Rachel Hunter (left) and Rigel Hunter inside RREVV Gallery on Pacific Avenue downtown.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
City Life

Keeping It Local: For the art lover, Santa Cruz County offers a dizzying variety of gift options

Wallace Baine digs into the art scene as Lookout’s “Keeping It Local” gift guide continues — and from collages to high-end leather goods and prints of all sizes and price points, there’s something out there for just about anyone on your list. Wallace and Lily Belli will be taking turns this week on various guides, so stay tuned!

In a perfect world — or at least a more aesthetically refined one — all the original art created in Santa Cruz County would be available to art lovers in one convenient location. In some places, such an Art Mart might be a cozy boutique or maybe a conventional corner shop. But here, the thing would have to be Costco-sized (with better interior design principles, obviously).

Consider the annual Open Studios tour, which allows local artists to invite people into their home studios to browse, and ideally buy, their paintings, sculptures, collages and other objects d’art. This year’s tour featured the work of more than 300 artists, and since it is juried, that number represents only a fraction of the high-quality visual artists living and/or working in Santa Cruz County. Tack onto that various galleries and retail shops selling local art, every other coffee shop in town with local art for sale on its walls, and the Tannery Arts Center, an entire live/work complex devoted to local artists.

That means, when it comes to finding locally made art to make part of your holiday gift list, the challenge is not scarcity, but plenty.

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In fact, a great way to approach the local art market is through Open Studios. If you still have the catalog from the October 2021 tour, it contains the contacts for its 300-plus artists from all over the county. Arts Council Santa Cruz County, which runs the tour, has also established the online Visual Arts Network that allows art lovers to engage the world of local art from home. Either way provides all kinds of intriguing rabbit holes to explore.

A print from Watsonville artist Melissa West.

Highlighting individual artists among such a cornucopia is a bit unfair, and does not, in at least this writing, represent any kind of best-of evaluation. But there are a few artists I find fascinating as a jumping-off point for gift-giving.

Watsonville-based artist Melissa West, to take one example, makes prints and paintings that are often political in nature, and reflect her interest in social justice issues. The style is starkly graphic, calling to mind activist street art. And West’s art is often presented in unusual mediums, including the form of traditional Tibetan prayer flags.

Cristina Sayers of Aptos, whose artist motto is Andy Warhol’s “Art is anything you can get away with,” creates bedazzling mixed-media collage pieces, shot full of humor and knowing pop-culture references, with plenty of fun applications from T shirts to votive candles. John McKinley of Aptos famously renders his cartoonish drawings of cats, dogs, and many other kinds of creatures (including humans), into all kinds of charming imagery.

There are countless other forms of media available locally as well. Santa Cruz artist Haven Livingston creates stunning work in stained glass, often derived from natural settings. And for those who dig wildlife photography, check out the work of Santa Cruz’s Kara Capaldo, who has captured all kinds of imagery in the wild from marine life to jungle cats.

Wildlife photography from Santa Cruz's Kara Capaldo.

Let us now recognize that it takes a particular kind of commitment and ambition to open a retail space devoted to local art, particularly in today’s volatile climate. But artists Rachel Hunter and Rigel Hunter have done it with their new space RREVV Gallery, which opened just last week on Pacific Avenue, near Paper Vision. RREVV is features the work of a handful of Santa Cruz fine artists, but mostly it’s a showcase for the Hunters’ fabulous high-end art.

Whimsical art by Aptos artist John McKinley.

Rachel works in the niche of bespoke lighting, creating all kinds of fixtures that mix practical lighting with aesthetically amazing forms, such as a string of lights embedded into a tree branch drawn from a CZU fire burn zone in Swanton. Rigel Hunter is an architectural and furniture metal artist who works mostly with clients at their residences. Together, the Hunters have embarked on a collaborative project, creating high-end wallets, handbags and backpacks from leather and stainless steel. Their work was part of the 2020 version of the Pivot fashion show, and, true to the times, even includes outrageously cool pandemic-style face masks.

Though there is no Costco-esque mega mart featuring a variety of local art, there will be a smaller facsimile at the Tannery Arts Center with its First Friday art market this week, which expands into the Winter Art Market on Saturday. The twin events will feature the work of dozens of local artists in ceramics, painting, clothing, jewelry and lots more.

Acrylics at Radius Gallery by Gazelle Walker.

The artistic focal point of the Tannery is, of course, The Radius Gallery, another spot for beguiling gift ideas. The latest show at the Radius is “Small Works,” featuring, as the name implies, works small in scale that are affordable for the gift-giving season. Among those that caught me eye was Gazelle Walker’s gorgeously colored imagery of animal life, and the silkscreens and illustrations of Santa Cruz’s Mike Bencze. His prints of natural places, from Pinnacles to Henry Cowell to Joshua Tree, are inspiring.

Art lovers closer to South County might want to stick their heads into the Pajaro Valley Arts gallery on Sudden Street in downtown Watsonville. It has a small gift shop that features some real treasures, including the mosaic art of Beth Purcell. Also, keep an eye out throughout the county for retail spaces that highlight local art, chief among them downtown Santa Cruz’s Artisans Gallery and the gift shop at the Museum of Art & History (MAH).

The PATT workspace and gallery at the Tannery Arts Center.
(Wallace Baine / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Still, one stop not to be missed for those Santa Cruz County art hunters is the new group show, to debut on First Friday at Printmakers at The Tannery (PATT). The PATT collective is a group of 21 Santa Cruz County printmakers who work out of a shared space at the Tannery. The group has been together for 11 years, each pursuing their own interests and supporting each other through their workspace, which is open to the public.

Prints at PATT from Frank Trueba.

This year’s group show will feature prints of many kinds and sizes from $5 greeting cards to large-scale fine-art prints. PATT works as a useful entry for the inexperienced art shopper. Its artists not only take a wide variety of approaches in the themes of their art — the group show will feature everything from underwater worlds to deep-space imagery — but in their mediums and techniques as well. Artists include woodblock printer Frank Trueba, Cabrillo College curator Andrée LeBourveau and PATT founding member Bob Rocco, who created the larger-than-life size portrait of Don Quixote that hangs outside the PATT studio, among many others.

Want more? There’s still plenty. First Friday Santa Cruz has a number of events planned and highlights several other venues to explore. And make it a productive Saturday, with a visit to the Winter Art Market.

And if you discover some great local artist or venue that needs attention, please let us know. Let’s spread the word.