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Clayton's Cooperative Gateway Gallery

This panoramic photo shows the interior of Gateway Gallery in Clayton. photo by Dickson Beall (click for larger version)
August 10, 2011
Gateway Gallery in Clayton sells lots of art, at a time when many gallery owners are struggling with sales. That being said, most of the gallery's sales happen on only three days of the year — the days of the St. Louis Art Fair — which will run Sept. 9 through 11 this year.

The gallery can't help but get noticed. These words are painted on its window, "Art is a life long gift," and the store is located in the middle of the block, at the very center where thousands gather for this hugely successful annual event on the streets. Think air-conditioning.

Gateway Gallery got its start when a group of local artists rented the Forsyth storefront on a short-term basis for the duration of the St. Louis Art Fair in 2004. The venture was so successful that the artists talked the landlord into letting them stay on, with a longer term.

Garry McMichael’s “Going Green.” (click for larger version)
Now, seven years later, the gallery is a cooperative endeavor of 18 regional artists, several of whom are award winning. Their business runs smoothly. Each of the artists is part owner, holding the gallery open one or two days each month.

The artists are friendly and open about their own work, as well as the works of other artists. On one of my gallery visits, Garry McMichael was sitting on a stool, painting an Ozarks scene in oil on a small canvas. McMichael, a plein air painter with a day-job as a photographer, has traveled the blue highways of Missouri to capture the quickly changing golden light for some 30 years. Like other artists he may finish a painting back in the studio.

Vic Barr, another self-taught artist, works in a variety of beautiful woods creating jewelry boxes, small cabinets and tables, each with a beautiful finish.

Vic Mastis works outdoors and sometimes visualizes the landscape when back in her studio. Her oils, painted in loose brushstrokes with thin glazes of paint over gold leaf, seek to capture a moment in nature. Her loosely brushed landscapes, floral scenes and still life paintings are placed into metal frames.

Michael Anderson works in watercolor, and does freely sketched impressions of familiar St. Louis scenes — the Muny, Washington University campus and details cropped from local architecture.

The photography of Greg Matchick focuses upon European scenes that inevitably recall a traveler's past trip to Italy or that last visit to Bruge or Paris. Matchick achieves what tourists may have hoped to capture, and may have found themselves in the right location, but at the wrong time of the day.

For her scissors and paper work, Joyce Yarbrough makes silhouette art reminiscent of the 19th century, cutting contour drawings of a pet, a plant or a person. Parents often commission Yarbrough to do traditional silhouette portraits of their children, which she executes in the gallery.

Linda Smith turns her eye to gathering places such as coffee shops to create oil studies in light. She leaves the viewer to finish the story of relationship caught in a quiet moment.

Each exhibition at the gallery is focused along a general theme, centered upon some aspect of St. Louis and the region. The current themed show, "Going Green," runs through Aug. 27, to be followed in September by "Local Color: Seven Years of Regional Art." The theme aspect allows the same 18 artists to showcase their new works, include recent works and feature two or three guest artists.

Art cooperatives like the Gateway Gallery are, of course, not new. Tenth Street Galleries in New York's East Village was a cooperative in the 1950s and 1960s. These artist galleries had low budgets and little staff, but they offered artists an alternative space, way downtown from the white cube galleries on Madison Avenue showing blue chip art.

Except for the Phoenix, most of these galleries are now closed. Artist Willem de Kooning and art critic Harold Rosenberg supported their 10th Street neighbors and many of those artists in the cooperatives are now well-known — Allan Kaprow, Alex Katz, Elaine de Kooning, Philip Pearlstein and Tom Wesselmann, to name a few.

What of the art at the Gateway Gallery? It will compare well with much of the art one would see on the street during the art fair. Without any pretensions of being great art, without any high-flown concepts, these artists — many retired or with day jobs — are having a great time making their art. And there's nothing wrong with that. All of us might remember how good it was to make art before some teacher told us to follow the rules instead of our hearts.

And for the art buyer, Gateway Gallery's banner, "Art is a life long gift," holds a certain truth. The important guideline in buying any work of art — unless you happen to be a day-trader type, thrilled by the art auction hammer — is to buy art that you like.

Gateway Gallery is located at 7921 Forsyth Blvd. in Clayton. Gallery hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 402-1959 for more details.

Going Green

"Going Green" is on display through Aug. 27 at Gateway Gallery.

"Local Color: Seven Years of Regional Art"

"Local Color: Seven Years of Regional Art" will be on display Aug. 31 - Sept. 30. For more details, visit www.gatewaygalleryonline.com.

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