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July 1, 2022

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Open Studios returns: Tour of Clark County artists’ spaces back in COVID format

By , Columbian staff writer
6 Photos
Artist Abhisar Gupta of Vancouver shoots extreme close-up macro photos to create abstract art. He is participating in Clark County Open Studios tour.
Artist Abhisar Gupta of Vancouver shoots extreme close-up macro photos to create abstract art. He is participating in Clark County Open Studios tour. (Contributed by Clark County Open Studios) Photo Gallery

Artists and crafters love working alone, at home. But after nearly a year and a half of pandemic isolation, many are hungry to reconnect with art lovers and customers.

Clark County Open Studios, the annual self-guided tour of local makerspaces, is back in a pandemic-hybridized format this weekend after a year off. In addition to the standard COVID-19 safety precautions we’ve come to expect — like mandatory masks regardless of vaccine status — this version of Open Studios will offer alternatives, including video demonstrations, online shopping and additional in-person studio visits by appointment.

“This year we’ve taken special care to ensure that both the artists and visitors feel comfortable,” said Ridgefield painter Jennifer Williams, Open Studios director and tour participant.

She said artists’ year and a half of concentrated studio time led to thematic exploration, refinement of technique and the creation of powerful new bodies of work.

“Open Studios offers artists the missing link: an opportunity to reconnect with an audience on a personal level and share what they’ve been creating,” Williams said.

If You Go

Clark County Open Studios

Open: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Tour maps, artist details:


What: Clark County Open Studios preview and reception

When: 5 to 9 p.m. Friday

Where: Art at the Cave, 108 E. Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver.

Visit for all the details, including tour maps and artist previews, which you can use to see which artists tickle your fancy. Open hours for all 50 participating artists are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Masks are mandatory at all sites.

Marquetry by muralist

If you frequent Fourth Plain Boulevard, you know the Mexican imagery of Christian Barrios, a painter and muralist who participates in the annual “Summer of Murals” sponsored by Fourth Plain Forward and the Clark County Mural Society.

Barrios’ west Hazel Dell home studio is busy with all sorts of artworks, from paintings to papier-mache figurines. But Barrios is keenest to show off his big, intricate marquetry pieces.

Marquetry is the art of applying decorative veneer to wood. The story of how Barrios learned to do it is a remarkable and unlikely Vancouver tale.

Barrios grew up in Mexico City, where he learned to paint traditional, decorative glazes at his grandfather’s custom ceramics business, and wall murals alongside an older artist friend. He eventually moved to California and then Portland, which was a nicer, kinder place for a young Mexican whose English was iffy, he said. (Portland was also becoming famous as an arts town, he said.)

He worked in restaurants, landscaping and roofing while knocking on gallery doors.

The 16-year-old Barrios was shopping garage sales in his new hometown, Vancouver, one day when his eye was drawn to an extraordinary artwork in an open garage on Northwest Franklin Street, he said. He couldn’t resist approaching.

“It was amazing. It was beautiful. It was perfect,” Barrios said. “I never saw nothing like it. I think, ‘This guy must be huge.’ ”

The artist turned out to be Gene Zanni, a woefully unappreciated marquetry master, Barrios said. Barrios became Zanni’s apprentice, and the two worked closely together for years, even while Barrios kept making a living by laboring in food service, landscaping and roofing.

When Barrios fractured his heel while doing house painting and lost his income, Zanni provided supplies so he could make and sell his own marquetry pieces.

When a commission arrived for a marquetry Virgin of Guadalupe — an important symbol of Indigenous Mexican pride — Zanni insisted that his apprentice read up on the subject, and pass a test, before starting the project.

It was a fruitful but tense relationship because Barrios, while respectful of his mentor’s lessons, insisted on exploring and developing his own vision and techniques too, he said. The two were estranged when Zanni died in 2011, Barrios said.

“Art is like everything else in life,” said Barrios, who’s now 40. “You respect what you are taught, but you also find your own way. I found my way.”

Barrios still works as a cleaner to make a living, but he’s also discovered his own love of teaching bilingual and Indigenous art classes. Marquetry is an expensive practice that requires a lot of reinvestment in materials, he said, and his income dried up during the pandemic.

Since he learned he’ll be featured in the Open Studios tour, Barrios said, he’s been cranking out new works of all sorts, from big abstract paintings to little Mexican figurines.

“I want to be more involved in my community,” Barrios said. “I love to work and to show my art here in Vancouver, because this is where I live.”

Clark County artists

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