Art is for everyone; at least that’s what Joey Matula believes.
It’s part of the reason the artist recently opened the Electric City Art Gallery on Jay Street.
“I really want to make sure that people understand that art is for everybody. Just because you grew up in a particular neighborhood doesn’t mean that art’s not for you,” Matula said.
Growing up in Schoharie County, Matula always had an eye for design, especially when it came to color. After graduating from high school, he spent 15 years in the United States Navy before starting Commercial Design Interiors, a company that works with interior designers and suppliers.
It wasn’t until six years ago that he dove into creating art and, unfortunately, it was prompted by a cancer diagnosis.
“When that happened, they operated and I was cancer-free but the kind of cancer I had was highly likely to come back. So I was on pins and needles,” Matula said.
He started painting to combat his nerves and to destress. Matula painted mostly abstract works, layering color after color to create rich and varied textures. While it helped him to relax, it also jump-started what’s become a second career. Soon other artists were telling him to get his work into galleries and once he did, they immediately started selling. Some of his works are in local businesses like MVP Healthcare; others have sold to private collectors.
“It was just humbling. I was taken aback [by] this big affirmation,” Matula said.
Opening a gallery became his next goal, and after moving to Schenectady a few years ago, he realized that the Electric City would be the perfect place to do so.
“I moved here because of the feel of Schenectady. It had this revival feeling. You’ve got so many people who are really passionate about seeing Schenectady succeed. To see the restaurants and the diversity that’s brought in with them, to see other shops that are opening up; when you see this going on I wanted to be a part of [it] too. I wouldn’t have opened a gallery anywhere else,” Matula said.
Thus, he moved into 160 Jay St. last month and transformed the former vintage clothing shop into a fine art gallery. He did the renovation work himself, including adding new flooring, painting and adding a partition. He painted the intricately molded ceiling a bright white and the walls a rich tan.
The front and back sections of the gallery, which both offer seating areas, feature his work and that of several other artists.
“I have a lot of my own work here but I didn’t want to make the gallery about me. I wanted to make it about art in Schenectady. So I have such a wide variety; watercolors, encaustics, [etc.],” Matula said.
Many of the artists live in Schenectady, though there are some from around the greater Capital Region.
Rick Sacchetti’s abstract works, which mix hues of blues and greens, hang on the back wall, while the vibrant works of photographer William Adamczak hang nearby. The gallery shelves also feature stunning glassworks from artist Jo-Anne Sigond.
A range of sculptures from David Smythe, Judy Cid and ML Kammel greet viewers when they first walk in. Nearby are bright collage works from Amy Hauer, who combines famous images (like portraits of Aubrey Hepburn, Kobe Bryant, David Bowie, etc.) with splashes of paint and swatches of fabric.
While other galleries might frequently rotate artists out, Matula says his artists are here for the long haul. He plans to have occasional shows with other local artists and showing certain student work as well, but for the most part, the gallery will feature a select number of in-house artists.
“The work that Rick’s doing now, in three years he’s going to be doing a whole different thing. . . All my artists will evolve and I think it’s fun for people to come back and say ‘I bought one of Rick’s three years ago. I want one of these in this series,’” Matula said.
The Electric City Art Gallery stands out on Jay Street, which doesn’t have a fine art gallery quite like it.
While Matula believes the walkable shopping corridor is the perfect location for the gallery, he is worried about the public’s perception.
“I think my biggest fear is that people will walk by the door and not feel welcome; that they’ll feel afraid [But] art’s for everybody. It’s not just for people who can afford to spend three grand on a painting and I never want people to think ‘That’s above my paygrade. I can’t go in there,’ ” Matula said.
He tested the waters last weekend with a soft opening and had an encouraging number of people stop in, including a crowd coming from Proctors after seeing the Blue Man Group perform.
“We had people that ventured in just because they were excited to see something like this in Schenectady. You feel welcomed when you see that response from the community,” Matula said.
To combat the image that galleries are stuffy or only for those of a certain class, Matula is contemplating sticking a sign in the window declaring: “We’re not one of those arrogant art galleries. Just come on in and look because everybody really is welcome.”
Until the grand opening in April, the Electric City Art Gallery will be open from 3-7 p.m. on Friday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. Monday through Thursday the gallery is open by appointment only. For more information visit electriccityartgallery.com.