Even the early spring weather last Sunday couldn't dispel the vague pall that hung over the closing exhibition reception at Pasadena's Offramp Gallery. After eight years, co-owners Jane Chafin and Chaz Alexander, the husband and wife who found enough space in their sizable home to accommodate art shows, announced they're discontinuing Offramp.
It's the end of a well-regarded exhibition space that could always be counted on for introducing its audience to unexpected delights. New artists and new work from recognizable names have always been Offramp's stock-in-trade.
"Basically," says Chafin, the artistic visionary, "the decision is financial. We're very proud of what we've done but even though sales have been good in the last couple of years, we can't sustain what we're doing for much longer."
The shows were singular and the valedictory exhibition by sculptor Minoru Ohira was no exception — the woodworker created structures that were somehow constructivist and expressionist at the same time.
Chafin and Alexander bought the home, which was built by a movie studio carpenter to accommodate a studio for his dance teacher wife. Alexander, an architect, oversaw some renovation to fashion their gallery space. "When we started to take some things apart," he noted with chagrin, "I found out just how well he put this place together."
A small but impressive library of art books sat off the sofa pit near the front door. Past the library were the step-down gallery rooms. They may have been small by most gallery standards but Chafin always managed to utilize the standard white spaces without crowding the work. She knows the value of breathing room, an essential element to any art form. Maybe the most remarkable aspect of Offramp shows was that two different simultaneous shows by two different artists was standard operating procedure.
Chafin gave Mark Allen Greenfield a show last year that was well-received. "Offramp was an oasis of integrity," he contends, "in an art world that takes itself much too seriously. So many galleries have become show places for fashion, both literally and figuratively; art and the artists are often an afterthought. Jane has remained true to what a gallery means to artists. She's courageous, intuitive, warm and nurturing. I only hope someone else steps in to fill the void."
The receptions always added to the uniqueness of the Offramp experience. They were held on Sunday afternoons, rather than the customary nighttime affairs. The home sits significantly off of Lincoln Avenue so a small jaunt is in order to reach the gallery. A colorfully painted gate was the first clue that this is no ordinary home. And proceeding up the gravel path, one couldn't miss the sizeable outdoor mural. A spacious lawn made the openings family friendly and there was often live music on the deck near the refreshment cabana. The mild Pasadena weather and the easy mix of people made for many lovely sunny art afternoons.
Canoga Park artist Jodi Bonassi never showed at Offramp but she was part of the gallery's orbit for the last year. "Jane is one of the most open individuals you will ever meet," Bonassi says. "A friend of mine had a book to sell and I went to Jane for her — not because she's a friend of mine but because it's a good book. Jane saw it and genuinely liked it; she showed it and sold it in her library."
Bonassi continues: "Jane showed the same consideration to well-known artists and new artists. Most galleries show artists based on their pedigree. She gathered a spectrum of artists that wasn't based on whether they've been seen before or who they were associated with — that's very rare in the art world."
Chafin sums up the journey: "It's been the most rewarding and exhilarating eight years of our life. People have been so kind and supportive to us; it's unbelievable."
KIRK SILSBEE writes about jazz and culture for Marquee.