A group of friends is striving to put Clinton on the map as a lively arts destination.
The first annual Clinton Art Revival is set to launch from noon to 5 p.m. on May 6 and 7 at the strip mall located at 4777 Commercial St. Spearheaded by artists Louie Rochon, Cormac McCarthy and Melissa Koch, who all have their own studio at this location, the two-day event will also feature a dozen other Whidbey artists, including Rochon’s wife, Sandy Rubini-Rochon.
“The more artists, the better in here,” Rochon said.
Rochon, an abstract impressionist painter, was the first to open his studio in the Clinton strip mall four years ago. He acted as a mentor to the Irish-born McCarthy, a colorful landscape painter who ended up opening his own studio two years later. The pair were then joined by Koch, a mixed media artist who uses repurposed materials in her work. The trio of artists became close friends and bonded over the idea of starting an art event in Clinton, a place that is often overlooked on South Whidbey.
“We want to help enliven Clinton, so that it’s not just a town that people drive through off the ferry,” Koch said. “There’s a lot of artists in this area.”
“In our small little Clinton, we have a wide swath of people: immigrants, people of color, different genders,” McCarthy said. “It’s pretty incredible what we’ve done in a short period of time to do something for this space, for people around us, for the community and to bring something with a bit of life, a bit of soul, a bit of spirit.”
When he moved his studio from Langley to Clinton, Rochon said, he often had people asking him what he was thinking. Though it may be a quieter scene, in the last few years, the little census-designated place by the water has steadily come alive with a host of new businesses.
“On paper, it’s phenomenal,” McCarthy said. “We’ve got the parking, we’ve got the talent, we’ve got the traffic, we’ve got the young new businesses and restaurants. It’s like it’s on the cusp.”
The Clinton Art Revival includes a mix of established and emerging artists, including poet Mary Elizabeth Himes, who will move from studio to studio like a troubadour, reading poems aloud.
“The art scene can get really elitist, and we really want to work against that and really be inclusive,” Koch said.
“Exceptional art doesn’t have to be in the highest end galleries or museums, it can be here in spaces for everybody,” McCarthy agreed.
Artists participating in the Clinton Art Revival will donate 50% of the sale of their first work to the salmon hatchery program at South Whidbey Elementary School. Every year, children raise salmon from eggs and release them at the Maxwelton Outdoor Classroom.
Other artists include Dan Freeman, Doyle Reno, Elizabeth LaCount, Charles LaFond, Kelly Liedtke, Regina Kastler, Kurt Erickson, Dianne Baxter, Em McLoughlin and Joan Green. Rochon, McCarthy and Koch plan to host some of the artists in their own studios. An additional space in the mall that has been donated for the occasion will serve as a pop-up studio for the others.
Rubini-Rochon is one of the newer artists in the bunch. Currently she creates in the same studio as her husband.
“Being peers like this, working together, we kind of bounce off of each other’s creativity,” she said.
A textile artist, Rubini-Rochon weaves different yarns, scarves and other materials together by hand and suspends it between two pieces of driftwood. Though she’s tried other types of art before, nothing has stuck like this.
“I’ve just always loved textures and colors, so putting them together has been kind of natural,” she said.
She made her first sculpture seven years ago as a tribute to her dog, by combining his collar, leashes and toys. To finish out the sentimental piece, she added two walking sticks that she and her son had used.
“I’ve always wanted to make another one, but life got in the way,” she said.
In the past few months, she’s been busy creating several different pieces. One included about 100 scarves.
Rubini-Rochon enjoys going “treasure-hunting” in various thrift stores and antique stores for materials. But sometimes, she doesn’t even have to look.
“We come in here and next to the door there’s driftwood or skeins of yarn, so people know I’m doing this and they’re dropping stuff off, which is really cool,” she said.