give something new a shot) are welcomed with open arms.

Most of the teachers work other gigs in their fields, such as Ingrid Donaldson, a real pro who toils at Hot Sands Glass. A few words of warning: 1) Taking the classes won't set you back too much, but the materials you'll need to purchase certainly may; 2) This art-making stuff is addictive, and the teachers are so engaging and enthusiastic that you're likely to find yourself returning semester after semester.

Cindy Dach is a smarty-pants. She knows that when it comes to a downtown Phoenix business, it's not enough to build it — if you want people to come, you've got to get creative. So along with cute merchandise (most of it crafted by local artists) the owner of MADE has found other ways to draw a crowd. Dach has offered workshops in chocolate-making and beading, and hosted theme shows with artist-made birdhouses, cookie jars, and clocks. Her latest brainstorm involves something to trade, rather than something to buy, and we hear it's drawn its fair share of potential customers to MADE.

"TRADE AT MADE" started with a call to stop by on a Saturday night and bring along a mix tape meant for trading. Next, Dach hosted "TRADE AT MADE: FAVORITE BOOK." Both were big successes. So she did mugs, and later this fall, there will be a recipe exchange. Dach provides refreshments. Good times!

For years, we've watched with envy as other cities have built cool crafting communities, groups of people obsessed with things like glitter, beads, and yarn. When, we wondered, would we get our own craft mafia, like the one founded years ago in Austin, Texas? We got our answer this spring, with the creation of the Phoenix Craft Mafia. From their Web site, you can link to their online craft shop on (a great site for homemade gifts — check it out) and get info on events like the Second Saturday craft fairs they've been hosting at Plaid Eatery in Tempe.
Cheryl Cobern-Browne's got the dream life — if you love beads and travel. We do. For our money (and we've spent plenty on both) there are few pleasures greater in life than just the right shiny trinket and just the right overseas trip. Cobern-Browne cleverly combined the two and created a business, leading tours that have included South Africa (Zulu beadwork), Ireland (modern lampwork studios), Turkey (Istanbul's bead shops) and the Czech Republic (Czech bead factories). Participants have a chance to work with master bead artists, as well as to shop and explore. Sign us up!

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