The gallery space at the front of RLPhoto in Burlington has been relatively inactive since the monthly Creative Competitions it once hosted were moved down Pine Street to S.PA.C.E. Gallery. Photographer/owner Rick Levinson and artist Clark Derbes passed that torch to S.PA.C.E. gallerist Christy Mitchell after the South End Art Hop last fall.
But next week Derbes and his wife, fellow artist Wylie Sofia Garcia, will open a brand-new venture in the high-ceilinged studio on Sears Lane: South Gallery. In addition to showing their own sculptural and mixed-media work and Levinson's photography, the couple is "repping artists from around the region," Garcia says, by which she means about 30 of them in a variety of mediums.
"We're exhibiting one piece per artist, but we have three to five more works by each artist in storage," Garcia adds. Among those artists are Mildred Beltre, Ethan Bond-Watts, Steve Budington, Peter Fried, W. David Powell and Sage Tucker-Ketcham. Derbes notes that South Gallery has enlisted a number of area art professors — from the University of Vermont, Johnson State College and the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. "There's never been a cohesive space [to show] all these art professors around here," he says. "And they tend to be the most experimental [artists]."
The works, styles and mediums are wildly diverse, and Derbes thinks a moment before explaining why he selected these artists for South Gallery. Each is simply "someone whose work I've admired over the years," he says. And none creates what is traditionally considered "Vermont art." (Indeed, given the overwhelming quantity and quality of local artwork, that very notion is passé.) "These are artists who are challenging and pushing themselves," Derbes offers. "There are artists in Vermont who live out in the sticks and make cutting-edge works."
"International," "abstract" and "conceptual" are other words he uses to qualify South Gallery's stable of artists. In short, work that Derbes and Garcia believe stands up to "the greater dialogue" of art trends. But traditionalists need not stay away: Some landscapes and craft-based works have a place in this collection, too.
At a time when Derbes' and Garcia's own artwork is taking off at the national level — and the couple will welcome their second child "around the time of Art Hop," she says — founding a gallery to promote others' work seems like a stretch. But it's a welcome addition to a vibrant art scene that paradoxically has few commercial venues for contemporary art. And the two are excited to embrace their new roles as gallerists.
"Wylie and I have been talking about doing this for years," Derbes says. "We thought someone should open a gallery to show this work ... This has to happen."