james gregg / arizona daily star

Blame the newly opened Flux Gallery at Plaza Palomino on the economic downturn.

The artists who made the pieces housed within its walls also are the people who run the place.

Members of the gallery's collective — nine in all — split their lives between being creative and working the business.

The goal is to give each of them more exposure during these tough economic times.

"We want people to see that artists can take control of their careers, that they can be proactive in getting their works seen," said Steven Derks, curator for Flux.

The whole concept of a collective was Derks' idea.

Once a native-plant investigator for the state, Derks got his start in art by painting drums, a big hit with private collectors. Former President Bill Clinton owns one of his pieces. So does Sting.

Derks, 52, eventually moved on to painting on aluminum and working with steel to create unique sculptures.

Business was good. Then the financial crisis hit. Derks continued to sell, but he didn't like what he was seeing.

"The art market went flat," he said. "I went into panic mode."

Rather than turn tail and run, Derks decided to get strategic. In January, he put a call out to visual artists on Craigslist. He was looking for like-minded, creative people willing to fight to keep their heads above water.

Derks soon had a collective going. The group held meetings and began looking at temporary venues to show their art.

When the opportunity arose to move into a space at Plaza Palomino, they thought it might be a good investment.

"I had had previous experiences there," Derks said. "I had exhibited sculptures around the plaza and I live just a few blocks north. I knew what I was getting into."

Flux Gallery has received a strong response from visitors and other tenants in the plaza in the short time it has been there, Derks said. They expect around 300 people when they hold their official opening tonight.

Paintings and sculptures of different shapes, sizes and colors line the walls. Featured members include woodturning artist Lynne Yamaguchi and Maurice Sevigny, who served as dean of the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts for 18 years.

Shirley Wagner, another artist in the collective, has a number of her monochrome works hanging throughout the space.

Wagner is a former visual-arts specialist with the Tucson Unified School District and deals in two-dimensional wood assemblage.

Her pieces have been displayed all over the state, but Flux suits her needs now.

"We each have a different medium and strength that we bring to the table," she said. "I know this is where I should be."

The group has worked hard to learn about each other's pieces. As members of the collective, each artist operates the gallery at different times during the week. Wagner's day is Monday.

"If a serious collector comes in and says 'I like this person's work,' I need to be able to explain how it's made," she said.

She added that she is still getting used to the business side of things.

"It is different for us artists to be out there like that," she said. "It is a pleasure to talk about my art. But I'm a little apprehensive going up to someone and saying, 'May I help you?' "

Painter Bryan Crow usually works the gallery on Thursdays.

At 30, Crow is the youngest in the group.

He was excited at the prospect of collaborating with and inspiring his fellow artists.

"I wanted to get involved with something bigger than myself," he said.

Crow, who specializes in acrylic paintings created on found objects such as doors, benches and cabinets, thinks the gallery will be good for more than just the artists involved.

"I'd like to see our gallery help the plaza itself," he said. "There has been a lot of turnover there. It would be a great opportunity for us to do something for them."

Flux Gallery

Flux Gallery is at 2960 N. Swan Road, Suite 136, at Plaza Palomino. Call 403-2751 for more details.

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at 573-4137 or ggay@azstarnet.com