Marika van Vessem knew the Van Vessem Gallery “turned the corner” last fall when more than 250 people showed up for the exhibit, “two painters,” showcasing the work of by Dan Gosch and Mark Kehoe.
Innovators in the Rhode Island art scene in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, the opening reunited Kehoe, now based in New York, with Franklin resident Gosch, drawing attendees from as far away as New York and Boston.
And the New England art media followed, giving the show at the out-of-the-way gallery in Tiverton high praise in arts magazines such as Art New England and Artscope.
“That show really put me on the map,” said van Vessem.
Now, as van Vessem marks the two-year anniversary of the gallery she started at the Sandywoods artist complex, the current retrospective exhibit features work by the artists who have exhibited there over the past two years. The work from well-known artists includes paintings by Cynthia Farnell, who operated the Hera Gallery in South County, R.I.; copper and woodcut prints from Rita Rogers, whose work was recently part of a group show at the Nassau Museum in New York; a multi-media, three-dimensional piece by Thomas Deininger, in which assembled objects are reflected onto TV screens as eyes; and of course, some of the pieces from Gosch and Kehoe’s show.
For the retrospective, van Vessem said she contacted 52 artists who exhibited over the past two years, and 42 responded, submitting pieces for the show that run the gamut from photography, paintings in all media including those by Fall River’s Peter Strickland and Newport artist David Barnes, sculptures by Anna Shapiro and Ben Butler, and a three-dimensional paper, metal and wire installation, “Blue,” by Lucia O’Reilly.
The exhibit also includes an oil painting of a water lily by van Vessem, a painter herself. A native of Holland who relocated to Rhode Island years ago, van Vessem worked out of the Shady Lea artists studios in North Kingstown, R.I., while also gaining gallery experience working at various galleries in Newport.
When she first heard about the plans to build the Sandywoods residential artists’ community in Tiverton, she said she started applying right away and moved in when the residences were ready. She and some of the other resident artists originally operated the gallery jointly as a co-op among 13 artists, but after a while she said “it self-destructed” for various reasons. So when the opportunity to run her own gallery came up, van Vessem said she couldn’t say no.
She opened the Van Vessem Gallery in April 2012, while working at another full-time job. By the second year, after she retired, it started to gain ground and attract more and more well-known artists and more serious art collectors, she said.
“My goal has been to work with the artists and provide a place where they can show their work and to create a gallery (in which) the different types of work will make for a good show,” said van Vessem. “Basically to create a haven for artists and at the same time, making it commercially viable.”
Though the gallery is located off Bulgarmarsh road, a distance from the more established arts area of Tiverton at the Four Corners, van Vessem said the area has “an immense amount of artists who are looking to show their work” at the gallery.
With her recent regional exposure, van Vessem said the gallery is booked for shows for the next two years starting off in the next several months with exhibits of work by painter Patrick Malin, opening Feb. 28; followed by Kristin Street, founder of the Krause Gallery at Moses Brown in Providence; and Bristol, R.I., resident Tom Culora, who will be doing a multi-media installation called “Shock and Awe,” based on The Beatles’ TV appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He will also exhibiting paintings of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army inspired by a trip to China, said van Vessem.
“I love what I’m doing — there are no drawbacks,” she said, as she looked back, and forward to the coming year. “The gallery’s grown up a lot in the past year.”
Originally published in The Herald News January 25, 2015