Visual Arts

Artist Valerie Savarie on co-ops and why she likes Navajo's art district more than Santa Fe's

Valerie Savarie's art lends itself well to the assertion that the message is the medium. The books she chooses to cut into, the string she sews to the cover and the characters standing at the door she's cut open represent the message of her pieces. The meaning in the content itself -- the text, the facial expression, the shape of the string -- she thinks that's up to you.

"There's no wrong way to interpret my art," she says. "What I think about it, and the way I see it won't be what you think about it or the way you see it."

And that's Savarie's point. Nestled in the Navajo Street Art District, at the back of Zip 37, a co-op gallery, Savarie's work does not follow convention or formality. Savarie took time to chat with Westword about what that means.

Some of your work is showing in the back of Zip 37 Gallery, which is a co-op gallery. For those who don't know, how does that work?

Basically, the gallery isn't really owned by one person -- it's a group of artists that have gotten together to show their art. The members pay dues that keep the building maintained, and we all work at the gallery to keep it running. Because it's a co-op, Zip 37 takes only about ten percent of your sales. It's really nice because they're really about the art, not the profit. And they tend to be a little more liberal as far as what you can show. You can try something new, and you don't get any response it's not like it's a loss to you or a loss to the gallery and you might find something that does really well. It's a nice place to experiment.

Do you choose the books for your pieces at random?

I pick the books out specially. Whether it's the text or the color or cool patterns on the cover. Or even some of the older educational children's books have amazing illustrations, so I'll choose them. So sometimes it's the cover I'm drawn to, and other times I'm drawn to the art inside. It varies.

Tell me about your process.

After I get the book, I will page through and find a cool image I want to use and I use that image as the stopping point for cutting into the book. I try to have some kind of link between the character and what's going on in the book. There was one that had a walrus image, so I had cut the pages into the shapes of waves and made the thread look like sea foam. The character I painted was remorseful and looking up because the walrus in the image looks stern.

What happens to visual art when you add text? Do you think it matters?

Oh, yeah. When you add words, they make you think about the piece a little more, like "What do these word represent to me?" And, it's the things that you won't notice right away. Maybe when you buy a piece, you'll start looking at it a little more over time and there will be a different depth to it.

Also, I buy a lot of old books that are written in language that is not in use anymore. I've actually kept a couple that I wasn't ready to cut into yet because what's inside is just as important. It's taking someone's creativity, which has long since been forgotten, and giving it new life - there's weight to that.

How does the string play into your pieces?

You know, the string has gone through several evolutions. Initially, I had the character on a cube, and then the string was chaotic -- it just told its own story pictorially because there were six sides. But you don't want it to take too much focus when you're working in a kind of two-dimensional space with it, so it has its limitations. I guess the main things is that sewing and crocheting are an extension of me that's merging the utility side of art with the kind of art with the art you see in galleries.

In your opinion, are sewing and crocheting given the respect they're due as art forms?

I think it is getting more recognition as a legitimate form of art. The more we rely on technology, I think the more we respect the "domestic" arts. People sew, crochet, knit because it is something creative, tangible, enjoyable, expressive -- not something they have to do in order to survive. You don't have to follow a pattern or use a machine, you don't need power or batteries -- I spent about three hours last year crocheting by candle light during a power outage. I saw a dress made of coffee filters sewn together at Next Gallery - it was amazing. We have another artist at Zip 37 -- Barbara O'Connell that has some pieces she knit out of wire.

How do you like being in the Navajo district? How do you think it differs from the more popular Santa Fe district?

What's cool though is that every Friday has an opening between the five galleries, so every Friday there's always new art to see. A lot of the galleries on Santa Fe aren't co-ops, so there tends to be a lot of the same stuff. Obviously, not all of it is the same and there are a lot of interesting things going on. But, I think it's just a lot more commercially driven. Five or six years ago, not so much. That's just typically how things happen, you get popular or known for certain art and so you stick with it. I like Navajo because a lot times the people who come there really are interested in art, not just about getting free wine.

I guess since I don't have a degree in art, my views on what is right and what is wrong are not very traditional, but I think that the nice thing about this area is that there are couples who have raised their kids just by doing art and there are those of us that are new to art, and still have our 9-5 jobs, but we all love being there because you get immersed and you get inspired.

To see more of Savarie's work, including her acrylic paintings and cubes, please visit her website,

Follow us on Twitter! Like us on Facebook!

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tiffany Fitzgerald

Latest Stories