Art moves in

Two more spaces—one new, one hidden—for art in Chico

A jazz trio performs after the opening-night crowd had left the cavernous new MFA Graduate Studios, which houses 16 separate Chico State grad student studios.

A jazz trio performs after the opening-night crowd had left the cavernous new MFA Graduate Studios, which houses 16 separate Chico State grad student studios.

Photo By matt siracusa

Where art’s at
MFA Graduate Studios
931 W. Fifth St., Ste. 180
Info: 898-5331
Leo Cast Alley Gallery
337.5 Nord Ave.
Open Sundays 1-5 p.m., or by appointment

One is as small as the other is big.

If the new Chico State MFA Graduate Studios building had a pocket, the Leo Cast Alley Gallery would fit right inside it.

The names of these art spaces might be news to you, but don’t feel too clueless. The 6,500-square-foot MFA Graduate Studios space is brand-new. The huge, remodeled warehouse space on West Fifth Street, behind Café Culture, is currently home to 15 Chico State MFA students and one graduate exchange student from Mainz, Germany. Each has his or her own separate studio space in the impressive, bi-level building.

The MFA Grad Studios held a well-attended grand opening on Dec. 1, with the varied, interesting work of each MFA candidate on display—everything from Megan Moore’s intriguing microbe-meets-Japanese-paper-lantern über-drawings to what resembled a gigantic version of one of Moore’s micro-organisms blown super-macro by an MFA student who commutes to Chico State all the way from a little town outside of Sparks, Nev.

The well-hidden, 900-square-foot Leo Cast Alley Gallery just seems new to those who might stumble across it for the first time if they happen to be poking around in the tiny alley behind Asia Market on Nord Avenue.

The Leo Cast Alley Gallery (a Dadaist play on the name of late New York City art dealer Leo Castelli, the first to sell Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s soup paintings) is actually 12 years old and is the gallery/studio space of James Kuiper, local painter, sculptor and sketch artist, and Chico State art professor. When Kuiper took it over, the little red corrugated metal building was a barn with a dirt floor.

Kuiper recently hosted a two-day art opening (Dec. 5-6) of his new work and that of a mysterious artist by the name of Jacques Iper (yes, another Dadaist play on words) who makes wooden French-hen Christmas-tree ornaments.

Chico State art professor James Kuiper takes a seat in front of his Leo Cast Alley gallery/studio.

Photo By jason cassidy

Abstract, minimalist landscapes painted in grays, reds, oranges and yellows—a number of them inspired by Kuiper’s recent fishing trip with a buddy to the Sea of Cortez—shared space with ceramic wall-plates, bold pencil sketches and intriguing wooden boat sculptures made from recycled wood that give one the feeling of being in a museum of anthropology.

Kuiper/Iper’s space is just a couple of doors away from where the MFA Graduate Studios was formerly located—in a funky, small, storefront space in the half-abandoned beige-and-brown strip mall that houses Asia Market—until its move at the beginning of the 2009 fall semester.

Kuiper, who teaches everything from beginning drawing and design to graduate art seminars, used to be able to walk those few yards from his studio in his slippers to check in on his students at the old MFA studio space. Now, he has to put on a pair of shoes and drive to conduct seminars.

Not that anyone’s complaining.

Michael Bishop, chair of Chico State’s Department of Art and Art History, certainly isn’t.

“It’s been a long-term goal,” Bishop said of finding a permanent home for the MFA studios.

Because of the MFA studios’ limited space when they were on Nord Avenue, some students had to make use of rooms on the second floor of Taylor Hall as their studio space.

“And I never expected to have as great a space as we were able to land—especially since it’s an even swap for what that other place cost,” Bishop added.

If it weren’t for the generosity and support of the owners of the West Fifth Street building, Graham Hutton and his wife, Jackie Headley-Hutton, and the “fantastic support” from Chico State Vice President for Business and Finance Lorraine Hoffman and Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts Joel Zimbelman, the move might never have happened, said Bishop.

“We’ve got a facility right now that comes pretty close to the top-notch schools in the country,” said a smiling Bishop. “[This move] is a wonderful step. … It makes teaching easier. When [the students] are in the right environment, the focus is there, the rhythm is there. It’s just a natural.”