Taking the Offramp to art

When it comes to art openings, Southern California audiences have a shared experience. It usually involves driving a fair distance and arriving at the exhibition space with an attendant amount of stress. Once inside, a visitor is often greeted by steely-eyed art-types in mandatory black attire, each one with a different agenda to advance. Crowds milling about the gallery make it nearly impossible to engage the work in any meaningful way. Invariably, reception-goers will be on their feet the whole time.

A Sunday afternoon reception at the Offramp Gallery in Pasadena was a welcome contrast.

Sundresses and shorts could be seen on the sizable backyard lawn and children romped around while drinks and goodies were dispensed as saxophonist Julie Miwa's quintet played Thelonious Monk tunes. A new wooden deck with seating allows viewers to sit and relax before taking a second or third turn around the show space.

Husband and wife Chas Alexander and Jane Chafin operate Offramp in their home, a historic building that they've modified to accommodate exhibiting.

“We used to be a house that had a gallery,” Alexander says. “Now it's a gallery that happens to be surrounded by a residence,” Chafin adds. “We've made modifications that allow us to show larger work and it's kind of a statement: We're here and we're going to stay here.”

Artist Susan Sironi, who is represented in the Offramp show, “Fifth Anniversary Exhibition,” sums up the gallery as her “comfort zone,” a far cry from more commerce-directed galleries.

“It's the first gallery I've had a long-term relationship with,” she says from her Pasadena home. “I don't find the level of severe judgment of yourself and your work that I do at other spaces.”

Sironi modifies books with elaborate cutouts and overlays, transforming the volumes into different entities altogether. Her association with Chafin began as serendipity, somehow indicative of Chafin's personable relationship to her artists.

“A friend of mine was at California Pizza Kitchen,” Sironi recounts, “and she started talking to Jane, who mentioned that she had just opened a gallery and was looking for a book artist. My friend connected her with me and I've been showing at Offramp ever since.”

The show collects a small sampling from a dozen artists whose quirky visions might disqualify them elsewhere: Lou Beach, renowned for his album covers and magazine illustrations, offers more personal small collages. Patssi Valdez has installed atmospheric tableaux around an old portrait. James Griffith's gestural animal depictions are painted in thinned-out tar, while Mark Steven Greenfield's embroidered cartoon characters rely on light to tell their subtle tales. Quinton Bemiller's paintings evoke mid 20th-century modernism with their hard-edged shapes, hot-and-cool colors and varied surfaces.

Chafin's stable has two octogenarian artists: painter Myron Kaufman and collagist Edith Hillinger. This is exceptional for a space that regularly shows artists that are less than high in profile. Art careers and reputations typically require decades to build; curators are seldom interested in anyone without potential for long-term growth. “I'm guided by what gets me excited,” Chafin declares.

Sironi calls the Offramp “a huge blessing to Pasadena. Her gallery is welcoming to people who are learning about art and might want to buy. There are some things that Jane shows that she knows won't sell but she's passionate about all of the work that goes up, and that's very important.”

While Offramp's schedule for 2014 is already booked, Chafin is clear about how she sees the first five years: “It feels like we're on a wonderful journey.”
“Fifth Anniversary Group Exhibition”

Where: Offramp Gallery, 1702 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena.

When: Through Oct. 11. Closed Mondays through Thursdays.

More information: (626) 298-6931, offrampgallery.com

KIRK SILSBEE writers about jazz and culture for Marquee.

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