As the midtown arts boom spurred by Meow Wolf continues, so comes the rise of smaller spaces like Freeform Art Space. Located off Cerrillos Road near Big Lots in the same little strip mall as a craft store, the admittedly small gallery with neatly appointed white walls and the intimate rooms comes with the promise of becoming whatever one wants, and it is exciting.
When I arrived on a recent Sunday afternoon, the floor was littered with art works; a scant few were hung; and all around the building scurried four heavy-hitter locals: Jared Weiss, Cyrus McCray, Tim Reed and Todd Ryan White.
They're preparing for their first group show, The Only Way Out is Through, and it promises to be the quintessential don't-miss visual arts experience of the season. The show hit our radar thanks to its curator Niomi Fawn, whom SFR recently featured in a column about Show Pony, her mobile art gallery. But we're here to focus on the artists themselves. Let's meet them.
With only six years as a Santa Fean under his belt, Reed may be a relative newcomer, but his ethos and practices ooze a certain Santa Fe outsider art charm. Reed is a student of astrology (a pursuit that he says will constantly evolve) and incorporates the ancient practice into his work, at least insofar as mindfulness is concerned. “It guides a lot of my quote-unquote philosophy,” he says, “but I’ll consider myself a student for at least another decade; it’s that continued investigation of the unknown—wisdom science has been used and studied for thousands of years by every type of individual, and it still holds my … musings on the natural world are endless.”
As for his work, Reed creates chaotic and colorful painted abstractions that are borderline psychedelic with swirled touches and textures, all packed with detail. Generally speaking, he uses colored pencils and water-based paints such as acrylics, watercolors and gouache for smaller pieces, though he hardly limits himself in scope. Still, some of the larger pieces he'll exhibit during The Only Way Out is Through are ones he considers personal successes.
"I like to be playful and coyote-ish at times," he says, "but if you're going to stay in this environment, you have to self-cultivate." Reed says he's evolved his practice by simply letting things come to him. He's embraced not knowing or letting go, so to speak. Outside of the show, Reed sells postcard subscriptions through his website (deermit.com), a quarterly mailer containing custom-painted postcards he's created. That would make one hell of a gift, for a loved one or yourself.
With his dreamlike yet fuzzily lifelike representations of his own experiences and the people in them, there is perhaps no local artist enjoying quite the same level of buzz as Jared Weiss. Even he admits it's been a whirlwind the last year and a half, with solo and group shows across town (an August opening at form & concept was much ballyhooed, indeed). As we sit in Freeform Art Space, we observe one of his works together. It's a coming together of people he knows—though, according to Weiss, one subject evolved to be missing his head over the course of its creation.
This concept of facelessness is present in many of Weiss' paintings. It's an embracing, he says, of psych analysis and dream logic. "Dreams feel very urgent," he says, "but you don't often have a resolution." His paintings, then, may help to pursue one. Much of his work casts the people in his life within the painting. "I think of them as actors and actresses," he says. "They're playing roles, they're characters that are a part of my psyche."
Weiss is a self-professed fan of Freud and his ideas on dreams, adding that he feels it's natural to repress memories and then build them into distorted new ones by layering others over top of them. "Distorted" may be one of the best ways to describe a Weiss piece as well—the imagery and people are recognizable enough, but with bold color choices and haunting imagery, they approach the fantastic—again, like a dream. This could have something to do with mood, as Weiss says light is important to his headspace and process.
Reminiscing about time spent in Chicago, he recounts a period spent painting in a windowless basement. "I began to notice that everything I was doing was black and white," he says. "I'm really effected by the light; it's why I love living out here."
Perhaps better known as a pen-and-ink illustrator, Todd White embraced a broader color palette for The Only Way Out is Through. This was due in part to pushing his own boundaries, but also as a reaction to his fellow exhibitors. "It's very different from what I've made before," he says. "It's very colorful, and that's what I've been most excited about—not working with black and dark subject matter, with really bright colors."
White follows in the footsteps of many artists of his generation; namely, he came up appreciating the graphic work found on skateboards and in album art. His previous works have aligned with these styles, though White often implements stoner ephemera, fantasy elements and a borderline horror comic aesthetic. These remain intact with his new pieces. Melting skulls and bizarre three-eyed creatures emblazoned on thick paper in pastel tones create an almost humorous effect.
White's style is detailed beyond belief, though not difficult to view and digest. "They look like artwork for kids' rooms," he says, "but when you look closer, it's melting faces." This is achieved with watercolors, ink and gouache, and no—they wouldn't look out of place in a kid's room.
As we speak, Cyrus McCray is perfecting his portfolio to apply for arts grad school. "I'm getting close," he says. "I put it off a year, but I'm close."
The objective, he says, is to show professionally, gain representation and, if he chooses, to teach down the line. He already graduated with a BA in fine arts from the California Institute for the Arts, so he's clearly on his way.
The interesting thing about McCray, of course, is his lack of dedicated style and medium. He's created illustrations, dynamic paintings, three-dimensional wooden sculpture and beyond. He's embraced the aesthetic of Dia de los Muertos, he's examined the relationship between artist and viewer; we've even seen him create staggeringly accurate ballpoint pen portraits while sitting on the floor of a gallery. He is, perhaps, one of the most underappreciated local artists we have—though this will hopefully change soon.
For The Only Way Out is Through, he's put much thought into what he'll show. "I'm negotiating generative systems," he says. "There's a formal dialog taking place that hearkens back to minimalism and early conceptual art." Thus far, the early works he's prepared for the show are simple paintings, though with a depth of field that is stunning. McCray's ability to convey what he describes as having topography seems effortless, but is spellbinding.
“I’m playing with a lot of different things, I’m investigating,” he continues. “It’s very pared-down work, almost simplistic, but it will be in stark contrast to the way Tim and Todd and Jared work—I’m creating work that has no representational anchor, but I’ve taken into consideration the way they work and define art, and my … objective is to position myself in opposition to what they do. Not that I disagree with or think theirs is a invalid stance to take. It’s just a different conversation.”
The Only Way Out is Through Opening