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Exposing art to people, people to art

Local artists create Proxart, a group dedicated to surfacing Santa Clarita Valley’s underground art

Posted: January 28, 2010 10:02 p.m.
Updated: January 29, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Singer and songwriter Sarah Johnston performs for a group of people. Proxart donated half the proceeds of the event to Haiti relief.

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"I loved The Oceanographers performance. That sax was sexy."

"By far, my favorite moment came during the Oceanographer's set. They stood out so much, yet seemed so at ease. Definitely a moment I'll never forget."

"Sarah Johnston's voice. First Class Funeral's style. Alma's old superheroes. Steven's musical photos."

These are only a few responses posted online in response to Jan. 16's "No Dancing" event held at Brave New World Comics in Newhall.

The event was hosted by Proxart, a local art community dedicated to surfacing Santa Clarita Valley's underground art.

According to its blog, "Proxart has a love for art, culture and community and a desire to expose meaningful and beautiful art to people, and people to art."

Proxart, entering its third birthday, kicked off the new year with "No Dancing," featuring music by local artists Sarah Johnston (a jazz-rock singer/songwriter), The Oceanographers (an indie band) and First Class Funeral (an indie-blues-rock band).

"No Dancing" also displayed a full gallery of art by local artists, featuring local artist Alma Juarez's works as the main attraction.

And to top it off, Proxart donated half of the event's proceeds ($250) to Haiti relief work.

Art, culture, community
Proxart was spawned from the minds of Nathan Ryan, 22, Sammy Saba, 21, and Ron Jones, 40, all from Canyon Country.

"We've been around for a little over two years putting on events featuring local artists, writers, songwriters, bands and filmmakers," said Ryan, who is the current director of the organization.

Proxart, which is short for Proximity Art, uses local venues around the SCV to organize and display "underground" art produced by artists who live in the SCV.

Ryan defines underground art as art that isn't circulated in the mainstream and appeals to people who aren't necessarily submerged in the broader art-culture.

"Underground art is not Thomas Kinkade," he said laughing.

Proxart is out to uncover such hidden jewels in the suburbs of the SCV.

Some Santa Claritans might argue that the art scene in the valley is poor.

"But, if you dig deep enough, you find that that's simply not true," Ryan said.

As with any new project, Ryan, Saba, and Jones started small.

The founders spent $30 to print out flyers about their new organization to pass out at high schools - predominately in art classes.

They also printed posters and hung them up at College of the Canyons and California Institute of the Arts to attract artists to join and contribute.

"We made sure our designs were modern and hip," Ryan said. "We wanted to make sure they represented us and the art we wanted to showcase."

The art Proxart wants to showcase branches away from typical SCV art which includes - but is not limited to - cowboys, horses and landscape art.

"We don't have a problem with it," Ryan said. "But we are just not interested in featuring it."

What Proxart is interested in doing is creating a place for local artists to exhibit their work - no matter what medium it might be.

"We have CalArts in the heart of Valencia, for crying out loud. It sucks that they don't feel like they have a group to connect with and promote art through," Ryan said.

Proxart hopes to build a strong relationship with the college and be partners in promoting art by local artists.

"(The relationship) is not where we want it to be," Ryan said, "but we're hopefully building trust."

Oh art, where art thou?
Proxart strives to offer an opportunity for artists from all genres to display their art, but even the organization itself struggles to find locations. For the past five or six months, Proxart has been hosting its bigger events at Brave New World Comics because previously used venues have closed.

"(Brave New World Comics has) been absolutely fantastic in supporting the need for more art and creativity in Santa Clarita by letting us use its downstairs stage as a venue for bands and its upstairs as a gallery to display artwork," Ryan said.

Past Proxart events used to be held at Abbey Lane in Stevenson Ranch, Bella Via in Valencia and It's A Grind in Canyon Country.

Unfortunately, these locations are no longer in business.

"It's definitely a shame to see so many locally owned cafes that cared about their community close down," Ryan said.

What's even more disheartening, Ryan added, is that Proxart events garnered good attendance for these local venues.

"We've always gotten up to 200 people."

And although Brave New World Comics is a great venue to display musical and artistic talents, Ryan said Proxart is always looking for different locations around town to showcase local art.

What lies ahead
A call to all local artists: Proxart will be launching its first issue of The Proxart Magazine this April.

The new publication, which will be in PDF form available for download, will feature bios on local artists, a glimpse of what artists and SCVers think about the local art scene, and of course, original SCV artwork.

"The whole shebang will be written and photographed by local journalists and photographers," Ryan confirmed. "This is all in mid-production right now, but I can assure you that it's going to be chock-full of great artwork, as well as some very insightful interviews and unique views on the local ‘scene.'"

On average, Proxart receives between five to 10 submissions a week. Proxart team members sort through the submissions and if they see something that strikes their fancy, they "jump on it immediately," Ryan said.

One of the organization's goals for 2010 is to increase the volume of submissions. Proxart does not discriminate against art genres, nor does it target a certain age group.

"We don't have demographics," Ryan said. "We just want people to connect with the heart (and) not necessarily the style, but we want to promote art and we want to promote good art."

Ryan has found that Proxart's submissions are naturally concentrated more in music and visual art.

"We don't get a lot of dance," he said, "but we appreciate all types of art."

Proxart has also, quite naturally, paired up with the city of Santa Clarita to promote its purpose and to invite the community to be a part of exposing the not-so-common art forms around the valley.

People attending city events like the Street Art Festival in Newhall and the Concerts in the Park at Central Park in Saugus should be familiar with Proxart: Ryan and his crew had a booth at each event.

During Concerts in the Parks, Proxart featured a visual show for attendees while they enjoyed the live music.

"We had three artists there collaborating on one piece of art," Ryan said.

The creators behind Proxart are also involved with 661Arts, an organization bringing Santa Clarita artists and art organizations together in the name of all things involving art.

"We see the arts as a way to bring life and culture into the community and for that reason we're proud to be working as closely to the city as we are," Ryan said. "We want to help add to the quality of life here in the SCV, and we think that exceptional art and creativity is one of the best ways to do that."

The Proxart team, which consists of nine volunteer staff members, organizes an event at least once a month.

If they're not putting on a show or displaying local art for the public to see, Proxart team members meet on the third Wednesday of every month at Peete's Coffee & Tea in Valencia to mingle with other artists.

"It's just a time to hang out and mingle. We don't feature any art," Ryan said.

The next one will be held Feb. 17 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Since the organization started, it held up a consistent blog at www.proxart.org, which features work by local artists, short interviews, opinion-editorials and other types of online media like video and audio.

"Proxart is always looking for writers and photographers to contribute to our blog," Ryan said. "Or even for someone to just point us to a favorite artist of theirs."

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