Rosalux: the art to know

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May 17, 2004 // UPDATED 1:35 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Anna Pratt
Anna Pratt

Here, artists decide what goes -- and they know their business

"Green" is the dollar-esque theme of Rosalux Gallery's next fund-raiser. Works that would normally sell for hundreds of dollars, and all of which include the color green, will be raffled off for as little as $5. Yet, the artists in the Rosalux collective who are donating the pieces for the Thursday, June 17 fund-raiser say the cause, their 1011 Washington Ave. S. gallery, is worth it.

Currently, gallery sales only cover rent; the 27 artists who jointly operate the gallery cover everything else, from the phone bill to public relations, themselves. Artists/co-op members hope the benefit will raise enough to patch some walls and print business cards.

Plus, with local rock bands like Kid Dakota and the Monarchs performing, "We want to make people feel good about being in the gallery," said Rosalux Director Terrence Payne.

In its second year, the Rosalux Gallery has grown from 12 to 27 members and moved from Northeast into its current space in the Open Book conglomerate. Artful neighboring tenants include the Loft Literary Center, Milkweed Editions and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. The well-trafficked venue sees an average of 45-50 people a day, including many coffee drinkers stopping in after a visit to the caf/, the Coffee Gallery, located just outside their door.

"It's a great location and a good starting point for people who aren't well-established," said Gallery Manager Gregory Euclide.

Despite a lack of funds, Rosalux, the collective, is far from floundering. Although most artist-members are keeping their day jobs, many have earned Bush Grants, Jerome Fellowships and coverage in national magazines.

A launching pad, the Rosalux houses emerging artists who've started to obtain notoriety in the community. Chances are good that when people mention favorite up-and-coming local artists, they're talking about a Rosalux member.

A sense of community

Euclide, who's belonged to the co-op for almost a year, always felt wary of the commercial gallery system. He praises the collective for its independence and community, "I got really excited when I found out that there wasn't a single dictator." Euclide said that at the vast majority galleries a director selects an artist's "strongest work" and decides how to display it -- which often doesn't click with the artist's preferences. At Rosalux, the artists call

the shots.

"If someone thinks of a good idea here, then it can be done. Like, if you want to build a wall, you can install one," Euclide said, referencing a sort of "floating wall" he and others crafted one afternoon from two-by-fours and sheet rock. Artwork now hangs on the suspended wall, rather than from nails hammered into the gallery's distinctive exposed brick.

From Web site improvements to handling promotions to database and accounting work, all work is completed on a voluntary basis -- members can be as involved as they choose. "I'm still getting used to the idea that we have complete control over this space, even when we're not showing our work. This is our project. It feels like a team," Euclide said.

Euclide found the group when a Rosalux member approached him at a coffee shop where he had work hanging. "That's how we get most of our members, by co-op artists bringing others in," he said. As gallery manager, Euclide ensures that artwork gets hung on time and wine is available at the opening -- among other organizational tasks. Other members write grants and press releases or establish contacts with outside venues. Each member works at least a four-hour shift per month at the gallery's front desk, greeting patrons and answering questions.

Beyond guaranteed exposure, the artists critique each other's work and discuss grant/gallery wisdom. "Many of us are friends now. We help each other out. There's really a sense of community," Euclide confessed. "It sounds cheesy, but the collective is only as good as its members."

The Rosalux look?

This cohesion is reflected in the art that gallery members produce. "Work is really starting to gel," said Payne. He doesn't think there's a Rosalux aesthetic per se, "I like to keep it as diverse as I can. I'm not really interested in work that looks like mine," he said. Payne said he and other collective members were "blown away" by Amelia Biewald-Low's collage sculptures, for example.

Biewald-Low's sculptural work literally breaks out from the flat format. With arm-like tentacles and other extremities plastered with acrylic transfers and pasty coats of paint, her work is process-intensive. Euclide called her work "constructivist" and said it is distinctive within the collective.

When Payne saw her sculptures, "I thought, 'I want to explore that in the future. That's healthy for the group,'" said Payne.

Still, Euclide pointed out that there is some underlying commonality in the works of the collective. Most of it is modern, he said. While there are some landscapes and somewhat traditional-looking depictions of the natural world, there are plenty of nonobjective paintings, cutting-edge graphic works, abstract photographs, prints, unconventional sculpture and alternative mediums.

"Nothing is too representational. There's a lot of cerebral stuff. Not 'I see the world, I paint the word,'" Euclide said. However, he also noted that it is also fairly accessible fare, "No one is pushing the conceptual envelope. All of it is visually beautiful."

Spring clean pastels and classical art skills underlie the largely abstract works at the Rosalux. The work is easy to look at, often lighthearted, thoughtful and shows a sense of humor. Even dark pieces include a humorous twist. These works don't give the impression that the artists behind the canvases or other mediums wear black exclusively -- they enjoy the entire color spectrum and the process of making art.

How it works

Co-op members pay a monthly $125 fee. This secures a solo show spot once during the year, as well as inclusion in group exhibitions in the lower level/basement -- where collective shows are held concurrently with the first- or main-floor exhibits. The gallery does 12 exhibits a year, and artists might be slated a year in advance for a showing.

The collective, a nonprofit, is run by a board that has monthly meetings. Potential members submit portfolios to the collective whose votes are based primarily on the strength of the applicants' artwork. Majority rules.

Although there's a consciousness about maintaining a diverse roster, there's no fixed quota for the number of photographers, painters or sculptors -- neither is cultural identity considered. "What makes us competitive is that we do jury artwork and have a certain quality so that we can interact professionally," Payne said, spoken like a true businessman.

Past, present and future

Most of the Rosalux collective are 25-45 years old and five-10 years out of college. While most have other jobs (Euclide is a high school art teacher) some, such as Payne, depend exclusively on their artwork to support themselves. Payne tells about the human condition with vibrant symbols, like animals or flowers -- his painterly portraits reveal old-fashioned skills crafted toward a modern end.

Payne founded Rosalux after visiting a San Francisco gallery called Hang, which had knowledgeable and unimposing attendants and only presented local artwork. "It's hard to find a place to show work in your hometown," Payne said.

Payne said he was also disappointed with how the regular gallery circuit seems to absorb lots of funds in commissions. He felt there were artists who were willing to do what the galleries were charging them to do, and also wanted to create a professional atmosphere where artists could show their work and be aware of how much money they were spending.

"Being part of the collective helps you learn about how a gallery operates," said artist Jeremy Lund, whose work is currently showing in "Right Between the Eyes," a joint exhibit with Tara Costello and Colin Gatling on display through May 30.

Lund helped hang the works himself. His ephemeral prints feature pages from the Bible and the Koran, and ponder the visual impression of the soul and other worldly entities. While visually merging Christainity and Islam may seem politically motivated, Lund said his aim was to "visualize the unseen" -- he thought about mortality and immortality as he stained the paper pages of the sacred texts, placing them together for a ghostly effect.

"I wanted to use elements of my personal life and I was really interested in how books stain, wear and tear. Natural processes," he said.

Lund's work contrasts with the abstract landscapes -- molded from Venetian plaster, raw pigments and ink -- of Costello. Her watery freeforms describe diffuse skies or the ebb and flow of streams beneath bridges; meandering washes of paint create illusory light and shadow.

Meanwhile, Gatling's detailed acrylics of imaginary collisions visually organize volatile particles that seem to be coagulating and splitting in space -- in what appears to be a moment of impermanence (maybe a painter's view of the creation of planets or stars?).

Alternately celestial and earthly, all the works have polymorphic forms; they're not realistic renderings of the natural world, but each alludes to the intangible.

Manish Champa Nera and his roommate, Leslie Carranza, medical students at the University of Minnesota, studied at the nearby Coffee Gallery. While they said they couldn't be called "art experts," they'd been to a few shows at the Rosalux.

Carranza said she shrinks away from modern art and didn't have strong feelings about the gallery, except for something she once saw inside -- a bright red couch, "I love the

furniture."

"It seems like it's a place where young intellectuals pass through -- not families," said Champa, who described the gallery as "cutting edge." Champa said he appreciated the intimacy of the gallery space and the open-endedness of the artwork, "It's fun to look at. You can take a lot of the pieces in so many different ways."

"Right Between the Eyes" will be on display through May 30. The next Rosalux fund-raiser is Thursday, June 17. For more information, log on to www.rosaluxgallery.com or call

747-3942.