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Eugene Weekly : Visual Arts : 11.24.10

 

Sawing through Obstacles and Pushing Art

The Voyeur Gallery brings new life to Eugene’s art world

by Suzi Steffen

When Mo Bowen told her mother that she wanted to open a gallery in Eugene, her mom sent her a mitre saw. Bowen clearly inherited the can-do spirit that now means she owns one of the most interesting hot spots in Eugene’s sorely aching gallery world.

Shadowland, by Beth Robinson

She used the saw and her experience as an art major to tear down walls in the old Orinda’s Grocery space between 5th & 6th Avenues on Blair (the gallery’s right by olivejuice, and Orinda’s moved to Springfield). But that wasn’t all she had to do before opening The Voyeur at the Last Friday Art Walk in May of this year. She had to build a back wall so that she has an office, build a movable wall for the gallery, remove the dropped ceiling, install track lighting to make the art, make the baseboards, refinish the walls … the list goes on.

Bowen’s determination carried her through. She says that when she first moved to Eugene in 2004, people would tell her she shouldn’t move to the Whiteaker neighborhood because “that’s the ghetto!” Her response: “I’m from Chicago! Don’t make me laugh.” Now her gallery’s in the same neighborhood, the one that’s home to everything from Centro Latino to the artists at 2nd and Blair to Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen to the ever-expanding Ninkasi Brewery.

Bowen grew up in Chicago and earned a B.F.A. in photography and a B.A. in psychology from Dominican College — and then she moved to the West Coast after graduation. Although she kept on working on her art, she never quite found the right place to show it. Bowen liked Fenario, but it was too large for a solo show of her work. Eventually she started looking for spaces to start her own gallery. One morning in the spring, her boyfriend called to say that the Orinda’s space was available. “I came down right away,” Bowen says. “I was in my pajamas, peering through the windows, trying to see if it would work.”

The gallery opened on her 30th birthday with a show of her own work at the end of May, and she has timed all of her openings for Last Friday Art Walks ever since. Usually, she  mounts solo shows, and she says, “My mission is to really push artists to have almost all new work for the shows.” She visits artists’ studios and keeps abreast of their progress as the shows approach. The last show was a collaborative among three artists, but she says that won’t happen again. The styles, palettes and pricing decisions among the artists (Jill Mardin, Marilyn Kent and Bill Holderfield) were all so different that Bowen didn’t like the result. From here on out, solo shows only — starting at the Last Friday Art Walk on Nov. 26 with Beth Robinson, a multimedia artist who’s done a lot of book art and who has experience curating and hanging work. 

That’s a plus for Bowen, who would prefer her artists to hang their own shows and understand more about being a professional artist. She pursues the latter goal by asking each artist to teach a class (Robinson’s, which runs from 6 pm to 9 pm Thursday, Dec 9, is called “Sketchbook Practices” and costs $40, which includes a leather pocket sketchbook; more info at http://wkly.ws/xf) and by hosting an artist critique during the show.

Often, the hours before the critique involve a lot of hand-holding for artists who aren’t used to dealing with questions about their work. That’s OK with Bowen because she has more ambitious goals in her sights. Bowen would like to see a larger conversation about the visual arts in Eugene. “I want the community to start recognizing art like they do music — why can’t we get that kind of hype?” she asks. Anyone can pop into the critiques (Robinson’s starts at 6 pm Friday, Dec. 17) and participate. “I hope it inspires a different language and respect for art,” Bowen says.

She also acknowledges that it’s not easy to be in the spotlight. “I was so nervous at my critique that I stuttered!” she tells the other artists. “But I was only nervous for the first two minutes.” She still doesn’t love having the spotlight on her as a business owner, and she’d really appreciate having both more foot traffic and a landlord who understood art a little better. But, she adds, “I have a lot of passion and confidence behind what I’m trying to do.”

The Voyeur, at 547 Blair Blvd, stays open from “noonish to 9 pm” (later on opening nights) Tues-Sat. Reach Bowen and the gallery at 541-912-7544, and find them on Facebook at http://wkly.ws/xg