Rachelle Diaz is painting a portrait of her husband, Cesar, with glow-in-the-dark paint and blue detergent.
She's one of several people creating neon works of art under black light as part of Dark Art at Play gallery. All of the pieces created over three nights at the end of March formed the backdrop for a weekend dance party at the gallery.
Play is a gallery and boutique that began at the Arts Incubator last October and moved down the street to 276 E. Congress St. The gallery is home to a loose collective of artists who specialize in themed shows, and it also holds events and parties that anyone can take part in —often, on the spur of the moment.
"I kind of already had the idea to do that shadowy high contrast treatment with a black light painting before I went in there," Diaz says. "But I painted Cesar because I knew he would be hanging out anyways. 'Oh perfect, you're just gonna be sitting there. I'll paint you.' "
Diaz is a regular at interactive events.
Besides attending Play's first blacklight session in October, she's styled models' hair and makeup at Dinnerware's Troppo Fabuloso fashion show and given a PowerPoint presentation on Pop-Up spaces at Ignite Tucson.
Pop Up Spaces is a project Diaz developed with Julie Ray and Molly McClintock that explores the artistic value of empty buildings. This began with a Downtown building scavenger hunt March 1 where participants photographed, drew and wrote from prompts. Diaz will make shadowboxes and display the artworks in the windows of empty buildings in the next few weeks.
In addition to running Tu Scene, a Web site and calendar of Tucson arts events, Diaz also designs shoes and clothing that she sells at Play and online at artdivastudio.etsy.com
"What I like (about Play) is that it's very organic, very community-oriented," she says. "They try to get as many people and artists involved as possible. Also that they have events regularly. Some galleries just have an opening once every three months. They're constantly inviting people to experience the art."
Diaz's piece, which took her a little over a half an hour, now hangs in her home office, where she does graphic design for a company in Austin, Texas. The couple moved to Tucson last August when Cesar got accepted into the master's program for creative nonfiction at the University of Arizona.
"It doesn't glow or anything," she says, "but you can see the black contrasty part and kind of some of the colors, like the pink and green and the bright neon and purple."
The gallery, which was founded by artists Jessica Van Woerkom, Craig Wilson and Jerry Jordan, is staging a new interactive event almost every week. In the past they've had costumed mod parties, movie nights, a party called "Dancylvania" with popular DJs and The Count from Sesame Street on the flier, and even a black-and-white masquerade ball.
Van Woerkom, who is also an architect, maintains a growing listserve of artists and calls them to contribute to themed shows.
"We basically pass out homework assignments to the artists," she says. "We give a simple assignments and take anything that comes in, as long as it's not explicit nudity or violence or anything like that. We try and stay fairly positive."
One of Play's largest efforts was Piece, where organizers passed out 160 sheets of paper cut into puzzle pieces and had 85 artists mount them and decorate them. The pieces, which took almost two months to finish, eventually came together to form a large "Play" sign.
In the coming months, Van Woerkom says the gallery will host a Boys vs. Girls mural competition and eventually create a giant landscape piece out of smaller artist submissions.
But Van Woerkom said she's nervous about the future. She's had trouble paying the rent and Play, Central Arts Gallery and Tooley's, the cafe next door, might eventually be kicked out to make room for restaurateur Janos Wilder's newest dining hot spot.
"We're definitely working on ideas to keep us alive in any capacity, even if we don't have a physical address," Van Woerkom says.
Van Woerkom says Play's amateur artists inspire her.
"You get a lot of people in there who are really cute, like, 'Oh I don't know how to paint.' It's like, 'just try.' And then they bust something out and they're really proud of themselves."