By KIRBY SCUDDER
In 1954, the Wrigley Company began construction on a 385,000-square-foot property on the West Side of Santa Cruz. This would become the only West Coast production facility for the Chicago-based chewing gum company. Until closing in 1997, the facility produced 20 million sticks of gum a day. Today, under the management of William Ow, the Wrigley building is a mixed-use facility with everything from a storage facility for a local brewing company to home to the Digital Media Factory. Among its many diverse tenants is the R. Blitzer Gallery run by artist Robert Blitzer.
Robert grew up in a family of artists who encouraged him to follow his own creative path. At the age of 17, while in Southern California, Robert got a job for T.A. Green, a renowned metal smith. He later studied art at Santa Monica City College. After moving to Santa Cruz, Robert took art courses at Cabrillo College and pursued his interest in working with metal. As his work evolved, he became interested in the Brutalist sculptors, a style defined by the raw and unfinished look of the materials and considers himself a Post Brutalist.
Five years ago, Robert was working on a sculpture and needed a large space to complete it. Robert approached William Ow about a possible space at the Wrigley Building. William, in his characteristically, generous manner, found him an unused spot in the back of the building. After several months Robert was relocated to another space which eventually became the R. Blitzer Gallery.
I caught up with Robert at his Gallery in the Wrigley Building to talk about the Gallery and the current exhibit a “Figurative Affair.”
KIRBY SCUDDER: What made you decide to start the R. Blitzer Gallery?
ROBERT BLITZER: I needed a space to build a fountain for a show in San Francisco and was lucky enough to get a space in this building that was temporary. In the beginning when I was really using the space as a studio, many of my friends who are artists would stop by and the conversation would often lead to a discussion about artists needing a space to show their work. As I became more comfortable in the space I started to show a few other artists. It was pretty low-key. As time went on, more artists came by asking about the space. So at one point I realized that I could use the space to make my work, show my work and show the work of other artists. And everything about the space said “Gallery.” About three or four years ago, I devoted more time and resources to making the gallery more public and bring in more artists. In this last year, a new tenant took over my former space and with the help of William Ow, I moved to the Mission Street Extension side of the Wrigley building. As an artist I think it’s important to support the art community.
KS: You always have great exhibits here. What was the genesis of a ‘”Figurative Affair”?
RB: A little over a year ago, the painter Selfa Joseph approached me about bringing together a group of figurative artists to show at my Gallery. I think she felt that figurative work was under represented and that she knew some incredible figurative artists and that their work would make a great show. The show was very successful and she approached me again this year to do it again. It’s interesting to see some of the same artists come back this year and how different their work is. This year, Susan Hancey, Sefla Joseph, and Carol Bowie co-curated the show and I think they did a great job. For this show you have a combination of painters and sculptors and such great artists like Susana Arias, Barbara Bartels, Hildy Bernstein, Bonni Carver, Linda Christensen, Barbara Downs, Michele Giulvezan-Tanner, Stephanie Heit, Bridget Henry, Howard Ikemoto, Carol Jeneid, Sefla Joseph, James McElheron, Ron Milhoan, Laura Rice, Ronna Schulkin, Carol Bowie, Lila Klapman, Lisa Silas. I hope I didn’t forget anybody. And me of course, I have some of my sculptures in the show. This show says to me that there are really great artists in Santa Cruz. I believe that this will become an annual event.
For more information about the R. Blitzer Gallery and the current exhibit a ‘Figurative Affair’ go to rblitzergallery.com.
Kirby Scudder is the director of the Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Art. Details: www.scica.org