a work in progress

Collaboration, experimentation on display at River Art Studio

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Art can be a solitary, lonely endeavor, requiring hours of closed-door studio time. The quiet keeps some social people away from the canvas.

Over the past year, a new studio space called River Art Studio and Gallery changed all that for artist Pat Walsh. Before Walsh and artist Susan Schiesser found the empty, well-lit building at 430 Yampa Ave., she painted in a tiny studio near Double Z.

"It was probably 10-by-10-foot square with a small window," Walsh said. "If you had two people in the room at the same time, it was crowded. I had sort of resigned myself to working there."

Just as the walls began to close in on Walsh's landscape paintings and her creative spirit, Schiesser found the spot on Yampa Avenue and showed it to Walsh.

"I wasn't actively looking. This was a sort of gift," Walsh said.

Schiesser and Walsh bought the building in July 2002 and, partly because of its accessible downtown location, people started to wander into the studio.

"I think artists or creative souls have been craving a spot where they can talk about art and get inspired," Walsh said. "It's a funny thing. It seems like it's happening everywhere in Steamboat right now."

On that first day, Walsh pulled out her camera and started recording a photographic guest book. For one year, she has photographed everyone who came through the door of River Art Studio and Gallery, each one sitting on the same overstuffed red couch.

"The Red Sofa Series" is a multi-media exploration of those photographs and will be on display at the gallery through October, along with work by artists Schiesser, Rob Williams and Dan Lemmer.

"We're all pushing ourselves in this show," Walsh said. "We are all doing something we haven't done before."

Walsh's contribution to the show tells a story of the place, through her eyes. The piece chronicles a "scene" that developed as soon as the doors opened.

The spot became a popular gathering place for artists who were hungry to be around other creative people.

"I love coming down here to work," Walsh said. "What happens here inspires the work, too. It's nice not to work in a vacuum."

Walsh, who usually works in paints and printing inks, struggled at first with how to use the photos.

After days of pushing photos around and scanning and manipulating photos with her computer, she decided to turn them into a sort of abstract painting, sans paint. She began to use the photos as color fields and arranged them in a way that was inspired by a painting by Vermont artist Sammy Peters.

"I want to create a tribute to the year and the people who turned this place into what it is," Walsh said. "But I want it to be more than a scrapbook or a bulletin board. I want it to be a piece of art.

Among the people who visit River Art almost daily is Williams. The artist has had three one-man shows this year, two at the Depot Art Center and one at River Art. This month, he plans to show a series of monoprints called "Shaken not Stirred," which he made on Walsh's printing press. He also plans to show the result of a recent collaboration with Lemmer.

Lemmer and Williams ran into each other at Keri Searls' one-person show at Comb Goddess in September. Lemmer had just returned from a trip to San Francisco.

"I was inspired by all the art I saw there," Lemmer said. "And I told Rob that I was going to make (art) happen for me this time."

Lemmer always has been an artist but never committed to it.

"I have a fear of blank paper. I have a fear that things have to be perfect," Lemmer said. "It's all about being unsure of myself for one reason or another."

Williams saw a solution to Lemmer's artistic block.

"I have zero problem starting a piece," Williams said, "but I have a hard time finishing. Dan has a hard time starting, but no problem finishing."

The two artists agreed to collaborate. Lemmer started several pieces and passed them to Williams. Williams did the same. They each experimented with finishing each other's work. It was a struggle for both.

Lemmer draws figurative work, while Williams is philosophically anti-figurative. It was a clash of mindsets on paper.

"Every artist has imagery that recurs in their work," Williams said. "Collaboration makes you think differently. This took us out of our comfort zone."

This will be Lemmer's first time showing artwork in Steamboat, and Williams credits the creative energy of River Art for making it happen.

"This place is about bringing creative people out of the woodwork and getting them to show their work," Williams said.

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