Galerie Soleil, a small visual-arts studio on Short Street, was a staple of a lively downtown Lexington arts scene for 15 years.
It closed in 2009, but its legacy continues in Shine On: A Galerie Soleil Reunion Show, which opens during Friday's Gallery Hop at Homegrown Press Gallery and Studio on North Limestone.
Named after the French word for "sun" because skylights in the building let in natural sunlight, Galerie Soleil hosted public exhibitions and provided studio space for artists, a dual purpose that made it a hub of a vibrant artist community.
More than a dozen artists whose careers were shaped by the gallery will share new work in an exhibit that celebrates the gallery's contributions to visual arts in Lexington.
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The reunion exhibit will feature more than two dozen works in a wide variety of media, including painting, collage, carved wood sculpture, photography, encaustic, assemblage, toilet paper mâché and clayboard.
Homegrown Press owner and artist John Lackey collaborated with former Galerie Soleil curator and resident artist Bob Morgan to find a way to honor what Lackey called the "venerable institution" of Galerie Soleil.
"I loved that place: the crooked stairway, the beautiful skylight, the high ceilings," Lackey says. "I wanted to have a Soleil reunion exhibit because I missed the great art that Bob always hung in the gallery there, but I especially missed the other artists that had studios there."
Lackey and Morgan collaborated to procure work from as many former Galerie Soleil artists as possible.
"We have a really fantastic lineup for this show, some of my favorite artists," Lackey says. "People I have respected and been inspired by for so many years."
In addition to Morgan and Lackey, the exhibit features the work of Frank Ryan Armstrong, Steve Armstrong, Jim Brancaccio, Kevin Clapp, Blake Snyder Eames, Mike Goodlett, Jimmy Gordon, James Baker Hall, Georgia Henkel, Philip High, Diane Kahlo, Lennon Michalski, Claudia Kane Michler, John Ridener, Lawrence X. Tarpey and Ashley Watson, among others.
High, who had a studio at Soleil from 1999 to 2002, has a new painting, Heracles Frees Prometheus and Ganesha Dances, in the reunion exhibit and cites his Galerie Soleil days as pivotal to his development as an artist.
"It was terrific working around other artists and meeting the public during open-studio events," High says. "Most of the relationships I have in the Lexington art scene today were formed as a result of that experience."
Watson, whose featured print Pre-Occupied focuses on the Occupy Wall Street movement, praises Morgan for the daring choices and creative freedom he fostered in the gallery.
"I was lucky enough to have two solo shows at Bob's place before it was shut down," Watson says. "It was an amazing space that embraced subversive and challenging works of art. Artwork was judged not on its potential profitability, but rather on its content, message and meaning."
Former Galerie Soleil owner Lynda Mellin bought the building with her husband in the early 1990s and renovated it to include rentable artist studios.
"The biggest challenge for an artist is a place to work and a place to show," Mellin says. "My focus was more about having a place to work; Bob's was more about the shows."
"There was never a dull moment there," Mellin says. "Several of us did the first HorseMania in 2001. Horses were everywhere, and we worked on each other's when somebody was getting behind. It was fun and inspiring to be working on art together, sort of like never leaving college."
She sold the building in 2009. It is now being renovated into a restaurant called Shakespeare and Co.
"I'm a new-idea junkie, so I like the challenge of starting something up, but I get itchy to move on after a time," Mellin says. "Every dog has its day, so it was just time to go on when we got an offer to buy the building from a person who could do something good for the downtown business area."