Haven for Art Mavens, Van Vessem Gallery draws in an eclectic bunch

 

It is not uncommon to meet the uncommon at Marika Van Vessem’s art gallery on the appropriately-named Muse Way in Tiverton. You might meet an artist who looks like Salvador Dali. You might meet one who paints like him. There might be an image of Fidel Castro on one wall and a Castro convertible sofa on the other. One painting may denote the entrance to Hell, while lovers embrace heavenly nearby.

One of the great things about the Van Vessem Gallery is the layout. There are two sides in the gallery, both with large wall spaces. There is plenty of well-spaced light and beautiful bamboo flooring. The space has a great outside porch.

As described by many, including Marika herself, the gallery has a really nice flow and feels very airy. There is about 940 square feet of space. It overlooks wooded areas and a recreation area. Mixing media, it is next door to the Sandywoods Center for the Arts, a venue for great music and all kinds of other events, sometimes set simultane- ously with gallery openings.

Its owner, Marika, is now 65, but only a newbie as an art exhibitor. Some have called her a late bloomer into the art world. She demurs and will acknowledge the ‘bloom’ and that, of course, it is never too late. A native of the Netherlands, Marika was in international sales before dabbling and dabbing with brushes. But the arts always surrounded her. Now, her gallery surrounds the arts. “From a very early age I was always interested in art.

When I was in my teens, my circle of friends consisted of artistic people, painters, photographers, writers, poets, musicians, some of whom became quite well known,” says Marika. “Influenced by all the major events of that era, we organized ‘happenings’ and other art events. We congregated and talked about art almost constantly.”

In the mid-‘80s, Marika started taking her own art seriously in Holland. A great influence was her friend, Cornelis le Mair, a very well known classical painter. After returning to the U.S., she took private lessons and rented a studio in Wickford. Unsure of her abilities, she possessed great ideas and inspiration, encouraged by very positive reactions to the work she was doing. She worked with Ted Tihansky on painting skills, had some private instruction on composition with Johannes von Gumppenberg and learned still more from her collaborations with Newport artist Henry Finn.

“The Shady Lea Mill in [North Kingstown] was a great place with many artists and a great atmosphere. I learned a lot from many people there,” she adds.

She describes her painting style as fairly realistic with “touches of expressionism.” Marika says she is reluctant to create an artists’ statement since she feels that “works of art should be left open to interpretation by the viewer and not be limited by explanations of intentions by the artist.”

In 2000, Marika entered the Newport Art Museum Juried Exhibition with a mixed media piece that received first prize in that category. “That was a very exciting time and it encouraged me to continue what I was doing,” she says.

In 2010, she moved into the newly-created arts and agriculture community Sandywoods, in Tiverton, where we started a co-op with a dozen artists that lived there. “In the gallery I now occupy, I functioned as the gallery coordinator at that time, and when the co-op dissolved, I was offered the opportunity to lease the space from Sandywoods,” she adds. Though she had worked in Newport galleries for about 15 years, the spot in Tiverton was cheaper and only minutes from her home.

On any given weekend, receptions at her gallery can resemble Andy Warhol meeting Leroy Neimann. You never know who might arrive.

“I will be going into my third year very soon and I am finding that there are many great artists who are looking for good spaces to show their artwork. I have been fortunate to work with some of the best regional artists and to show some incredible work,” says Marika. “I have quite a few great shows coming up in 2015 and am also in the planning stages for some larger events. It is rewarding, invigorating and gratifying. As for influences on my art, past and present, there are too many great artists and artworks to mention just a few.”

You will just have to come to her gallery on Muse Way to meet them.

-James Merolla

Originally Published in The Bay January 9 2015