New downtown gallery hopes to bring edgier pieces to light

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



If You Go

• What: “Abstract Reality,” artists reception and grand opening of Art at the Cave.

Featuring: New works by Anne John, Cynthia Heise, Kathi Rick

When: 5 to 9 p.m. today. Exhibit continues through Oct. 28.

Where:, 108 E. Evergreen Blvd.

Admission: Free

On the web:

• First Friday Art Walk: Download the monthly “hotsheet” at

When you venture into a cave, you’re wise to expect the unexpected. Caves contain challenges and mysteries, unsettling twists and turns, drops into darkness, bursts of air and light. The new Art at the Cave gallery on Evergreen Boulevard in downtown Vancouver isn’t exactly like that; it’s a big, airy space with pristine white walls and a gleaming wood floor. Curator Anne John means to keep it that way, she said; even with artworks occupying those walls, there’s enough room so each seems to stand alone, rather than jostling neighboring artworks for your eyeballs’ attention.

“The gallery itself is a work of art,” John said.

But the mission of the place will always be “experimental” in that cavelike way, John said during a recent preview of the place: challenging, audacious and bold. Artworks will be selected for their excellence and their daring, John said, not their saleability.

“We’re not judging art based on commercial qualities,” she said. “We do art to express ourselves.”

John’s partners in creating and launching the gallery are two longtime artist friends of hers with very different visions; the three women’s works make up this month’s grand opening exhibit, “Abstract Reality.” Don’t miss it during tonight’s Friday Art Walk.

Nearest the front door and picture windows are the large, luminous paintings of John, who blends human figures with symbolic, surreal environments; in back, in a raised upper gallery that also provides a broad view of the place, are the colorful, whimsical dreamscapes of painter Cynthia Heise; and, plopped right in the middle of the main floor, is a tiny “black box theater” where performance and multimedia artist Kathi Rick will show “The Whale,” a flowing multi-screen video that’s “a contrast of beauty horror and grace,” she said.

The enclosed black box will serve as an experimental media space, Rick said — and a convenient spot for posting an “adult content” disclaimer on the exterior.

“We mean to shake things up,” Rick said.


Art at the Cave has opened its doors just around the corner from the former North Bank Artists Gallery, which closed its own doors a few months ago after giving up on trying to afford its rising Main Street rent.

But its founders emphasized that Art at the Cave is not aiming to replace North Bank, a co-op business that emphasized local artists and open calls to the whole community to exhibit works on broad themes. Art at the Cave aims to fill some of the public gaps left by North Bank’s departure — such as artist talks and community conversations about the role of art — but its founders said they hope to exhibit outside artists with bigger reputations.

“We want to go outside the bounds of what’s usually presented down here” in downtown Vancouver, Rick said. “There is a lot of art out there. We think Vancouver is ready to see it. I get goosebumps thinking about the possibilities.”

John and her friends started cooking up the idea of a new, edgier art gallery that they would manage themselves several years ago, they said. John’s son, who works with developer C.E. John, took care of remodeling the antique downtown space.

There were surprises and challenges, such as asbestos abatement and diverting a long wheelchair ramp, which would have interrupted the main room, into a better use of space as well as a work of art in its own right. The ramp now takes an elbow turn and helps separate the upper gallery from the lower one.

“Our feeling in the end is that we took this hole in the wall, and all this magic happened,” John said. “The way it came out is beautiful.”

And who paid for all that?

“My mother left me a little lump sum,” John said. “She loved art. She was an art collector. I am turning 70 and I decided to spend the money in a way she would have really loved and appreciated.”