Swapping paint

Gale Hart dares Sacramento’s visual artists to mingle with her Collaboration Project

Photo By Larry Dalton

There’s a new place to see some hot art. Don’t be fooled by the building’s bland exterior at 2114 19th Street; the real action is down the alley and inside the eight-foot cyclone fence. Walk past a scrap-metal pile where a sitting plaster figure—its skin highly textured with two-inch bumps—is precariously tipped, head just inches away from a crash. Inside the doors on the left there’s a mini skate park with 10 skateboards neatly lined up nearby.

Finally, you’re in A Bitchin’ Space, the latest Sacramento gallery, realized by artist Gale Hart. It’s simple and clean, with cinder-block walls and a softly padded ceiling of exposed insulation. There’s a place for Hart to paint, and, a couple of weeks after its grand opening on October’s Second Saturday, A Bitchin’ Space still spotlighted an exhibition of Hart’s work. Intense, expressive acrylics seemed to drip paint, oozing pathos and angst. Hart’s light boxes featured transparencies of her work projected onto her friends’ faces. Little stuffed soft creatures, stitched by Hart and her apprentice Elliott Rogers, lent a touch of whimsy, and a bunch of Hart’s heavy-metal critter sculptures added another three-dimensional twist.

A lone piece, “A Single Shot,” bore two artists’ names, Hart’s and Peter Stegall’s. The piece features Stegall’s neo-mod, polychrome style on the left. On the right, Hart’s highly defined figure in pencil offers a defiant stance over a hued background that continues Stegall’s theme. Coated in resin to create one overall texture, the piece is the telltale beginning sign of Hart’s Collaboration Project. Hart is bringing Sacramento artists together to collaborate on works for exhibition in A Bitchin’ Space. The art is displayed on the second weekend of every month, culminating in a grand-finale show next fall. In fact, Hart opened A Bitchin’ Space solely to display the fruits of the Collaboration.

Under her raven Edward Scissorhands hair, the diminutive Hart’s piercing blue eyes reveal a creative mind and a low-key demeanor that belies the scope of her mission. When talking about the project, the Michigan-born, mostly Sacramento-raised Hart was enthusiastic about the area’s talented artists. “If we got this body of work together, these collaborations by all these great artists here, we could really start something,” she said, “like a collaboration movement across the country.”

Considering artists and their egos, the idea may seem like a hard sell. But the project’s only a couple of months old and a veritable who’s who of Sacramento artists have signed on: John Stuart Berger, Joy Bertinuson, Melanie Bown, Randy Brennan, Olivia Coelho, Christine Hodgins, Michael King, Patrick Marasso, Craig Martinez, David Mayhew, Kiny McCarrick, Mike McCarrick, Tony Natsoulas, Mike Rodriguez, Rogers, Kim Scott, Mick Sheldon, Skinner, Stegall, Kevin Taylor, Patricia Wall, Patricia Wood and David White. And there’s room for more.

“You have to be willing to let someone invade your space,” Stegall, who is represented by JayJay Gallery, said of the collaborative process. “Gale could have painted over what I did, but she totally respected what I had done, and she incorporated my idea into hers.”

“Collaboration isn’t new,” he continued, “but it’s exciting when you’re working in a different venue, even using different material than what you’re used to. Gale gave me this blank board, like a hollow door, almost an inch-and-one-half thick, 15-by-12 inches, that she had sized with some gesso stuff.”

“With more than one person working on a piece,” Stegall added, “it becomes something unexpected. Gale’s images next to mine seem like a built-in success, a different point of view.”

Hart grew up loving nuts and bolts—shiny things, it seems. “We had these sheets of soft tin,” she recalled. “Every day after school I would cut it up and nail pieces to a tree so it had a metal trunk. I was about six and really obsessed with things like that.”

She later discovered she could draw muscle and bones out of the encyclopedia, and began pairing images of body parts and weapons.

After high school, making art helped her self-esteem. “I got any kind of job that would support my obsessive artistic ideas. I did framing. I got a job in a wood shop so I could have access to the equipment,” Hart recalled. “I had job in a photo lab so I could process my pictures. Every job supported my art and I got a discount, or else I wouldn’t take the job.”

She sold wooden boxes and later made unique, almost sculpture-like furniture that other artists, including Bertinuson, still talk about. Bertinuson, an art instructor at Sierra College and American River College, was one of the first artists to join the Collaboration Project.

Gale Hart, founder of the Sacramento skate gang Thrasher Chicks, built the Bitchin’ Space skate park with a friend in a few days.

Photo By Larry Dalton

“I’ve been a great fan of Gale’s work for years,” Bertinuson confessed. “I’m familiar with her big heads and furniture pieces. She told me about her collaboration idea, then she gave me a blank panel. I did a wallpaper pattern with leaves, vines and three chairs—a conceptual piece, with wood burning for a stippled effect, that relates to domestic space and absence of the figure.

“This [collaboration] is like following a mystery,” Bertinuson continued, “but Gale has concrete ideas about it. We all know her and trust her.”

Hart’s work has been featured extensively locally and has been included in group and solo shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles. An ardent vegan for almost 30 years, Hart made waves a couple of years ago with Why Not Eat Your Pet? at the Exploding Head Gallery. In this one-woman show, Hart put her beliefs to work in her art as she daringly compared family pets to other animals commonly used for food, research, clothing and entertainment.

Coelho, an artist represented by the Fools Foundation gallery, first met Hart when she complained about a vintage fur collar for sale at Olipom, Coelho’s eclectic Midtown boutique.

“I agreed with her,” Coelho said. “Gale’s ability to work with many materials was so impressive. When I heard she was doing this collaboration, I wanted to do it.

“Collaboration is so humbling for an artist,” Coelho admitted. “Someone else has the right to annihilate your work. They can make it better, or destroy it.”

The Collaboration Project isn’t Hart’s first foray into displaying other people’s art. In the early ’90s, she opened the Studio 24 gallery on the corner of 24th and S streets. After that closed later in the same decade, she opened Gallery 8 near Franklin Boulevard and Broadway.

“I’ve made a living on my art for 12 to 15 years,” Hart remarked. “People do buy art here. They may not want to spend as much as they do in other places, but they do buy art.”

“Sacramento artists have a lot to say as narrative, even abstract painters,” Hart said. “You can tell where their influence is from the light and the city. This project is about doing something new, exciting, and making it a community thing.”

A sense of community appeals to painter Hodgins, who works 20 to 25 hours a week without contact from other artists. “This project,” Hodgins observed, “forces us to have some type of communication. In musical theater, they constantly have to work with each other. We only have accountability to ourselves. With this, we can screw up somebody else’s work, so it’s a responsibility. You have to deal with your own insecurities and ego—how much will they cover mine up? A lot of us know each other just as names. All of a sudden you meet, like [Second Saturday] at Gale’s place.”

Mixed-media artist Brennan also met Hart last Second Saturday. She called a couple of days later to recruit him. “We have a lot in common,” Brennan said. “We both dabble in everything. Collaboration is a great opportunity for artists to expand on others’ imaginations, to learn. But it may not always be what you want to hear. This is a little vulnerable, and then there’s freedom to alter somebody else’s work.”

“I grabbed two pieces that Gale had already started,” said Mayhew, whose exhibition of ballpoint-pen drawings on parking-lot tickets this summer at the Pamela Skinner Gallery revealed a gift for detail and minutiae. “I’ve never done anything like this. It’s a fascinating, unusual process. The combination of two separate styles is electrifying in one piece.”

“I see Gale as an impresario,” Mayhew continued, “networking with other artists, bringing a sense of community, a sense of openness and focus. It doesn’t happen every day. She says, ‘This isn’t about ego, it’s about sharing the process.’ ”

On the phone with SN&R last week, Hart relayed a conversation with a friend who visited the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Neb. When another museum patron heard Hart’s friend was from Sacramento, she excitedly said, “Oh, they have great art things going on there, like this big collaboration with a lot of artists.”

The movement has begun.