In 2007, Debbie Raia and Gordon Graff stepped into a ramshackle, one hundred year-old former hardware store at 31 Jersey Avenue in Port Jervis. To say it needed some work would be quite an understatement. “It had no ceiling. The windows were blown out and the walls wobbled when you touched them. The foundation was so rotted out that the dogs could run outside under the walls. It was bad.” Debbie recalls her first encounter with the structure with a wry smile.
After a year of intense work, the gallery was ready to open and Debbie was ready to launch a new career as its proprietor. “I had no clue. I had a few local artists, and some from as far away as Illinois, Texas, even Canada. I figured, we’ll just open. But Greg Zukowski said, ‘You have to have a big party. You have to give people drinks and food. You have to have live music.’” Debbie shrugs. “So I said, ‘OK.’ And he was right. He’s a big part of getting this place off the ground.”
This is how a tradition begins. Seven years later, the Upfront Gallery is a fixture, the go-to gallery in the Port Jervis and Pike County art scene. The much-anticipated Sixth Annual Spring Opening, which drew more than three hundred guests last Saturday, showcases more than forty artists, almost all of them local. The spring opening was buzzing with an array of fresh works and the high energy of new and returning artists, guests and the music of Walt Edwards.
“A number of my artists have been showing here since we started. This exhibit showcased six new artists.” Every wall of the gallery’s five open rooms is hung with watercolors, oils, acrylics, collage, prints, block prints, pen on paper, assemblage and sculpture. The wide scope of new work includes photography by Nancy Davis Kessler, mosaic work by Angelo Marfisi, photography by Alan Kaplan, Greg Zukowski’s collage, painting and assemblage, steel work by SteelArtz and wood designs by Richard D’ambrosia. Dozens of exhibits offer a spectrum of mediums and emotions, from Chuck Zuretti’s poignant black and white on steel photographs and Teresa Idelowitz’s pastoral paintings, to the late Wendell Upchurch’s broad range of haunting works on canvas, and Gordon’s signature moving assemblages. Many artists who have grown with the gallery are displaying their current collections, including work by Nick Roes, Alyta Adams, Debbie Gioello and numerous others.
Debbie’s commitment to resident talent and the community in general is easily discernable. She has hosted shows featuring not only the work of local artists, but also exhibits from local high schools, even a daycare center. The Humane Society and the UDGLBT, before acquiring its own space, was given use of the gallery. Upfront has even been the site of two weddings. The Gallery is about far more than selling to the public; it’s about supporting local art and enriching the entire community. “I wanted to create a place where people could come and enjoy art, mingle, express themselves. We started out with just a few exhibits…And now…” Debbie gestures to the filled walls. “I have people asking for space to show. It’s amazing. I’ve seen artists really develop and grow over the last few years. And I like to keep it more local. It gives people in the area a voice.”
Visit the Upfront Exhibition Space this weekend and get an up-close look at the current exhibits showcasing a scope of innovative talent. Upfront is open from Thursdays through Sundays, 12-5. For information, visit upfrontexhibitionspace.blogspot.com or call 845-856-2727