The building that is now home to the Up Front Exhibition Space in Port Jervis was on the verge of being condemned in 2007. But when Debbie Raia and her partner Gordon Graff saw it, they seized the opportunity to buy it and fix it up.
At first they didn’t know what to do with it.
“He said, ‘Let’s do an art gallery.’ I said, ‘What? In Port Jervis?'” Raia recounts.
They didn’t have any funds but that was no obstacle. They used everything from old stair treads to wooden planks that were part of an old porch floor and “everything else that you could think of ” to make the walls, which are now painted white.
They opened in 2008 with about 20 artists. They “somehow made it through the recession” and the gallery has since grown almost past its capacity.
The current exhibition shows the work of no less than 50 artists with every inch of wall space being put to use. Most of the artists are actually Manhattan-dwellers with vacation homes in Orange County. They come for the scenery and the fresh air, as well as time away from the hectic New York lifestyle to engage in some art therapy.
But that’s not to say that aren’t any artists from farther afield. Raia tells of one artist who kept calling her from Bangladesh. She didn’t take his calls too seriously until he turned up at the gallery one night. Another artist sent work from New Zealand.
The current exhibition is an eclectic mix of many genres, with possibly the only ones missing being classic sculpture and tapestry.
Among the most notable are the vividly colored miniature paintings of Guillermo Caraveo, mounted on great frames which guide the eye to the center, contributing greatly to the overall impact of his works.
Debbie Gioello’s black and white photographs are also very accomplished as well as those of Preston Ehrler. The human condition captured in black and white photographs is always an eye opener.
Jutta Bishop and Gale Miko delved into the colors and textures of the natural scenery, which they captured through photography. Miko also printed her work on canvas and there is an intriguing metallic print called “Golden Walkway.”
Overall, the exhibition reveals some standout works and others that show the artist’s ongoing search for a clear artistic language and technique.
According to Raia there is never an overarching theme since that would be hard to manage with the 50 artists. Each show lasts two months with the next show starting on June 4.
The works are also selling well, with 32 sold at the exhibition opening and 40 sold by the end of April “which is weird,” said Raia “because for years no one was buying anything because of the recession.”
She said that most of the works that were sold have been replaced already, with some artists having already sold up to eight works.
All things are pointing to the inevitable fact that, since the gallery is doing well, it’s unlikely that the number of artists is going to stay at only 50 for long.
In any case, it’s worth keeping an eye on the Up Front Gallery in the picturesque town of Port Jervis whose fame, it seems, extends as far as Bangladesh.
The current exhibition is on display Thur–Sun, 12–5 p.m. through May 24. Tel: 845-754-5000
Up Front Arts Inc., 31 Jersey Ave, Port Jervis, NY 12771