Air Compression 

Artists prepare for June's open house

Late on a weekend afternoon, if your eye happens to sweep past the second floor of the red-bricked Mercantile Building, you might catch a glint of something moving inside. But fret not. You haven't witnessed the elusive phantom of the 8th Street Marketplace, but rather, something far more mythical: an artist with free downtown studio space. As a part of the building's Artist in Residence program, three artists have been given something nearly unheard of--unlimited access to empty office space in the heart of BoDo from May through July. In anticipation of their second First Thursday showing, we spent the weekend at AIR checking in with painter Laci McCrea, dancer Johanna Kirk and multi-media artist Kirsten Furlong as they put finishing touches on their new work.

Friday, May 29, 3:30 p.m.

Crouched in a folding chair in her colorful canvas-packed studio, oil artist Laci McCrea leans forward to explain her passion for portraiture: "I really, really love people." With a blue bandanna knotted around tufts of short bleached-blonde hair and a pair of old green cargo shorts slung low on her hips, McCrea exudes a comfortable earnestness. It's a quality that surely works to her advantage when she's getting to know her portrait subjects.

"I prefer to meet the people and take my own pictures," says McCrea. "It's a lot easier, rather than having a model or doing it from my head, if I can capture that perfect emotion, that perfect look that just says it all."

Glancing around at McCrea's studio walls, it's obvious she's adept at capturing that elusive look. From an elderly couple laughing and embracing to a short-haired, tattooed girl crouched menacingly, McCrea's paintings convey a narrative that transcends the portrait's often static nature. Because her work eschews some of the professional art world's most basic rules--covering up pencil lines, filling in blank canvas space--it thumps with a certain palpable raw emotion. Even penciled grid lines remain in most of her finished pieces.

Motioning to a large canvas covered with light gray pencil scribbles, McCrea explains that she'll be live painting at her June First Thursday opening. Though she has little new work to show this month, McCrea explains that she'll be taking off work three days a week to make the most of her final two months in the space.

Saturday, May 30, 11:30 a.m.

Gliding across a floor layered with scuffed black mats, four comfortably clad dancers obey the soft, yet commanding, voice of choreographer Johanna Kirk: "Shake your fingers like you're getting water off your fingertips." This specific edict resonates with the dancers, and they pantomime the motion in unison. Practicing a new piece for this month's First Thursday opening, Kirk is thoroughly enmeshed in her creative process. In the middle of the dance's initial run-through, she shuffles to change the song on her iPod. When My Brightest Diamond fires up, one dancer laughingly chides that the music makes her "want to puke a little." Kirk chuckles and quickly selects a new song. If something's not a natural and immediate fit, she's ready to toss it aside and find something that is.

"I've been trying to trust my instincts," says Kirk. "In the past when I've made work, I've choreographed it completely ahead of time on my body, taken copious notes and then gone into rehearsal and just taught it. But for this, I've done everything based on that moment in my gut and what's in the space and who's in the space."

A native Boisean who studied at Barnard College in New York City, Kirk has amassed an impressive array of experience. In addition to dancing with Balance Dance Company and teaching at Drop Dance Collective in Boise, Kirk has also taken the stage at various New York City venues for solo and group shows. Kirk views her three-month stint at the AIR studios as an opportunity to build up her canon of work.

"I've been able to treat it as part of my job, where as before it was kind of my luxury at the end of a day where I'd go work on a little bit of a dance," says Kirk. "Now, I consider it part of my work on a daily basis to go in there."

In addition to utilizing the space for dance, Kirk has also woven in her other love: yoga. She teaches daily yoga classes in her AIR space that range from Beginners' Mind Kripalu in the early morning to Lunchtime Yoga in the afternoon.

"Having tried to make work in New York where space is so incredibly precious, having a space at my disposal all the time, that's that big and open, is incredible," notes Kirk.

Sunday, May 31, 3 p.m.

Seated at a small table, fluorescent lights scattering shadows across her music-humming Mac laptop, printmaker Kirsten Furlong cuts and folds an array of white paper bird wings. Furlong, director of Boise State's Visual Arts Center, is chipping away at a print portfolio project. A glance at her studio's walls--covered in three dimensional paper birds--and a thematic undercurrent shines through.

"Most of the work that I've been doing the last 10 years or so has had to do with the natural world, but more specifically how the natural world is represented by artists and in the scientific world," explains Furlong with a deliberate cadence.

As an artist who dabbles in everything from polyester plate lithography to watercolor, Furlong's work is highly varied yet immediately recognizable. From a hand-colored print of a bird bound up during the taxidermy process, to a more traditional oil and gold leaf painting of a dodo, Furlong's ornithological interest is obvious. On one of the space's walls, a horizontal row of unfolded bird patterns cut from thick beige felt are embroidered with cursive words taken from a passage about bird migration.

"In this particular body of work, I'm interested in migration and reading historical texts--how it's described. At different historical times how they would describe migration based on what was known."

Though Furlong has a studio space at home, she applied for a spot in the AIR program to construct her paper bird installation.

"It's really important to have the space to work things out," explains Furlong. "You can conceive of an installation in your head or on paper or even with a model, but it has everything to do with how people interact with it and how it interacts with the space."

--Tara Morgan

6-9 p.m., FREE, Mercantile Building, 404 S. Eighth St., 8thstreetmarketplace.com.

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