Valkarie Art Gallery and Studio is opening in Belmar this weekend, just in time for Denver Arts Week. It's the brainchild of Frank Farrar, Valerie Savarie and Karrie York, all veterans of the Denver art scene who will be showing their work in Valkarie's initial exhibit, which also features ten guest artists. The Belmar space sort of fell into their laps, Valkarie's founders say, and they knew they had to take a chance on it. The result is not only a gallery, but a studio space for the trio as well. In advance of tomorrow's opening, Westword spoke with all three of the artists, discussing everything from Norse mythology to what it's like to transition from artist to gallery owner.
See also: Five ways to kick off Denver Arts Week
Westword: So your new gallery is named Valkarie. At first I thought of Valkyrie, as in Norse mythology, the ladies on horses who decide which soldiers lived and which ones died in battle. Then I realized it was spelled a little differently, so is it a combination of names between a couple of the owners? Does the mash-up name represent any of that mythology? Valerie Savarie: Karrie and I were originally just trying to find a studio space, so we came up with Valkarie. Indeed, it is a mash-up of my name and Karrie's. When we were presented with the opportunity of obtaining the gallery space, we decided to keep it. It reflects the Valkyrie mythology as we see it relating to artists. A lot of us have devoted our life to our art; we have sacrificed much for our passion. When we finally feel as though we are ready to show ourselves and our art to the world, many galleries want to take such a large part of the sale that we find it hard to make a living at it -- left to die on the battlefield, so to speak. So when we developed Valkarie, we based it on the co-op principle of it being artist-run, which it is, but where we only have a limited number of member artists and then invite guest artists to have a four=week solo show and ask in return for only a small portion of the sale. They don't have to sit there the entire show, because there is also a studio at the gallery where Frank, and I will be working most of the time, which is the norm for co-ops. We are hoping to give artists a new life, a new level of appreciation and ultimately find great success, which we feel they truly deserve.
How did the three of you get together to open this gallery? I notice you are all talented artists in your own right; does that help in running a gallery? Is it hard dividing business and art? Savarie: Karrie and I had talked about working on a collaborative art project. I had been invited by 40 West Arts to be on an artist's panel for the City of Lakewood to discuss the viability of them creating an affordable live/work community along West Colfax. That's when I found out that Block 7 in Belmar had an artist studio available for lease at a great price. We thought, now we could have a space to work on our art. I applied but got rejected because I couldn't be open during the day, I still have a day job, but they said they had the large gallery space available. So I talked with Karrie and asked her if she thought her partner Frank would be interested in opening a gallery together in Belmar. She had mentioned that the two of them thought about opening one in Old Towne Arvada. He said yes and here we are.
I have been sitting as director at Zip 37 Gallery for just over two years and gained a vast amount of knowledge about what it takes to run a gallery. I also learned that when you have a traditional co-op, it can be very hard to move forward because everyone gets an equal say and things can end in a stalemate. That's why we decided to take a more contemporary approach to the co-op, in hopes that we will be able to keep progressing forward while still putting the artist first.
At this point, I think that all artists who take their work seriously are unable to separate business and art, unless they have an agent. Art is all about marketing yourself, getting your art into places where people can see and experience it. We are hoping that Valkarie will make this easier as we can promote our art and the art of our members and guest artists at the same time.
Karrie York: Valerie and I are in the same co-op and Frank is the person who taught me to paint. We got to talking and agreed that it would be great to have a place that encompasses both the creative and business side of the art world. It's a terrible feeling when you get the opportunity to show and because the galleries take such a large percentage, you are forced to ask a higher price than you think the work is worth, or having to sacrifice your creative time in order to "sit the gallery." Valkarie allows us to work while we work. Manning the gallery ourselves and getting to establish a rapport with the patrons makes it a bit easier to let go of our work, since we get to personally share the meaning of it with them.
I think that the fact that people are able to stop in and see our work in various stages of development might be of interest. Keeping the membership small allows us to selectively choose our artists by focusing on the quality of their work and keeping the gallery fresh, as opposed to limiting ourselves to choosing work based on filling up space and making rent.
What kind of connections to the Colorado art scene do you guys have? You mentioned you have had a lot of history with Zip 37.
Savarie: Zip 37 is where Karrie and I met. We have similar backgrounds in the fact that we are self-taught artists. Both Karrie and I got rejected in our first application for membership there. We were drawn to one another and our friendship has grown over the years. Zip 37 is part of the Navajo Street Art District so we met a lot of our member and guest artists at the other galleries in the district. I also have some ties to Fort Collins and will have a second show at the Bas Bleu Theatre this spring right after my solo show at Zip. I am also a member of 40 West Arts, which is a wonderful community of artists in Lakewood that is promoting the arts -- visual, performing, musical -- all throughout the city of Lakewood and specifically along West Colfax.
When people think of art in Denver, they probably think of the Santa Fe district, or Highland. How did you decide on Belmar? How is the art scene there?
Savarie: To be honest, the gallery space at Belmar just fell into our laps. We decided the deal was just too good to pass up. Block 7, the block of south Saulsbury that the gallery is on, was originally design to be home to creative ventures and has at least four working art studios along with a handful of other creative businesses. There is ample free parking, which is one of the reasons I don't get to Santa Fe much: no parking. Belmar is expanding and feels it is important to start nurturing and promoting the Block 7 Arts District in conjunction with its development. They do host a First Friday Art Walk and we are hoping that the group can start offering more consistent days and hours down the road.
Frank Farrar: I like Belmar, as opposed to Santa Fe or Highland, because the community itself is interested in expanding its art district. While there is a wide range of food, drink and entertainment, the main focus is on the true passion of art instead of the party scene.
York: I love their enthusiasm about creating a culture. It's a beautiful area and offers art in many forms, from culinary to theater. The district itself seems very focused on expanding.
All of the art for the opening reception looks really good. I see you already have the gallery booked for the rest of the year with most of the people who are going to be involved with the inaugural exhibition. Are all of the artists local? Are they friends of yours? Savarie: All of the artists are local. All of them have been involved in at least one of the galleries on Navajo Street or are associated with 40 West Arts. Frank has worked as a commercial artist and character artist in the past, and now has found the time to develop and perfect, if I might say, his fine art. He actually taught Karrie how to paint. So I don't know if I would say they are all friends, but they are all artists we know, admire and respect. York: We aren't opposed to bringing in outside talent; we are especially proud to showcase local artists.
The diversity of the art is immense, even between the owners themselves. Is that an important factor for the gallery? Is that an important thing for art galleries to have?
Savarie: I feel that diversity is very important for us! We want to promote amazing artists, not one specific type of art. Diversity creates interests, breaks down barriers, and broadens people's minds. I get inspired by all types of art and the collection I have at my home, which actually includes at least four of our artists, is equally diverse. We would love to find more artists creating three-dimensional works for our 2015 shows. I think there are a lot of galleries that specialize in one special style of art or who show artists whose works carries a similar theme. It obviously works; it's just not the vision we have.
Farrar: The diversity of the art in our gallery is important, but not the priority. Our main goal is to showcase work based on its quality and not limit it based on the genre.
York: Speaking strictly for myself, the diversity is incredibly important. So many of the other districts seem to cater either to the very young or the very wealthy. I'm excited to be a part of something that can offer both traditional work as well as abstract, without sacrificing quality. Good work is just good work and I like the fact that we aren't limiting ourselves or our patrons to a cookie-cutter production.
What has been your greatest success as an artist? Is opening a gallery the ultimate goal?
Savarie: That is so hard to answer. I feel very fortunate that I can say I have had many great successes as an artist, because I have had such enormous support from my friends and family. Opening the gallery is the foundation to the ultimate goal. The plan is to, in the hopefully not-too-distant future, be able to create art full-time and sustain ourselves and the gallery and to help our guest artists do the same; some of them already do.
Farrar: My greatest success as an artist is that I AM an artist. It's an unstoppable passion that can't possibly be limited by dollars and cents. York: Our greatest success for me will be the gallery! We have all worked hard on our own art and I am excited that now we can work together and help create success for other artists.
Frank, you will have the first solo show after the first exhibition. You paint vivid images of the old American West. I found it interesting you're also an incredible caricature artist. Is there a line between the two genres? Farrar: I like all art, fine or un-fine. I believe that Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, Al Hirshfeld and Frank Frazetta are some of the most expressive and talented artists in American jistory. Their work exhibits the same degree of passion and skill as any "fine" artist I have seen.
Valerie, in past interviews you have mentioned establishing art and music programs for schools and community centers if you had unlimited funds. Will Valkarie have any programs for the public to participate in the art?
Savarie: We have a show scheduled for next fall for Lakewood High School students. We are hoping that this can turn into annual event. A few years ago I invited one of their seniors to show with me at Zip 37 for our members show and was really impressed with the art the students created. They have a great art program and music program. We are hoping that we can get their jazz band involved and come perform at their opening.
Once the gallery is opened and things start to settle, we have talked about having an open studio night, where the general public could reserve a spot to come hang out and sketch, paint, compose, create with us.
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Anything else you'd like to add? Savarie: Art makes the world go round: It records our history and helps create our future. We learn how to communicate through art at a very young age. We make personal connections to art and it helps us heal. So I ask everyone who reads this, go out and support your local artists, in any way shape or form that you can! Valkarie will host its opening reception from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, November 1, at 445 South Saulsbury Street in Lakewood. The opening exhibit runs through January 12. For more details, go to the Valkaire website.