When you talk art with Tracy and Sushe Felix, the conversation tends to turn to the ins and outs of marketing their work. One might think that, with the reputation the Manitou Springs couple enjoys and the quality of their work, marketing would be a secondary concern. But it may serve as a consolation to starving artists in the area to know that they are not the only ones for whom the creative process is only half the challenge.
"Not to be crass," said Tracy, "but in order to make a living at this, you have to have a solid marketing approach."
As a part of their marketing plan, the Felixes currently have work hanging in the William Havu Gallery in Denver, in a small gallery in Frisco, Colo., and in the Together/Working show at the UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art.
That's part of the reason why the last several weeks have been hectic in the Felix household as the Manitou Springs couple prepared for their newest show at the Pasta di Solazzi restaurant and Italian delicatessen.
Tracy Felix has eight pieces on display while Sushe Felix has 12 works in the Felix Navidad exhibit running now through Jan. 31 in Pasta di Solazzi's new location on Centennial Boulevard.
While none of the pieces have a Christmas theme, this show features a divergence, at least for Tracy, as he shows mixed media work for the first time. Sushe's contributions are limited to acrylic paintings although she is also accomplished in the areas of clay and pastel.
"I have been after [the Felixes] forever to do something like this," said Jan Webster, curator of the exhibit and a former art teacher. When Pasta di Solazzi moved from its location on Uintah into the larger site on Centennial, Tracy and Sushi decided the time had come to put the show together.
"The new place is enormous," said Tracy. "So we said, 'OK, that's our next focus,' and I started getting out panels of masonite."
Because the Italian market concept of the old Pasta di Solazzi remains at the new location in spite of the addition of a full restaurant component, the hours for the exhibit are extensive: 7 in the morning until 9 at night, Monday through Saturday.
While the Felixes say the cuisine at Pasta di Solazzi is outstanding, the artwork in this show should be enough to attract customers regardless of the food.
The Felixes share little in the way of technique or subject except for their expertise in the creation of depth and an overarching interest in nature. Tracy's palette is noticeably lighter and cooler and his stylized depictions of local mountain scenes are substantially more representational than the work of his wife. The variety between the two artists' work, however, provides a pleasing diversity and contrast that adds interest to the show as a whole.
In the last 10 months, Sushe Felix has experimented with more geometric shapes in her abstract work and become "reinterested" in Asian art -- two concepts that are clearly reflected in her contributions here.
Still, biomorphic figures reflecting an abiding concern for nature seem to establish a basis for her compositions. Each of her works in the exhibit centers around a luminescent egg shape cradled in a nest of brilliant gold that is scratched out of an overcoat of rich warm tones. "They are always glowing," Sushe said. "I think they are wonderfully symbolic, but I don't know if they represent a life source or what. I'm just drawn to do them."
Each of Sushe's works utilizes a rhythm of circular shapes that transports the eye through a dramatic assemblage of angular counterpoints. The artist's rich and aggressive palette creates a dynamic tension that rewards the viewer's optical journey.
A former student of local muralist Eric Bransby, Sushe Felix says that her style has evolved into a kind of action painting. "Now I start with a blank canvas and lay out abstract forms," she said. "Then, I lay down paint until I see things emerging."
Both Sushe and Tracy Felix seem fundamentally concerned with depth of field. Sushe's works draw the viewer in with an insightful contrast of sharply delineated forms against an array of diffused and receding shapes. Swaying green trees and watermelon rectangles are set off by ghostly plant forms that reach up like fresh white asparagus shoots.
Tracy's "Garden of the Gods" entry features an imaginary rock formation superimposed on rolling, pine-studded hillsides and a pancake stack of floating white clouds. Like his wife, Tracy Felix uses several tactics to create the illusion of depth in his work. His meticulous underpainting of magenta shines through the outer glazing of the clouds to give a sense of vibrancy and immediacy.
"I've enjoyed seeing Tracy's style develop over the years," Webster said. "I love that 'more real than life' quality to his work. I'll be driving in the mountains and I'll look up and say, 'Oh my god, those are Tracy's clouds.'"
Tracy's fine use of shadow gives an almost photographic quality to portions of the painting while creating an interesting tension with the less realistic character of the mountain.
"I treat a lot of peaks," Tracy Felix said, "but I don't care that much about accuracy as far as getting exactly how the rock looks." Often working from photographs and postcards he collects, Felix also fabricates his subjects completely on occasion. "I love to just make them up," he said.
Tracy's treatment of isolated geological features gives his work a different compositional feel than most landscape painting, a fact that he readily acknowledges. "They are almost like a portrait," he said, "because the mountains are very dominant."
His piece titled "Front Range Peak" depicts angular rock towers jutting up from a cerulean forest blanket below. In the foreground, pale green foothills and adobe-colored outcroppings provide balance and variety to the scene. Patches of snow resting in the crevasse between the peaks heightens the contrast between rock and earth, giving the mountain a mythical, supernatural feel.
The Felixes have a long history in Colorado Springs, having met while both were students at Wasson High School. During the difficult economic years of the '80s, they ran their own gallery downtown called the Tracy Felix Art Space. Now they work out of twin studio spaces in their home near the Miramont Castle and try to keep up with the demands of participating in three to five shows at a time.
The couple has noticed that they are able to command higher prices for their work in more upscale markets than Colorado Springs. A number of the pieces in the Felix Navidad show are priced in the $300 to $500 range, while the couple's larger pieces might fetch several times that amount in another town. So, if you are looking for a present for a collector with champagne tastes, Felix Navidad may translate into "Merry Christmas" in more way than one.