For the week of February 10, 1999  thru February 16, 1999  

Gimme Money

Four fine artists find soul in commerce

Express Staff Writer

Oscar Wilde once said: "When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money."

Four of the Wood River Valley’s most accomplished artisans have been getting together weekly for a little less than a year to discuss the art of the deal and the deal of promoting their art.

Over a potluck dinner that inevitably includes Big Wood bread, metal sculptor Michael Zapponi, raku ceramist Gerry Arrington, sculptural ceramist Marjolaine Renfro, and flautist, marathon runner and art manager Karen Vance, critique each other’s current works and discuss plans for the future.

"We wanted to find a way to get more exposure," explained Renfro, whose husband Robert attends every meeting acting as both business advisor and booster club. "We also wanted to investigate ways to get more work and ways we could all work together."

One way the four worked together is in conjunction with the Sun Valley Wine Auction. While the artists created special works that became part of the most prized auction lots, Vance put the promotion together organizing everything from winemaker partners to interviews with the press.

"We felt fine wine and fine art were a natural combination," Vance said. "We really jumped in last year finding vintners, writing copy for the catalog. We wanted to make a big splash."

Currently Vance is helping along a brochure, which will feature one each of the artists’ most recent work in bronze. She will use it to educate galleries and corporate collectors on the integrity of the work.

Zapponi’s recent rendering of a gymnast, which is a commission by the Metropolitan YMCA of Los Angeles, Caifl., is staggering. Every muscle is articulated, every curve. Planes of light fuse together in an otherworldly creation of space and matter. Without exaggeration, it is breath-taking.

Renfro, who is well known for her work in ceramics, has branched out into bronze bringing an icon of womanhood into the world. The sculpture "Anima Mundi" (soul of the world) is expressed with an exquisite, rich, crackling patina; the round heavy feminine curves culminating in a face turned toward the sky.

Arrington has crafted a bronze vessel etched with herons and salmon swimming along the rim. Every fin and feather has been executed in extravagant detail. There is something of the Japanese in this work with its balance of the simple and divine.

When any of the artists participate in an exhibition or festival the others are there to lend a hand, literally.

The four share the work– including the physical set up for a show or fair– and the glory, basking in each other’s successes. They also share the difficult task of talking tough when the occasion warrants it.

"Yes, we have tears, too," sighed Renfro. "Mostly mine. But it’s a safe forum. I have been so pushed to go out of my comfort zone."

"No matter what happens in the group," said Arrington, "I feel so held."

There’s homework, too, like the time they were each given a quota of four strangers to approach to talk to about their work. Grant applications become a group effort and no new work escapes the slide-show critique.

"In the end, it’s just being there for each other," said Zapponi. "It all started with TAG [The Artist’s Group]. Because being an artist is such a singular, alone, profession. We picked out a few people from the larger group we felt we were in tune with. This allowed for focus."

"It’s about us going off in our own best direction," added Arrington.

"And it’s about how much you’re willing to commit to what you do," said Renfro. "There’s something to be said for accountability every week."

What they’ve done so far includes Zapponi winning an Oregon public art competition, a private commission for an L.A. sculpture garden, and an Ogden, Utah, public art competition. Renfro and Arrington have had shows at the Environmental Resource Center and later a show and representation through Gallery Oscar. They were both part of the Boise Triennial, and exhibited at the Boise Airport.

Renfro also participated in the Sausilito Art Festival and was featured in an article in Craft magazine.

The group is now hard at work on plans and inspirations for 1999.

"It’s kind of an art just putting this together," explained Zapponi of the group. "I’m not sure you can deconstruct it. It just happens organically.

The hard work, cohesiveness, and clearly stated goals have yielded results. And they are always looking for more -- art and money, money and art.

But the meetings, they attest, are much more than guild hall get-togethers.

It works because we love each other," Vance said.


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