You can take the chill out of winter by taking in the “Fire & Ice” art show on display from January 9 through February 28 at AZ Gallery, 308 Prince St. The fifth annual exhibit is being held in conjunction with the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. This year it includes 78 works by regional artists, all inspired by the properties of the two disparate elements.
“The Winter Carnival allows us at the AZ Gallery to celebrate the beauty of fire and ice,” said Amy Clark, a Macalester-Groveland painter who has been with the gallery since 2004 and pioneered the “Fire & Ice” show.
AZ Gallery is a visual arts cooperative founded in 1997 by a group of artists and friends living in the Lowertown neighborhood of downtown. “The artists wanted a gallery that was owned and run by the artists themselves,” Clark said, “one where they could be hands-on with all the decisions, contribute to the daily work of running a gallery and focus on supporting and educating other artists in Lowertown.
“When we started hosting Winter Carnival shows, there had been a significant period when nothing was being organized at AZ,” Clark said. “So I called the Winter Carnival and they readily agreed to help promote and market the ‘Fire & Ice’ show. The Winter Carnival wants to include everyone in their celebration, and ‘Fire & Ice’ is a perfect way to include Lowertown and the artists of Minnesota.”
“Most of us have full-time jobs that have changed, and that’s had an influence on individual artist’s energy to create new work. Everyone feels the pressure that 2020 has exerted. Artists can either flourish or feel weighed down.” AZ artists have chosen the former, according to Clark, and that is evident in the new exhibit.
Clark organized the first few “Fire and Ice” exhibits, but now partners with Tom Reynen, a photographer who serves as treasurer of AZ Gallery. According to him, the association of “Fire & Ice” with the Winter Carnival has been extremely beneficial for AZ. This year that association is especially important, as the gallery has struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s been a challenge, financially and otherwise,” Clark said.
AZ has thrived for more than 20 years with an average of 10 member artists, and they have high hopes for 2021. However, revenue was down 66 percent in 2020, Reynen said. Even so, with small-business loans, temporary rent forgiveness and creative virtual marketing, the gallery has managed to keep afloat.
“Most of us have full-time jobs that have changed, and that’s had an influence on individual artist’s energy to create new work,” Clark said. “Everyone feels the pressure that 2020 has exerted. Artists can either flourish or feel weighed down by all the change.” AZ artists have chosen the former, according to Clark, and that is evident in the new exhibit.
“We get to open again—safely with precautions in place,” she said. “We’re excited to meet new participants and see old friends who have new work to show. The Winter Carnival brings joy to our gallery and to the city as a whole. It brings a sense of pride to the people of Saint Paul and gives us a reason to get outside and see the beauty around us during this magical season.”
Macalester-Groveland painter Mark Cosimini, another AZ member, has taken part in all of the previous “Fire & Ice” shows. In the 2021 show he has two paintings—“Fire & Ice Falls” and “Pines in the Abstract.”
“‘Fire & Ice’ is a perfect opportunity to use a complementary palette of blue and orange,” Cosimini said. “In ‘Fire and Ice Falls,’ I try to show the two colors melting into each other, showing a smooth transition from the ice of winter to the warmth of spring. ‘Pines in the Abstract’ shows the harsh contrast between the two. The green pines and sharp lines of the abstract birch trees create an active setting for the orange and blue to compete.”
Reynen has three photographs in the show. “‘Temperance River Falls’ was taken during a trip to the North Shore in mid-November when we just had to get out of the house for a few days,” he said. “I thought it fit well with the theme because evidently the falls had been frozen in October, but warming temps in early November caused some of the ice to melt. So it was a balance between winter and spring or cold and warmer weather.
“My second entry, titled ‘Winter Time,’ was taken in my garden,” Reynen said. “I was struck by the way the first snowfall of the season covered my sundial and the way the shadows fell. My third entry, titled ‘Fire in Ice,’ is from my Garden Quilt series. It was digitally enhanced with a mosaic filter that divided the photo into tiny squares and created abstract patterns within each block, almost like you were looking through a wall of glass blocks. For me, the reds and yellows were the flames of fire trapped below a sheet of ice.”
Clark contributed paintings that reflect her love of Saint Paul and the places she holds dear. “The three winter pieces—‘Nina’s on Selby,’ ‘Saint Paul Cathedral’ and ‘Rice Park’—are all places that I frequent,” she said. “They’re historic landmarks that have survived time and changed to embrace the city today.
“It’s like how the Winter Carnival reinvents itself to offer new events to new generations but keeps timeless traditions like the medallion hunt.
“I’m a big carnival girl and try to do as many events as possible,” Clark said. “It always falls on my birthday, so it has always been a big deal.”
“Fire & Ice” will be on view from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays at the AZ Gallery. For more information or to view the exhibit virtually, visit theazgallery.org.
— Anne Murphy
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