Open season on open studios: art-tripping in SoWa

Artist Pamela Reynolds at the South End Open Studios 2009

Oddness abounds here: In front of me, a Sherlock Holmes-style Victorian gentleman's top hat is disintegrating into a cacophony of dashes and white birds; nearby, a pop icon weeps tears of cadmium-red oil paint, presumably because the word "sin" is emblazoned over her chest. Elsewhere, I find a flock of gauze and feather hats more suited to The Great Gatsby than the 21st century. So begins open-studio season in the South End, when artists throw open their doors and invite the public into their inner sanctums.

Kicking off the wave of vaguely voyeuristic art open houses that flood Boston every fall, the South End Open Studios (September 19-20) found Harrison Ave crawling with middle-aged couples walking dogs, kids slurping ice cream, and clusters of college students -- all out to gawp at the work of 250-plus exhibiting artists, whose media run the gamut from fibers to oil paint to wire sculpture to metal.

Among the weekend's visitors John Kiger, leasing director of GTI Properties (the real estate company that owns many studios in the South End). "I've been watching South End Open Studios for nine years, and I can tell you that every year, I see something and I think, ‘Who could ever have conceived of that?' " Kiger says. This year, he was particularly bowled over by artist Kim Radochia, whose three-dimensional, luminescent paper sculptures resemble wings, ribcages, accordions.

Despite harsh economic times, today's South End visitors seem eager to drop cash on artists' works and wares; they roam the street clutching plastic-wrapped prints, ceramic bowls, and armfuls of sunflowers. Kiger reports that this year's open-studio turnouts was one of the best he's ever seen.

Over at 450 Harrison Ave, a busy hive housing the SoWa Artists Guild and more than 80 artists' studios, John Gonnella shows me an installation project he's working on, which involves provocative words printed on colored backgrounds (for example, "death" is lime green). He also reveals a half-finished painting of a black bird with a fierce glint in its eye.

"For a while, I was going to change the eye, because I thought it made the bird look angry," Gonnella says. "But now I see that he's really determined." I assure him that the bird is indeed gunning for a juicy worm, not somebody's jugular.

Down the street, in a gallery at 530 Harrison Ave, Queen's "Killer Queen" plays in the background while Pamela Reynolds, a self-described abstract expressionist, explains that she conceived her series of ultra-glossy canvas squares after spending a sweltering 90-degree summer in Italy this year. Reynolds's resultant obsession with water inspired her to use wet canvases and acrylic paints to experiment with H2O's scientific properties.

In addition to this kickoff weekend, South End artists open their doors to the public on the first Friday of every month through the end of the year (as well as for an Art Walk in mid-May). So if you missed the Open Studios and/or yesterday's First Friday, you have plenty of other chances to check out what's going on in the South End or another neighborhood near you.

--Emily Cataneo

Here's this fall's open-studio forecast for Boston:

South End First Fridays
November 6, 5-9pm
December 4, 5-9pm

Roxbury Open Studios
October 3-4

East Boston Open Studios
October 10-11, noon- 6pm

Fort Point Open Studios
October 16, 4-7pm; October 17-18, 11am-6pm

Dorchester Open Studios
October 24-25, noon-5pm

South Boston Open Studios
October 31-November 1, noon-6pm

Roslindale Open Studios
November 7-8, 11am-5pm

Allston Arts District Open Studios
November 14-15, noon-6pm

Hyde Park Open Studios
December 5-6

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