Crux Artist Collective brings warehouse art to Chico
Inside a converted warehouse on the outskirts of Chico, hanging across a drywall partition, Diana Caplan’s fun drawings offer simple studies of contrast. Each of her three untitled pieces has a primitive background scene. In one are the no-frills, thick-lined pencil outlines of a corral with a cowgirl leaning against the fence; in another, the same cowgirl is driving down a road in a pickup truck. In juxtaposition, completely rendered full-color pastels of giant produce are planted in the frame—a batch of pumpkins sprouts up in the corral, and a squash blocks the pickup’s path in the road.
Step outside the warehouse that is home to Chico’s newest arts space, the Crux Artist Collective, and the sight of colorful arts patrons streaming toward the center of the unfinished industrial landscape of aluminum buildings sprouting up from the surrounding dirt lots is as striking as Caplan’s works hanging inside.
Crux has taken over one of the new pre-fab warehouses in the middle of the fields south of where Salem Street dead-ends, just past 22nd Street (near where the old DIYRG punk club was). Though the space has been open for a couple months now, this night’s event is the coming-out party.
The Around Town Show, a group exhibit featuring a couple dozen multimedia submissions chosen by the Crux Collective, is billed as “a direct encounter with Chico artists.” With a live sax/stand-up bass duo heating things up in the corner, Crux director and transplanted New Yorker Terry Dote (looking totally cool in his engineer cap, thin wire-frame glasses and scruffy boho beard) walked me through the space.
The front part of the converted warehouse is the main gallery, with concrete floors and large metal sculpture on a rolling base in the center. Continuing forward down a wide hallway, more show pieces adorn the outside walls of the seven 10 x 10 artist’s studios that frame the back half of the building. Each artist pays $100-$110 per month to cover the rent, and when shows happen in the main room (Crux has also put on open mics, an experimental sound show and dance workshops), the individual studios are open for viewing as well, offering a constant and varied group show in their own right.
In his own studio tonight, Dote simply added some last-minute graffiti to the back wall, riffing off the presence of a coiled orange extension cord on the floor with lines of orange marker connecting to little white blobs across the sheetrock.
Next door, Labeba Alkhattat’s space is half exhibit/half Persian chill shack. Her “Conscious Wise Scribe Visions"—metallic-paint rectangles, framed in yellow, on thin sheets of paper—are spread out across an aqua-colored wall. The rest of the room, with its pillows, an area rug and a cheesy unicorn tapestry (and a PC in the corner), feels a little like an art student’s dorm room.
The power of suggestion may be at work (with Dote mentioning his New York background), but the scene does feel like a happening in some dingy big-city warehouse, a broad spectrum of creative and freaky types pooling their energies to share art and to party. Dote puts it more plainly: “You’re experiencing Chico.”
The audience favorite appears to be Dave Aspen’s “Beer Glass” sculpture—two big 24-oz. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale bottles fused together at the mouth and attached to metal bracket. With one bottle’s worth of liquid between the two, the interactive piece functions as kind of a beer hourglass when turned from one end to the other.
My personal faves include Caplan’s drawings and Frank Villicana’s tiny, shadowy acrylic paintings of the world of cock fighting, especially “Se Preparan,” three super-tiny (3x2-inch?), almost photographically composed shots (man holding rooster, blurred spectators, shadows across the arena dirt).
The space of collective member Christine Fulton is also very inviting, with book-lined shelves and thin-lined pen drawings of contorted figures hanging on the wall. The 22-year-old Chico State art major, bounces in wearing a frilly yellow dress and I mention that her studio feels like the kind of place you’d just want to hang out in, to which Dote interjects, “We all just hang out and share art,” adding, “and the show space is always there.”