Glitter is life for Isabel Bonilla. The Columbian artist is heavily influenced by the glitz and glamour of her hometown, Cali, known as the salsa capitol of the world.
“It’s nothing that you would regularly see in a Montana environment,” Bonilla said. “It’s very tropical and lush, with a lot of bright colors.”
Bonilla calls her work "tropical surrealism," incorporating elements of nightlife and psychedelics into her paintings. She’s one of 16 artists participating in a pop-up group art show at Rimrock Mall beginning Saturday.
Artists are sharing time in the shop during mall business hours and splitting the cost to rent the space. They’ve all chipped in a bit more to cover incidentals and marketing. With the remaining funds, they plan to award the artist whose painting is named “Best of Show.”
“The beauty of this is if everyone has fun and enjoys it, we can do it again at any time we want and at any location,” said John Armstrong, owner of Q’s Art and Framing.
Many of the artists participating in the show have been cultivating their talents at Armstrong’s art shop and gallery at 1511 Sixth Ave N. Then an idea surfaced: bring all these artists together and organize a large gallery-like show, one that could pop up in a space for a few weekends and then be done.
“There was so much enthusiasm and positive response,” Armstrong said. “It grew so quick, we had to cap it at 16 (artists).”
About 10 years ago, Armstrong launched an informal meeting for artists to gather and paint together at Q’s Art and Framing, now known as the Yellowstone Artist Group. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, artists gather to paint together, critique one another’s work (if asked), and just get a chance to commune together. Tuesday’s group is loosely structured around oil painting, and watercolors are the focus on Wednesday. Anyone is welcome to join, and artists come to work on their own projects while providing mentorship to others.
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“It’s an excellent night for someone trying to learn, because there is a lot of experience here," Armstrong said. "They can learn a lot, but it’s not a formal class."
Kathy Davies began attending the Tuesday evening gatherings about four years ago, as her seriousness for art increased. She’s an oil painter, focused on landscape and wildlife. She’s found these gatherings as a place of encouragement and support.
“Each time you do a painting, you grow and learn with it,” Davies said.
Armstrong has witnessed many friendships and mentorships develop. “It’s just such a positive group, and I’ve seen artists really just blossom. They start developing their own style, and they start getting enthused about their work.”
Armstrong began his business after retiring from Phillips 66, where he worked as an inspector. Before that, he was designing and building houses. Though his day job at the refinery didn’t provide Armstrong many outlets for artistic creativity, he knew he wanted to start something creative when he retired. He opened Q’s Art and Frame in 2005, but didn’t start painting on his own until the gatherings began at the shop.
“It dawned on me that if I have to be here to manage the store, I might as well just paint. And I’ve been painting ever since.” Armstrong paints at least two nights each week, focused on oils and watercolor.
Davies, who works full time, finds motivation in these weekly gatherings, and often will complete a project that night. “When you’re tired, it’s easy to say, ‘I’ll do it another time.’ But when you know that you are going to a place that is a lot of fun, with friends who all talk the same language you do with art, and you’re motivated, you get your painting done and have a good time,” she said.