A chaotic abstract painting, fittingly titled “2020,” hangs in the window of the Electric City Art Gallery.
Painted by artist and gallery owner Joey Matula, the piece’s vibrant colors and heavy texture echo the sentiments of what’s been seen and felt by many during the strangest of years.
“It’s like everything’s getting thrown at you and it’s so dynamic and out of proportion and that was 2020,” Matula said.
He opened the Jay Street gallery about two weeks before the pandemic hit the Capital Region. Looking back, he remembers the roller coaster of those first few weeks in business and then the sheer shock of having it all come to a halt.
“I think at first when it happened, it was really a shock because I was only open two weekends. I had people coming in and I had people buying original art and I was so excited,” Matula said. “I stayed open because nobody knew quite what to do at first and nobody was coming in.”
Over the summer, he brought some of the artwork outside under a tent so people could shop outside of the gallery. He closed for a time during the winter, though continued operations on social media.
“I’ve kept up through Instagram and Facebook and posting all the time about different art and showing different pieces,” Matula said.
For most of the artists he works with, the Electric City Art Gallery was one of the only spaces that continued selling their artwork throughout the pandemic. It’s been rewarding for Matula to be able to provide that support, though the year has been rife with challenges.
Artistically speaking, Matula found during the pandemic that he had nowhere to work. With his whole family home in Schenectady, the house was just too packed to have a productive studio space. Thus, he and his family relocated to a home in Glenville.
“The house was perfect, it’s got a huge basement. It’s kind of mid-century, it’s got different levels all over so it’s fun and eclectic and it needed work but that’s my passion. I love doing that. I put in new floors, redid the kitchen,” Matula said.
He set up his studio in the basement, which is large enough so that he can work on several canvases at a time.
“I can literally work on eight to 10 pieces at a time, larger pieces too and the reason why that’s important to me is because like many artists I can be really emotional about it and I can get really, really uptight so if I’m working on a few pieces and absolutely nothing’s going right, I can move on to a few [other] pieces. When I’ve got a limited space and I can only work on two pieces, I get stuck and I can get stuck for weeks on end and then I’m really just discouraged and down and I don’t even want to paint,” Matula said.
Lately, his canvases have been filled with brighter hues than he’s previously worked with. Take “Scan” for instance, a large work on display at the gallery featuring glossy lines of reds, blues and yellows, all carefully layered on top of one another.
Previously, he’d gravitated toward more subdued hues. The change may have in part been prompted by the death of his mother, who Matula said was always incredibly supportive of his work as an artist. Inspired by her, he painted an abstract called “Mom,” which features vivid shades of red. That one hangs at home but another from that same series, called “Red” is on display at the gallery, featuring lines of reds and blacks forming a galactic composition.
“After my mom passed away, I think it just opened up in me, how precious life is and I’m like ‘Just do it. Pour yourself out there into the canvas,’” Matula said.
He has several new works on display at the gallery, as do many of the artists he works with.
“The nice thing is I started out with 10 artists; every one of them are still here, which I really like. It’s more like a family,” Matula said.
There are some new encaustics from Amy Pressman, one standout piece toward the front featuring birch trees set against a bright orange backdrop. There are also new paintings from Schenetadian Richard Sacchetti and glassware from Jo-Anne Sigond.
The pandemic put a damper on the first year, though things have perhaps gone better than expected.
“I’m more than thrilled with the way that the first year went, especially considering COVID. To have people coming in and buying art ranging from small pieces for $25 up to $2,000 apiece for some, that’s really nice and comforting,” Matula said.
Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, though he plans to extend hours of operation in the coming months. People can also request appointments for private showings.
“A lot of people have really preferred that. . . . they can look, they can take their time,” Matula said.
The Electric City Art Gallery is located at 160 Jay Street, Schenectady. For more information visit electriccityartgallery.com.
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