by Laura Myntti
For only two weeks of the whip-fast Alaska summer, Gallery Turquoise in Cooper Landing is open for its summer exhibition. The unique gallery transforms from a working artist studio into the shop of an Alaska sportfisherman, and a gallery that might be found in any cosmopolitan center of the country.
This summer, artist, gallery owner and director Spelman Evans Downer and artist Laura Myntti's work come together in a show called "Cosmic Rivers."
The two artists share similarities in their relationship to Alaska, returning to the state, as the tide fills and empties at the mouth of the Kenai River. Their work in "Cosmic Rivers" shows certain stylistic similarities, as well.
by Spelman Evans Downer
"She did more of like a mini-retrospective. She showed some of her earlier, figurative works, which she is known for, from the '80s in Anchorage, but she's into this new series, the Cosmos ones," said Downer of Myntti's work in the show.
"They're really, my personal favorites. And the first thing you see when you come into the gallery, there's five or six of them, and they're heavily mixed media on paper. Those seem to have a nice relationship with what I'm doing. They're more abstract and oblique, and some of the colors are even similar."
Myntti was educated at the University of Idaho and the University of Paris. Her work hangs in such museums and collections as the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, the New York Public Library and Chicago's Mexican Fine Arts Museum. She spent eight years in Anchorage, where she married an Alaskan. Myntti and her husband traveled and made art in Boston, London and New York, returning to Alaska to raise children. She currently spends most of her time between Chicago and Ely, Minn., where she has a cabin and a summer studio.
Above, "Living Room," by Laura Myntti Below, "Gulkana Bend," by Spelman Evans Downer Further below, "Cosmos," by Mynetti
Downer has been drawn back and forth from Alaska over his career, too. He taught painting and drawing at Kenai Peninsula College in the 1990s. He is currently a chair of the Copper Mountain College Art Department at Joshua Tree in southern California, where he's created a significant digital art curriculum with focus on digital photography, exposure to still photography and graphic design.
Downer has incorporated the influences of a varied artistic background, including references to American Color Field paintings, Abstract Expressionism, Photo Realism and the 2000-year-old Asian art of suiseki rock appreciation and display, into the continuing evolution of his own explorations in painting and multimedia artworks.
"What I'm doing now is based on experiences on Alaska rivers. Of course, the Kenai, the Gulkana and other rivers in the Copper River Basin down on the peninsula, wherever I go, I basically remember the experience, come back and paint a very loose, kind of memory, of the geometry of the hole or the river or the structure that I see in the water.
"It's sort of what happens when a fishing guide studies art history, goes to New York City for 10 years and picks up currents of New York abstraction, action painting from Jackson Pollock, enamel painting from Willem de Kooning and mixes it all together," Downer said.
Now that Downer has Gallery Turquoise as a model, he is recreating it in California. Another working studio-shop-gallery space with a special, yearly exhibition is a year away from completion. He utilized his architectural design training and practical experience as an artist to create the gallery.
"It's got a 20-foot-high ceiling, a huge, clear story. It's got an unusual architectural program where it's designed as a working studio, but then it cleans up to where it's like a really high-end gallery. It's just super clean. Everything's just beautiful," Downer said.
Downer said he hopes the multimedia portion of the "Cosmic Rivers," which closes Saturday, will inspire other individuals to join a summer class he has offered at the Kenai Peninsula College in multimedia art forms. He plans to offer the class again next summer.
The multimedia showing will be presented as the sun goes down, starting at 10 p.m. Saturday, following the closing reception from 5 to 8 p.m.
Downer is enjoying the opportunity he has at the gallery to support the work of other artists, as well as his own.
As gallery director, he is the main point of contact with every person who sees the exhibit. In conversation with the guests who have stopped to see the show, Downer gathers perspective on his own work and its impact on viewers.
"I always ask them a simple question like, 'What piece do you respond to most, and why?' And so I learn things, what people see. Because I see multiple, lots, of different relationships or references, but I'm steeped in art history and all the great painters. Most Alaskans, they come in and what get's them, it's the river and the color, and they've been there and they like to fish, too. Or my earlier topographic works, they recognize places they love."
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