Arizona Fine Art EXPO – Begins January 13
Writer Sue Kern-Fleischer
An accomplished painter who was legally blind as a child, a sculptor who is helping to transform a Mexican town into a thriving arts community, and a former fashion model whose ability to capture facial emotions of people and animals in her paintings is mesmerizing.
These three artists — Travis Crowther, Jess Davila and Beth Hyatt — are coming together again this year to join their extended artist family for 10 weeks at Arizona Fine Art EXPO. Now in its 13th year, this popular event takes place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from January 13 through March 26 at 26540 N. Scottsdale Rd., on the southwest corner of Scottsdale and Jomax roads, next to MacDonald’s Ranch.
This year’s event features 110 patron-friendly studios within a 44,000-square-foot space, where guests have a rare chance to meet the artists, see them in action and learn about their passion, inspiration and techniques. Patrons can stroll throughout a two-acre sculpture garden, which includes a koi pond with a waterfall and a hummingbird garden surrounded by natural desert.
Never Taking His Vision for Granted
Looking at Travis Crowther’s impressionistic paintings of rooftops in Florence, Italy or a New England harbor, it’s hard to imagine he had a baseball-size tumor behind his eye. Born and raised in rural Northern Utah, he was just 2 years old when both of his eyes were swollen shut.
“Every doctor told my parents that such a risky surgery would kill me, and my father, a welder, was also concerned about the expense,” Crowther says.
Fortunately, he had an uncle who was working for Mayo Clinic as a brain surgeon.
“He referred us to a surgeon in Ogden who did the entire 13-hour surgery for just $200,” he says.
While surviving the surgery was a miracle, Crowther still had trouble seeing. In first grade, he couldn’t see the blackboard. At home, he’d sit very close to the television. It wasn’t until he was in second grade that his family learned he was legally blind, with minus 1200 vision in both eyes.
“The Ogden doctor said the surgery did not affect my eyesight, but after that, I’d go regularly for checkups until I was 16 years old,” he explains. “I wore coke-bottle glasses throughout school and later, when I was in college, my eyes were always strained. I had to take a break from reading every 15 minutes. It felt like someone dumped sand in them.”
Despite his vision challenges, Crowther was drawn to art. He started painting and drawing as a young child and won a scholarship to attend Utah State University after high school, but he had other plans.
“I thought I was going to be a dentist,” he says. “I went to Weber State University for a year and then served a two-year mission in New England for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
When he returned to Utah, he switched his major to art, graduating from Weber State University and then going on to complete his Master of Fine Arts degree at Utah State University.
He spent the next 30 years teaching, traveling and painting.
“I used to do a lot of watercolor paintings when I first started out, and then I moved to acrylics because they dry so fast,” he says.
Now he prefers oil as his medium, and he paints on a linen canvas or metal surfaces, rather than a cotton canvas.
“Linen is more durable,” he says. “Every painting is a challenge. I usually start sketching it out with paint and then go from there.”
Crowther had Lasik eye surgery in 1999, and he is blessed to no longer struggle with eye strain. A resident of Pleasant View, Utah, he has participated in the Arizona Fine Art EXPO for 12 years.
“It’s like a big family, and I’ve made a lot of good friends over the years, both clients and artists,” he says.
A Dream Comes True
Sculptor Jess Davila is also returning to the EXPO for his 12th year and shares Crowther’s sentiments regarding his fellow artists.
“They really are like family — everyone helps each other,” the master sculptor of stone says.
Davila spent his formative years in the beautiful state of Sonora, Mexico. He grew up exploring and appreciating the unspoiled beauty of the desert and mountainous regions of his homeland. For the past decade, he has been splitting his time between Scottsdale, Tucson and Huachinera in Sonora, where he founded the Centro Artistico y Cultural de Huachinera.
The center sits on approximately 10 acres of land and has six buildings completed. Several hundred adults and students from the town and surrounding Sierra Madre region have taken a variety of art classes there, including painting, drawing, music, dance, theater, crafts, clay and stone sculpting.
“This was my dream, and it’s really the children who keep me going,” he says, adding that the classes keep filling up.
“We’ve trained eight teachers from town and still have a lot more work to do. We hope to continue working with the construction of a dorm, where we can receive children and youngsters from elsewhere, and make this area a tourist destination where people can come, take art classes and enjoy the beautiful scenery the mountainous region has to offer.”
Davila credits his relationships from Arizona Fine Art EXPO with helping him build the center.
“From the beginning, many of the EXPO artists showed their support by donating their art pieces for fundraising events and even coming down to Huachinera to lend their help,” he says. “Some come every year to teach. My very dear friend and well-known EXPO artist, Guadalupe Apodaca, has been involved with me and the art center since the very beginning of this project. To this day, he is there when I need him or when the art center needs him. Like him, there are others from the EXPO family of artists who have always been involved, and to them and the Arizona Fine Art EXPO, I am forever grateful.”
A self-taught artist, Davila is best known for his contemporary buffalo, bear, giraffe, eagle and figurative sculptures made from marble, alabaster, sandstone and limestone. Recently, he began creating javelina and abstract pieces using basalt.
“I like experimenting with new material, and I’ve been doing more abstract pieces,” he says, adding that the fun lies in starting with a stone and determining what will come out of it. “I’ll turn the stone upside down, sideways and examine it all around before I start to chisel. I like to think I’m following Michelangelo’s lead by taking off sections to bring out the hidden beauty inside. To me there is something within each stone that needs to come out, and that could be anything!”
Faces That Tell a Story
Artist Beth Hyatt has been exhibiting her paintings at Arizona Fine Art EXPO for more than a decade. She, too, considers EXPO artists to be like family.
“I just love doing the show,” she says. “The camaraderie can’t be beat, and sometimes, if I’m getting too close to my work, it’s helpful to receive suggestions from my peers. For 10 weeks, I’m surrounded by fantastic artists, and it’s an honor to be among them.”
Now an Anthem resident, Hyatt grew up in Jacksonville, Illinois and loved drawing as a child. After graduation from high school, she moved to Chicago in pursuit of an art career at the Art Institute of Chicago, but was swept into the world of fashion, where she worked as a model. In 1988, she and a friend started Model Image Center to help new models learn everything from how to put makeup on to how to walk down the runway in front of the cameras.
When she moved to Arizona in 2002, she started to draw again and took her first class in Scottsdale, not knowing what paints and brushes to use or even how to get started. Today, she is renowned for her portraits of people and animals.
“I love faces and really enjoy capturing emotions through the eyes,” Hyatt says. “I find as much emotion in my animal portraits as I do in my human faces.”
She paints in both oil and acrylic, sketching her subject first on the canvas with pencil.
“The drawing is the mechanics of the painting,” she says. “I take a mixture of water and an acrylic medium to go over the graphite so it doesn’t get on the paint.”
She works off of photographs, but emphasizes that she goes out of her way to make sure her paintings “are a bit off.”
“I draw realistically, but I’m more playful with color, almost in an invisible way,” she says.
This year, she’ll be exhibiting a new series of paintings featuring African people and animals. While she has never been to Africa, one of her artist friends at EXPO gave her some photos for inspiration. In addition, she often visits the Phoenix Zoo to study the facial features of some of her subjects, and she knows most of the animals there by name.
Season passes for the Arizona Fine Art EXPO cost $10; season passes for seniors and military are $8; and children under 12 are free. Parking is also free.