Local Artists Share Walls and Rent at Gallery 125

By: Molly Ressler

*Please note that as we do our part to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, First Friday will be a virtual event with opportunities to engage online all month long. We encourage you to visit the First Friday Artist Registry, share your favorite artists with your friends on social media, visit virtual galleries, shop online at the great businesses who support First Friday every month, and stay social as you socially distance.

We hope to be back and strong this summer, so everybody do your part and continue supporting local artists and local businesses if you can!

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Gallery 125 isn’t run like your typical gallery. Five artists curate the space, each making a contribution toward the operating costs in exchange for total control over their 8-10 foot section of wall. “They can hang whatever they want and pay no commission,” says Beth Shields, Gallery 125 founder and artist. 

Originally her private art studio from 2012-2017, the intimate space tucked down an art-lined hallway at the Tannery Arts Center hosted its first gallery opening on First Friday in February of 2017. The opening featured Beth’s work as well as the art of Andrew Purchin, Chela Zabin, Fanne Fernow, Jean Beebe, Joan Hellenthal, and Beth’s now wife, Lynne Todaro. (The two artists were married at the neighboring Radius Gallery in July of 2017.) Today, the gallery’s plywood walls still feature Beth, Lynne, and Joan along with the work of Linda Fillhardt and Chris Miroyan

A labor of love

Beth describes Gallery 125 as a labor of love that provides a diverse sampling of the local art produced here in Santa Cruz County. It also provides a personal glimpse into the mind and heart of each artist. “[As an artist,] you're trying to communicate on some deep soul level with other people through your art,” says Beth. “I think for people who are doing their creative work, it is what makes them able to stay in their bodies on this planet and have relatively satisfying lives. To me, art is just central to my existence, and to every artist I know, it’s central to the way that they make their life make sense.” 

Paintings curated by the artists on display at Gallery 125.

Before coming to Santa Cruz, Beth lived in L.A., where she obtained a degree in fine art from UCLA and worked as a commercial designer in Hollywood. Housing prices were too high, however, so Beth moved north to buy a house on the Westside of Santa Cruz. That was 30 years ago, although she’s since moved to a house in Soquel that serves as her studio. 

Guided by instinct

Beth is immensely grateful to now be a painter full-time. Her current style, she says, has taken 25 years to develop, but when she sits down to paint, it’s instinct that guides her. “When I start a painting I have no idea where it’s going,” Beth says. “The process is just instinct. I’m in an altered state that I can’t really define.” 

Her abstract pieces are oil, wax and graphite on canvas or paper and can take anywhere from an hour to three years to finish. “I keep going and going until it's totally clear to me that there's not another thing that I would do to it to make it better,” she explains. This pursuit of perfection has led Beth several times to remove a painting that’s hung in the gallery for months and add yet another layer to the dried paint. In the end, the final piece may have 10 or more paintings hidden underneath. 

You can see Beth’s abstract paintings and the work of Gallery 125’s four other artists every First Friday from 6-9pm. In the near future, Gallery 125 and nearby Flora and Fauna will also be opening their doors to the public before and after Sunday matinees at the Colligan Theater. 

Molly Ressler is a writer and content marketing consultant based in Santa Cruz. She lives with her husband and pup in Seabright and loves sharing her community’s vibrant culture through her writing.