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Q & A: Fulton Street Gallery director Felix seeks to grow educational mission

Q & A: Fulton Street Gallery director Felix seeks to grow educational mission

Award-winning photographer Ray Felix, who moved to Troy from Baltimore in 1998, is the new director

When Ray Felix came to the Capital Region from Baltimore in 1998, the city of Troy was downtrodden and shabby, but he loved its history and architecture.

“I knew this was where I wanted to move to,” the personable and upbeat Felix said on a recent rainy afternoon, while savoring a cup of joe at The Daily Grind on Troy’s Third Street.

The 42-year-old award-winning photographer and mixed-media artist lives around the corner from the cafe and a few blocks from his new job as director of Fulton Street Gallery. He took over earlier this month, after Colleen Skiff retired after 15 years as founder and director of the storefront arts space.

Since the gallery opened, downtown has changed. Troy Night Out, the downtown celebration on the last Friday of each month, is the biggest arts night in the Capital Region. Antique shops, clothing boutiques, restaurants and other businesses have opened along Broadway and River Street. The Arts Center of the Capital Region opened in a reclaimed furniture factory in 2000.

‘Back to School’

WHERE: Fulton Street Gallery, 408 Fulton St., Troy

WHEN: Through Saturday, Oct. 8. Gallery is open from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and by appointment by calling 331-0217. Reception: 5 to 8 p.m. this Friday during Troy Night Out

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: 274-8464 or fsgtroy.org

Felix, born and raised in Philadelphia, has a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and photography from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, and a master’s in fine art from the University of Albany, where he also worked as a photography instructor from 2007 to 2010.

His work has appeared in many Mohawk Hudson Regional and Photography Regional exhibits, including Opalka Gallery’s first Photo Regional invitational, in 2006. He has had solo exhibits at Fulton Street Gallery, ACCR’s Fence Show, Romaine Brooks Gallery and Bennington College.

This past winter, “Self-Evidence,” some of his large self-portraits, was part of a three-person invitational exhibit at Union College’s Atrium Gallery, and this summer, his photograph “Lady Americana” won the University Art Museum purchase award at the Mohawk Hudson Regional at the Albany Institute of History & Art.

Felix works for Mark McCarty Photography, managing McCarty's studio in Brunswick, and does his own freelance work.

At the Fulton Street Gallery, Felix has scheduled two more exhibits after the current “Back to School” show. From Oct. 10 through Nov. 20, the gallery will feature the bold graphics and intense colors of Christos Apostle, a Capital Region artist and arts supporter who produced 200 paintings in the five years before his death in 2000.

The Christos N. Apostle Charitable Trust continues to fund events and exhibits at Fulton Street Gallery, the Photo Center of Troy, Albany Center Gallery and other arts venues. On Nov. 25, the gallery will open an exhibit of small works by members and a gift shop.

And in the spring of 2012, Fulton Street will host the 34th Annual Photography Regional.

Q: How did you become the new director?

A: It was a surprise to me! Colleen sort of chose me. I’ve known Colleen for years. I have been an exhibitor and volunteer and member for a long time. And in May, I did a memorial show at the gallery for my friend Nadia Trinkala.

Q: How has the transition been going?

A: Smooth but very fast. A lot of people were extremely positive about it.

Q: Why did you take the job?

A: I really didn’t want to see the gallery close. No matter if there have been rough patches, it’s been around for 15 years. It’s become a little Troy institution. It has served the community and has the potential to serve it even more. . . . I have felt disconnected from the arts community. But now, I’ll be meeting with artists, asking them “what are you working on? Can I come to your studio?”

Q: Is the directorship a paid position?

A: Currently, it’s not. The idea is to get it to that point. It’s largely functioning on volunteer efforts. To serve its mission, there needs to be someone there on a regular basis, someone who is paid to be there. There is no budget yet. We have a loose plan to get ourselves through this year.

Q: How is the gallery operating financially?

A: There wasn’t any funding outside membership. Then someone came forward with foundation money. It’s from Christos Apostle, an artist and arts supporter who passed away.

Q: How does the gallery serve artists?

A: As a working artist myself, I know that artists live in an insular world. Sometimes it’s difficult to connect. It made me realize that there is a community of artists that could be better connected. I see so many opportunities for the gallery to collaborate with other galleries and with the city.

Q: Colleen Skiff ran the arts space as “a people’s gallery,” open to all artists, with an all-volunteer staff. Will you be following that model?

A: It will be open to a degree. I generally agree with that philosophy. But in some cases, it’s more theoretical than practical. Volunteers were not incredibly reliable. After a while, the idea of complete freedom began to unravel a bit.

Q: What sort of changes do you want to see as director?

A: I want to try and expand on the gallery’s educational mission, more artists’ lectures, and to bridge the gap between art and the general public. The general structure of exhibitions will be the same. It will be a mix of juried shows, curated group shows and solo shows.

Q: What’s the idea behind the current exhibit, “Back to School?”

A: It was my idea. It’s the work of instructors and students who are involved in Capital Region art departments. Fifteen artists and 30 works. It gives a sampling of what’s happening in different art departments. The gallery was potentially going to be closed this month. I was adamant that the gallery should not be dark this month. I scrambled to get a show together. (The 15 artists are: Harold Lohner from Sage Colleges; Iona Park from Skidmore College; Mindy McDaniel, Union College; Nathan Meltz, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and University at Albany; Maarja Paul, Niskayuna High School student; Caroline Burns, Niskayuna High School student; Kyra Garrigue, Hudson Valley Community College; Janae McHugh, an MFA candidate at UAlbany; Stephen Honicki, Niskayuna High School; Justin Baker, UAlbany and HVCC; Michael Grotzer, UAlbany student; Jenny Kemp, MFA candidate, UAlbany; Robert Harrison, Skidmore, and Shana Parke Harrison and Danny Goodwin, UAlbany)

Q: The Photography Regional was started 33 years ago because the Mohawk Hudson Regional didn’t accept photography back then. Is the Photo Regional still an important show?

A: There seems to be opinions on both sides. It has established itself as its own institution, and I feel that it’s a useful show to show what’s happening in photographic arts in the region. . . . With the Photo Regional, there is a much broader inclusion than in the Mohawk Hudson Regional, a range that makes the Photo Regional eclectic. And in terms of a juried community show, it’s a little less intimidating.

Q: What’s happening in downtown Troy?

A: They’ve leveled City Hall. There is a loose plan to build two new multi-use buildings on Broadway with restaurants, shops and living space. It would reconfigure the waterfront. There is a potential to develop seven and a half miles of waterfront in Troy. What a great sculpture park this could be! We could try and procure public artwork. That’s one of the major things to help Troy sustain businesses that are here. The city would have history, architecture and then art, and would be tapping into it as a tourist destination.

Q: What turns you on about doing photography?

A: It’s this slice of reality but it’s not. And there are so many approaches to photography. It can be painterly or abstract, realism or theatrical. It serves, to some degree, as a document of proof. I guess I have this real interest in observation. The photograph, unlike no other media, forces you to linger. You are stuck in a particular moment.

Q: Do you come from an artsy family?

A: Not at all. I have no idea where it came from. I didn’t have much exposure to art growing up. When I was a teenager, I liked to draw. But I never really thought anything about it. It was never presented to me as something I could do. I was always frustrated with school for the most part.

Q: What about your current series of photographs, including “Lady Americana,” an award-winning black-and-white image from this year’s Mohawk-Hudson Regional?

A: The series started in 2008. I started taking these walks and photographing bits of stuff I found on the street. There’s a straight-on iconic approach. They tend to be things that I encounter in passing. A lot of things I’ve photographed have completely transformed or don’t exist anymore.

Q: What is your process? What kind of camera?

A: A large format camera, a 4-by-5. These are all film. The color stuff, I scan it or have it printed as traditional C-print or ink-jet prints.

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