Karen Hymer is a photographer and educator. She took her love of art and sharing knowledge to the next level by opening Light Art Space. We where in the process of featuring her space when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Galleries, schools, businesses, and artist find themselves navagating a new world. The learning process is just beginning. We decided to go ahead and publish this piece as a Before and During the pandemic article.
Here is our feature on Light Art Space.
March 6, 2020
Please tell us about yourself.
I grew up in the Sonoran desert in Arizona and studied Fine Art Photography in college. I studied at Johnston College in Redlands, CA, Arizona State University and received a BFA from the School of the Museum of fine Arts in Boston (and Tufts University). After graduating, I moved back west and earned my MA and MFA in photography at UNM in Albuquerque. After graduating my husband and I moved to the desert west of Tucson where I taught photography at Pima Community College, ran a bed and breakfast, raised my son, played and coached soccer and continued to make darkroom and digital images.
What was the spark to open Light Art Space?
The spark to open Light Art Space happened in a gradual manner. In 2010 my marriage ended, and by 2016 my son was in college and I was ready to move on from academia. I had lived in Tucson for 26 years and was ready for a change. In 2012 I fell in love with the photopolymer gravure process and in addition to teaching it at the college, I taught the process in workshops out of my studio, at Art Intersection (Gilbert, AZ) and at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology (Otis, OR). I wanted to continue to teach in a workshop format and was seeking a smaller art community. I own a small, off the grid adobe house in the woods outside of Silver City that we had built in 2010 and always enjoyed visiting the town. So in 2017 I found a wonderful historic building in the historic downtown and decided it would be a great place to open a gallery and teaching studio to show my work, the work of other artists and to offer workshops. Light Art Space (LAS) opened September 1st, 2018.
Any surprises so far?
I have been surprised and thrilled with the response from the Silver City community and visitors to the town. LAS receptions are well attended and so far the workshops offered have all been great. The gallery is establishing a reputation as the most vibrant contemporary art gallery in town. I am also surprised by how much work it is to operate, but I do enjoy the day-to-day activities and the opportunity to show great art work.
What would you like to share with the viewing public about the gallery and the exhibitions you have?
The mission of Light Art Space is to provide an inclusive place of creative discovery for the community of Silver City and it’s visitors. Initially my plan was to concentrate on exhibiting only photographic work, but over the past year that has involved into more diverse exhibitions. This is not too surprising given the fact that my own work pushes the boundaries of what is considered photography. I have always manipulated my images and am very concerned with the final print as a unique object. I embrace all media and consider myself a visual artist who uses photographic materials along with printmaking, drawing, painting, encaustics etc.
LAS has four distinct exhibition spaces, a large teaching studio, two wet darkrooms and an outdoor sculpture garden/event space. Exhibitions in the North Gallery change every 4 – 8 weeks featuring the work of emerging and established artists in juried and curated exhibitions. The West, Flash and Studio Galleries generally exhibit the work of the local/regional artists represented by LAS.
During my first year and a half, I have shown an array of work beginning with my photopolymer gravure series, Age & Seduction. Other exhibitions included the work of local photographic artists, a photographic exhibit of handmade images by five of my previous students dealing with the self and sexuality, a wire art installation by Joel Armstrong, five emerging Latin photographic/video artists, a collaboration of two photographers and two poets, three printmaking exhibitions (including an international print exchange), an invitational alternative photographic process exhibition, student work by the Western New Mexico University Art Club, Pinhole Photography by Nancy Spencer and Eric Renner, work by Brazilian artist João Galera (drawings, watercolors, embroidery) and a juried exhibition of the Tucson group PaperWorks featuring drawings, paintings, photographs, artist books, printmaking, sculpture.
I accept exhibition proposals through my web site and am seeking to exhibit more work by minorities, women and other underrepresented populations. I encourage readers to submit a proposal! Events at LAS have included artist talks, a Freestyle Photographic digital printing seminar, and participation in local events such as the Southwest Print Fiesta, Chocolate Fantasia, the Clay Festival and the Southwest Festival of the Written Word.
Silver City is a charming historic town with many great galleries, music events, restaurants, hiking, birding, and biking. It is a great weekend destination so we have visitors from Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, El Paso, Austin, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and really, from all over the country.
What do you enjoy most about having a gallery?
I am really enjoying featuring exhibitions of contemporary work that is not normally seen in this community – often dealing with political or social issues, and unusual ways of working. I love welcoming visitors to the gallery and discussing the work on display. Most of the artists I represent are from the region and have become my friends: they are an important part of the gallery. It is hard to make a living as an artist and by selling art, especially in a small town, so it is very rewarding when an art piece finds a new home.
What do dislike most about having a gallery?
The part I dislike about having a gallery is turning away artists who want me to exhibit and/or represent their work. There is so much exciting art being made! I am committed to insuring that I have on display enough of each of my artist’s work to represent them in a professional way. This means I am limiting the number of artists I represent. I try to make up for this by featuring other artists in many group exhibits (juried and curated) and in this way present a more diverse and varied experience for the viewer. The other hard part of running a gallery is finding the time to make my own work. This last year and a half the gallery has been my “work”… so I am itching to start creating new images.
Tell us about the workspace and workshops that you offer.
LAS has a large, flexible studio space with two printing presses, movable tables and chairs, running water and great lighting. The black and white wet darkroom has four stations, two sinks and drying racks. The alternative process darkroom has counter space, three exposure units, two sinks and a drying rack. The outside space is large with lots of sun, running water, tables and chairs. There are two ADA compliant bathrooms – one in the studio and one in the front gallery. The ceilings throughout the building are 14 foot high with the original (1905) decorative pressed metal and the floors are the original fur wood. I think it is a beautiful blend of historic and modern, but I am biased since I restored it!
I am very excited about our workshops. To date I have taught three sections of Photopolymer Gravure and one Cyanotype. I was thrilled to have Diana Bloomfield teach a workshop in Tri-color Gum Dichromate. Kevin Black taught Tin Types, Jo Anderson and Maria Lee taught an Exquisite Corpse Printmaking/Bookmaking and João Galera taught a Watercolor workshop. We currently have a weekly Figure Drawing class taught by Joel Armstrong.
What’s on the horizon?
On the horizon are more workshops including a Photopolymer Gravure taught by me, Photo Encaustic with Amanda Smith and Kevin Tully, Pinhole Photography with Nancy Spencer and Eric Renner, and Wire Art with Joel Armstrong. In the summer Diana will return to teach another Tricolor Gum and Kevin Black will teach Tin Types. Upcoming exhibits include paintings by Paul Hotvedt and Eric Sandgren, the Silver City Art Association Studio Gala and exhibition, an exhibition focusing on Fish, an Alternative Photography exhibition juried by Diana Bloomfield, and more! I would love to start an annual photography festival – but for now I have enough on my plate
Well, a great deal has changed in the world since this interview was written.
Light Art Space closed on March 15th, just as two exhibitions were to open. All of the workshops and events for 2020 were cancelled. Closing and losing all sources of income has been hard, but I know I am one of the lucky ones. In April I started a Gofundme reopening campaign and the response has been amazing. My local community, the larger photography community and patrons from all over donated to the fund. I am so grateful. These funds will allow me to replace the large window that cracked right after we closed and will help pay general operating expenses.
During this closure I have focused on some organizational projects in the gallery and studio and I was able to fulfill my desire to start making my own artwork again. My “Solitude” series of photopolymer gravures is taking shape and I am playing with cyanotype and encaustic in another body of work loosely titled “Chaos”. Both of these series have grown out of my pandemic experience. I also made some informal videos of some of the LAS artists. That was a fun project with future potential.
So much illness and loss… In April the photography world lost one of its greats. Pinhole photography artist, Eric Renner, died suddenly of a heart attack. In November LAS was honored to feature “Sex, Lies and Pinhole Photography”, an exhibition of work by Eric Renner and Nancy Spencer. We continue to represent their work in the gallery where I am reminded daily of Eric’s unique, creative spirit.
The social unrest of the past month has affected me deeply. I am so proud of the youth of Silver City for staging a powerful, peaceful rally and vehicle parade – participating gave me hope and inspiration that I greatly needed. As I look toward the future I am committed to including more artists of color in my programing. I know I must do better to make more diverse voices heard and marginalized work visible.
In mid- June I began phase one: opening the gallery by appointment. Now I am shifting to phase 2: regular hours Thursday – Saturday 10am – 5pm and by appinmnet. A limited number of people are allowed in the gallery at one time and masks are required. Social distancing is strictly observed and we have a gallery cleaning protocol.
Light Art Space is now “New Mexico Safe Certified” and all employees and volunteers have completed the required training. I am taking it very slowly in an effort to insure everyone’s safety.
On July 14th I will open an exhibition titled “Art in the Time of COVID-19”. I have invited artists in Silver City and the surrounding area to exhibit work made after March 1st. This exhibition will celebrate the creative spirit of my vibrant community. Close to 50 artists are participating. We are not able to hold a reception but will keep our regular hours and also by appointment. It seems unlikely workshops will be possible in 2020. I do look forward to rescheduling in 2021 those that were cancelled. The future is uncertain but I remain optimistic. Stay safe. Karen Hymer
To learn more please visit Light Art Space.
To learn more about the work of Karen Hymer please visit her page by clicking on her name.
Hi Karen from Tucson. Loved reading about you and your work at your gallery especially during these trying times. Your gallery sounds like a great addition to Silver City. Wishing you all the best and most of all stay healthy. Cindy Lutz
Such an amazing and beautiful space. I’m so in awe of all that Karen has done. Teaching at Light Art Space and experiencing the friendliness of Silver City was a real highlight for me last year. Just an incredible place, and Karen shows such interesting and unique works. I look forward to seeing all she does next! Diana Bloomfield
Hello Karen, thank you for the very moving and important interview regarding your space and ongoing projects and activities. It’s amazing when we consider the breadth of creative populations in this country, even in the face of a terrible pandemic. I loved seeing the pictures of your space and the images of all the folks associated with your extraordinary gallery. I’m wishing you the best in the future, and in your capable hands, I know your future looks very bright. Gary from Illinois.