This past Friday was a tad nippy, but to be fair, there was snow on the way; thankfully, it didn't come barreling in until after the majority of the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll had closed up shop. --- Surprisingly, even with the crappy weather looming and a lot of the shows being multiple-artist showcases, there were a number of people roaming the streets of SLC to check out what they could and partake in the random festivities that awaited those who braved the chill.
For this month's Stroll, I made my way over to the 800 South Artspace to check out one of the latest additions to the area: The Studio Of Living Art, which has taken the genre of upcycling and melded it seamlessly with gardening and floral additions to create a unique blend of art for the home. Aside from its own materials, the gallery had on display the works of Nathan Cordero, Stephanie Clark, Sarah Thomas, curator Vincent Fitches, Justin Watson, Green Friday and Robin Clark. Today, I chat with the gallery's founder, Aimee Fitches, about the place, as well as thoughts on local art; all with photos that you can check out in this gallery here.
Aimee Fitches (with Vincent Fitchess)
Gavin: Hey, Aimee. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Aimee: I am obsessed with anything that I find adorable and want to be surrounded with those things. I am originally from California but spent my formative years living in England. I moved to Salt Lake City for the first time when I was 18. I experienced both culture shock and a feeling that this was home. I love that Salt Lake has the city conveniences with so many green adventures a hop away.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some early influences on you?
Aimee: I was a little spoiled growing up in Europe because there is a great art tradition there. My mother would drag my sister and I every weekend to a castle, museum or cathedral. I remember how important it was to her to show us art and share history with us. I also married an artist, which meant that I was exposed to a lot of art, as well. Some of my earliest influences were Jean-Michel Basquiat and Ai Wei Wei. I love that they influenced their scenes and had a message. I think that it’s really important when creating art to think about your message.
Gavin: Did you attend college for any particular art degree or were you mainly self-taught?
Aimee: I kind of went to college for anything but art. I was really indecisive and started out as an architect major at the University of Utah, but really struggled with the math. I loved anthropology and took as many women's studies classes as I could justify, but ended up in economics; I am still not quite sure how that happened. I love school and could see myself a perma-student if I had the funds. Although I didn’t graduate at the U, it was my favorite place I studied. The professors I had there really were great. I remember thinking two things after my first semester: First, that I had really been taught for the first time, and second, what was the point of high school?
Gavin: What drew your interest toward upcycled art, and made you want to pursue the genre?
Aimee: I didn’t really think of it as art when I started; I had always worked in the arts in a supportive role. Other people started calling it art and I was flattered to be in the company of artists. Upcycling made sense to me -- I grew up in a house littered with antiques and they had a sense of history and had their own back-story, which I really liked. In addition, using upcycled containers and repurposed items wasn’t creating more waste, which makes me feel smart.
Gavin: How do you go about finding the materials you use in your pieces and deciding what's worth using?
Aimee: I am a scavenger at heart and love going to antique stores, consignment shops, salvage yards and yard sales. I find a lot of what I use in my pieces from these types of places. Since I started I have had friends give me different items because they thought I could use them. If I love an item I think it is worth using. I really just want to be surrounded with things I love and that speak to me.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in creating a new piece, from early concept to final product?
Aimee: I start with a receptacle and then play with how to add green to it. The whole process really starts with the scavenge and then it comes together in my shop, where I play with color and texture until I am happy with it. Sometimes this means redoing a piece eight times but usually it comes together really organically.
Gavin: Considering the genre, how much do you play around with the design until you decide it's finished?
Aimee: I really play with a piece until I am happy with it. Sometimes I will put a container aside because it isn’t working with the plants I have. I will look around and can usually pick it up again after looking at other plant oddities that inspire me. There are around 150 species I work with.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up your own gallery, and what made you choose Artspace on 800 South?
Aimee: It was something I have wanted my whole adult life. I was really unhappy working in a corporate culture and felt like I was going to explode if I didn’t do something creative and meaningful to me. I was making good money but was really unhappy. I was very aware of Artspace as a presence here in Utah and really liked the concept. It is also a green building, which is really important to me; I love that the building is self-sustaining energy wise. I finally took the leap when I was talking to my friend and partner in the space, Kim Sevy Hillaire, who was also looking to share a little space. While we do different things in the space, it has been a beautiful arrangement. I love Kim and the products she makes. I am an ingredient snob and her products are edibly clean and the best I have used.
Gavin: What was it like setting up the space and incorporating your artwork while still giving space to guest artists?
Aimee: It was kind of amazing. I love having a venue for my work but am constantly being inspired by the work we bring in from other artists. We have a featured artist area that is reserved for that purpose. I am kind of amazed at the caliber of artists we have been able to show in the space. It is really dreamy.
Gavin: How has it been for you working with Vincent as your curator and working to bring more art to the west side of the city?
Aimee: Vincent is amazing! We have always worked well as a team; I managed his art career for over eight years. He in his own right is a killer and established artist. I trust him to bring in art that changes the scene and that inspires me personally. He is very passionate about what he does and I think it shows in what we have been able to put together. I really see the west side as the birthplace of the new art scene in Salt Lake. Granary Row really wowed me this summer with the solid art they brought to the area. My heart is really home in that neighborhood. I think we will see a lot of artistic growth and I am really excited we get to be a small part of it.
Gavin: Tell us about the artwork on display for this Stroll.
Aimee: I am really proud of this show. We brought the work of Nathan Cordero, who is a Sacramento artist, to Salt Lake. We met Nathan in New York and I was in love with the work he did right away. He notes that: “The amount of construction and renovation in the area has enabled me to work with found wood and carefully examine the importance of reusing what is normally considered rubbish. It has been somewhat of an obsessive, compulsive mission that has me constantly looking out for things to drag home to transform into something important to me.” I like that he didn’t let a lack of access to the typical art supplies stop him from creating. This really encompasses what an artist “is” to me. In addition to featuring Nate, we were able to go and participate in the first Artforce networking luncheon at the U. We got to network with the arts students and were fortunate to meet Sarah Thomas, who makes amazing sculptural pieces here in Utah. She facilitated us meeting with Justin Watson, Stephanie Kelly Clark and Robin Clark, who have pieces in the show. Their work is all completely unique and completely wonderful.
Gavin: How has it been working with Gallery Stroll and bringing more attention to your Artspace area?
Aimee: Working with Gallery Stroll has been fantastic! We had a lot of new people coming into the gallery who had read about the show and were excited to come see the work. We are able to reach an audience that we wouldn’t have and without any extra cost to us. The space is a little off the beaten path, but I think that adds to the feeling that you have found a treasure when you arrive.
Gavin: Going local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Aimee: Salt Lake has an amazing scene. Unfortunately, I feel like you are seeing a small portion of these artists. There are so many talented artists here in Utah, and we want to help facilitate a change in the scene by bringing new art and artists into focus.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Aimee: I think that Utah artists need to participate more on a national scale; there are so many competitions and ways to get your work out there. I think we have to be open to opportunities that exist outside of the Utah border. Let others see what is made here in Utah. Working with Vincent and his work has shown me how one door can open another. After showing in New York City, he was given opportunities to show in places around the world, like Tokyo, Seoul, London, Amsterdam and too many others to mention. He was born-and-bred here in Salt Lake and has many opportunities to show the work that was rooted here in Utah around the world because we were able to enter national competitions.
Gavin: Who are some local artists you like checking out or recommend people should look for?
Aimee: I have been seeing the work of Anthony Granato around and am really enjoying it. I would recommend the work of Melissa Hughston; I was compelled to purchase one of her works last yea;. Vincent Fitches, who has made consistently great work. And, of course, I will be keeping an eye out for works from Justin Watson, Stephanie Kelly Clark, Robin Clark, Sarah Thomas and Jan Foutz, who are now part of the Studio of Living Art family.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and the work it's doing to promote local art?
Aimee: I think Gallery Stroll plays a vital part in the local art scene; it really is a resource for patrons and artists alike. I heard that this year, they are also putting together a group show for all of the galleries they represent. I am really excited to be a part of that. They really open the door to small spaces like ours in the community.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and the gallery over the rest of the year and going into next?
Aimee: We are really focused on events; you will see a lot more of them over the coming year. You will continue to see new artists who haven’t been as represented in the community, as well. In addition to featuring an artist every month, you will see a featured nonprofit that we will support by giving 10% of profits to, as well. These organizations will change monthly; our goal is to bring awareness to the wonderful nonprofits here in Utah in a fun way.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Aimee: Our next shindig we are super-excited for is our “Green Friday” event, Nov. 29 from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.. As an alternative to Black Friday, we are offering local, handmade, upcycled, vintage and green-clean gifts. We are working with our partners at Alkim Me skin care, Maeberry Vintage and many other local businesses. The idea is to give green and clean this holiday season and support the community. At the Studio of Living Art, we are offering 10% off that day on all plants, and our Green-aid gift sets are only $40. with part of these proceeds going toward giving a living wage to the homeless who make them. We will also have artist trading cards from Vincent Fitches, which are great affordable gifts. Kim from Alkim Me is offering 20% off skin care, special holiday sets perfect for gift giving and 20% off gift certificates.
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