“Artist” is not a job criterion at the Lewis Framing Studio.
But owner Bea Mason gravitates toward those creative types.
“I don’t have the personality to work” with someone without the quirks and expertise of artists, says Mason.
So, over the 40 years the prestigious framing business has been in the Old Pueblo, some of the more accomplished artists living in Tucson have found themselves using their aesthetic senses to frame the works of other artists.
Seven of those artists make up Etherton Gallery’s latest show, “The Artists of Lewis Framing,” which opens with a reception Saturday, June 11.
The exhibit shows the deep and eclectic talent that Mason sensed before she even hired the artists. A few still work there, others have moved on. But the Lewis Framing thread — and creating impressive art — connects them all.
Here are the artists:
David F. Brown, who still works at Lewis, paints with a slightly surreal sensitivity and a gorgeous sense of color. His blues are too varied to name, and his use of spot color builds intrigue. Brown received his MFA in painting and drawing from the University of Arizona and has been featured in other Etherton shows, as well as in exhibits and publications in Arizona, Colorado and Oregon.
Doug Shelton moved to Tucson in 1993, but his art has left a mark around the world: He has murals at Tokyo Disney, across his home state of Iowa, along the east coast and even in the U.S. Capitol. His paintings are packed with humor, some pop images and color, and have a story to tell. The longer you look at his work, the more the stories shift, change and reveal. Shelton, too, still frames art for others at Lewis.
David Kish is hard to label. He long created the Tucson Weekly cartoon “Hoopleville,” which made astute political points while it made us laugh. He works in cardboard — last year, his riveting installation of cardboard figures crawling out of manholes along the walkway of the 4th Avenue underpass made poignant points about poverty. And his drawings in the Etherton show take detailed images from nature, repeat them, and turn them into almost-abstract wonders.
Joe Forkan, who grew up in Tucson and received his BFA from the UA, is an associate professor of art at California State University, Fullerton. His reputation is now international, and his en plein air landscape paintings, sometimes abstracted, sometimes with just a hint of abstraction, show his expertise with light and subject. Forkan’s work is also the subject of a solo show, “The Lebowski Cycle,” at the UA Museum of Art through Sept. 25.
Dustin Leavitt has been a bit of a gypsy, career wise: He received his B.A. in English and M.F.A. in creative writing from the UA, worked on a tramp freighter in the Bering Sea and was a square-rip sailor in the Caribbean. He also has professional fishing and exhibitions production at the Center for Creative Photography on his resume. His pinhole camera works are a sort of fine-art homage to vernacular photography — the pictures of everyday life most of us take and file away in our computers and scrapbooks.
Jeweler Leslie Wardlaw believes that her earrings should be little sculptures framing the face. And they are. Among the works at the Etherton show are earrings that celebrate storytelling, are inspired by the sea, and are a joyous study in design. There’s a grace and a curiosity about her designs that would wow as earrings, as well as miniature sculptures on their own pedestals.
William Wiggins’ paintings shout with color, speak with words, and evoke life in the Southwest and Mexico. And Wiggins, who still works at Lewis, plays with pop culture and indulges us with over-the-top portrayals. He has a background in photography, art installations and custom framing.
“They all worked to enhance other’s work during the day,” says Mason of the artists who have worked, and those who still do, at Lewis.
“They are all accomplished artists. … It’s really nice to see what they are doing in their off time.”