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Jun Kaneko, “Dango” (2012, glazed ceramic)

FEATURES

Art & Soul

By Nora Burba Trulsson and Taylor Transtrum

Photo by Colin Conces

11.27.17

From sculptural pieces and paintings to large-scale installations and murals, these Valley creatives have mastered the art of surprise.

DYNAMIC CERAMICS
Renowned artist Jun Kaneko will debut his work in the Valley at Desert Botanical Garden.

A crane, a forklift and a lot of breath-holding were involved in the installation of artist Jun Kaneko’s monumental ceramic and bronze sculptures at the Desert Botanical Garden (admission from $79). “The pieces weigh up to 1,600 pounds each and stand up to 13 feet tall,” says Elaine McGinn, the garden’s director of planning and exhibits. “We went to great lengths to make sure they were installed securely.”

McGinn first contacted Kaneko after seeing his pieces at Chicago’s Millennium Park. The artist, it turns out, was more than happy to have his work exhibited in Phoenix, as he and his wife had visited the garden several times.

The 20 pieces at the garden by the Japan-born and Omaha-based sculptor include “dangos,” or rounded forms painted with geometric themes; colorful “tanukis,” mythical ‘raccoon dogs’ found in Japanese folklore; and enigmatic heads. They’re on display through May 13 as part of the garden’s ongoing fine-art series and located in strategic spots along the main loop trail, as well as in the wildflower garden. “The tanukis are in a circle, with plenty of space to pose next to them,” says McGinn, anticipating selfie-takers and Instagrammers.  

After asking his Facebook followers to devise an acronym for FORD, Dominic Bourbeau settled on calling this piece “Francesca Only Reached Denver.”

DESERT EXPO-SURE
Dominic Bourbeau’s mid-mod-inspired paintings return to the Arizona Fine Art Expo.

Dominic Bourbeau initially wasn’t sure about participating in Scottsdale’s annual Arizona Fine Art Expo (tickets from $10). “I thought it would be intimidating to be painting with people looking at me all day long,” admits the Minneapolis-based artist. “But I found that the expo’s tent has beautiful, filtered light, and it was easy to concentrate on my art.”

Bourbeau is getting ready for his third year at the event, which runs Jan. 12 to March 25 and features 100-plus artisans from around the country who spend 10 weeks working and selling their art within a 44,000-square-foot tent. He’s become one of the expo’s best-selling artists (larger pieces around $4,800), known for his vividly colored canvases inspired by midcentury-modern imagery.

Bourbeau, who studied pottery and stained glass in college, spent time working as a surgical technician before turning to art full time. Treks to Palm Springs to see modernist homes for Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore began influencing his precise, geometric gouache on canvas paintings, as did the works of illustrator Charley Harper.

“I love Arizona,” says Bourbeau of the time he spends here. I look for inspiration locally, in places like Taliesin West and Hotel Valley Ho.”  

PLURAL MURALS
Tato Caraveo’s ideas are off-the-wall—literally.

Tato Caraveo has been so busy that he didn’t even realize he was nominated for one of last year’s Phoenix Mayor’s Arts Awards, which recognizes the city’s arts leaders.

For the past year, the downtown Phoenix artist has been surrounded by paintbrushes, spray paint and forklifts creating vividly hued murals, populated by phantasmagorical figures, plants and animals, plus images of the Southwest for clients like Western Window Systems, Crescent Communities and the new Muse apartments across the street from Phoenix Art Museum. He also prepped individual canvases for a fine-art show held in November at The Icehouse, a community art space. It’s left him with little time for his other passion—music—but he still manages to handle the musical bookings at The Lost Leaf, a longtime Roosevelt Row nightspot.

“I never thought of art as a career,” admits Caraveo, a Phoenix native who got his start as a graffiti artist, “but now I’m doing it full time.”

This year, though, Caraveo did attend the fall arts awards program, having been nominated through his murals at Crescent Highland apartments. “It’s good to be acknowledged,” he says, “and I’m glad that people know I’m out here.”

COLOR ME BEAUTIFUL
Casey Christiansen branches out as an independent abstract artist and entrepreneur.

Casey Christiansen (casey@creative-riot.com) has always been surrounded by art—although it wasn’t until she painted her first large-scale canvas to decorate her home that she began her journey as an artist. With the encouragement of her husband, she decided to share her work on her Instagram account. Thanks to both Instagram and a supportive arts community, she quickly transitioned from hobbyist to professional. “It really evolved into something more, which was both great and surprising,” she says. Yet another evolution for the artist was her recent decision to leave her full-time marketing career with the Phoenix Art Museum’s fashion design department to pursue Creative Riot, a branding company she co-founded. Despite her growth as a professional artist, Christiansen likes to preserve painting as “the one thing in my professional life that I approach completely opposite from how I approach business.” However, this doesn’t mean she believes in rigid dichotomy—as exemplified by the strong use of color compositions in her abstract paintings, which draw on her fashion background and love for all things creative. “It almost feels like a puzzle,” she says. “It’s about the balance of color and texture and form, and less about drawing a perfect portrait of someone. That’s not what I’m doing at all.”

MESA'S ART INVASION
Amanda Parer’s “Fantastic Planet” will make its U.S. debut at Mesa Arts Center.

Venture to Mesa May 4 to 13, and you’ll see gigantic humanoids taking over downtown. No need to panic. The six inflatable, illuminated figures—perched around the Mesa Arts Center, Arizona Museum of Natural History, i.d.e.a. Museum, and at

MacDonald and Main streets—are part of “Fantastic Planet,” an installation by Australian artist Amanda Parer, inspired by a 1973 sci-fi film of the same name. According to Parer, they are meant to look like they “just landed and are quietly and gently exploring” our civilization.

“The art was first created for Australia. It marks the first time it’s shown in the United States,” says Cindy Ornstein, executive director of MAC and director of arts and culture for the city of Mesa, the two sponsoring organizations. “You can see the figures day and night, and they’ll be visible from the light rail. They create a new way of experiencing an urban environment.”

The installation’s timing? To coincide with the American Alliance of Museums’ national conference, which puts thousands of museum professionals in Mesa and Phoenix, and the opening May 11 of a figurative art show at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. The MAC Foundation fundraising gala (Feb. 24, $150 per person) is also taking its cue from the installation, with a futuristic theme called “Out of this World.”

photo by levi christiansen