By Alex Gallagher
Susan Morrow Potje still remembers when the Celebration of Fine Art debuted just over three decades ago.
Back then, the 40,000 square feet of tent space located off of Loop 101 and Hayden Road that houses nearly 100 artists from across the country sat on a dirt floor that would often turn muddy on the rare rainy day.
The event hasn’t expanded physically, but it continues to grow in popularity, revenue and scale of artwork, according to Potje, the show director and daughter of show founder Tom Morrow.
“We’ve evolved quite a bit from that first year. Back then, it was quite basic in that we had dirt floors and we had lots of rain that came through the tent,” Potje says. “Now, we have floors and our painting sizes have grown as well as the houses that we’re filling with art since they have much bigger walls.”
Potje is not the only one to witness the works grow in scale, as veteran artist David Jackson, who is returning for his 32nd Celebration of Fine Art, has seen a dramatic change.
“If you were to go through and look throughout the years at the evolution of the gallery spaces, the studio spaces, and you see how much they’ve improved and how much better the art is displayed, it’s almost hard to put into words,” he says.
Jackson brought nearly 40 pieces of artwork with him and plans to create an additional 50 to 60 works during the show, which attracts about 50,000 attendees.
“I’m a high-energy guy, and I feed off of the energy that goes on on this campus,” Jackson says.
In addition to seeing the works that fill the walls of the Celebration of Fine Art grow in stature, Potje has witnessed artists migrate to different mediums like leather work, paintings on metal, stone and wood sculpting, oil and acrylic painting.
“In the earlier years, there was a lot more Southwestern-type art here, but we’ve evolved much more into contemporary art,” Potje says. “Today, we probably have a little bit more contemporary and abstract than the traditional Southwest.”
However, Potje has noticed a trend toward richness in the palettes of colors.
“One thing I’ve seen with palettes is the palettes have become much richer,” Potje says. “I’ve seen deeper, richer colors and cooler tones — not so much of a warm tone most artists — and (they’ve) really begun embracing that contrast with the color palette where there’s a juxtaposition of color.”
These colors can best be seen in the vibrant works of Tubac-based artist Ray Tigerman — who describes his works as “labor-intensive, abstract, Southwestern figuratives” — and is returning to the Celebration of Fine Art for his second consecutive year.
“I call my artworks ‘wall sculptures’ because I put a lot of time, energy and layers into them,” Tigerman says.
Although the works are larger and brighter, Potje has witnessed a second generation of artists working across from their parents.
“Most of our new artists come by way of referral from existing artists; however, we have a couple of multi-generation artists like Robin Branham and her son, Colin — who I first met when I was a young toddler,” she says.
Though Robin and Colin have worked adjacent to each other at the past three celebrations, Robin admits it is special.
“It’s funny, though, because after being here so many years, it’s all about your competition and outselling them and then you create your own best competition,” Robin says.
Although the Celebration of Fine Art vows to sell as much art as possible, Potje says the artists enjoy the camaraderie.
“These artists are always evolving and part of what happens here in the 10 weeks that they’re together, the artists really kind of collaborate on things or give each other ideas,” Potje says. “It’s kind of a little bubble here of learning and experiencing new things.”
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