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23 Oct 2018

A Lot of Varied Art: Woodman/Shimko Gallery Is Known for Its 'Gay' Art—but It Offers So Much More

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"Get the Tide" by Cassandra Complex. "Get the Tide" by Cassandra Complex.

In October each year, a trailer pulls up in front of a gallery at the north end of the design district in Palm Springs. It’s packed full of art.

Behind the wheel is gallery owner Woody Shimko (right). He’s just completed what he calls his 3,000-mile bridge between two of the most iconic gay destinations—Provincetown, Mass., and Palm Springs, Calif.

Shimko has galleries in both towns. During the fall and winter, the art is here in Palm Springs. In the spring, it will cross back over that figurative bridge and spend the summer in Provincetown. Having just endured another blistering desert summer, I thought this sounded like an ideal lifestyle. I asked Shimko how it all came about.

“Provincetown has been an art colony for over 100 years,” Shimko said. “Palm Springs has been a creative design location for decades. What I try to do is show work that will appeal to designers, other artists and anyone else interested in buying work for their homes.

“The biggest difference, really, is the time of year. That is really why I opened both spaces. Provincetown is so quiet in the winter, and Palm Springs certainly slows down in the heat of the summer.”

Shimko opened his first gallery in Provincetown in the 1990s.

“After opening it, I took a job in Tokyo. Having both the job and the gallery was a little … OK, way too much,” he said. “I bought a house in Palm Springs as a stop-over. After being in Japan for 15 years, I decided to open the gallery in Palm Springs. The following season, I opened the gallery in Provincetown, hence (the gallery’s slogan), ‘3,000 Miles of Art.’

“The gallery in Palm Springs is about the same as in Provincetown. I show local artists and also artists from the East Coast. In Provincetown, I show local artists and artists from the West Coast. I don’t really show ‘regional’ art—no palm trees in Palm Springs, and no fishing boats in Provincetown.”

The Woodman/Shimko Gallery here is not one of the spacious, spare, minimalist galleries for which Palm Springs is known. Instead, it is packed full of an astonishingly varied collection of paintings, sculpture, metal work, prints and ceramics. In the rear is a section of vintage glass and dinnerware, including pieces from Tiffany and Lalique. There are even some old Lionel trains and tongue-in-cheek Japanese souvenirs. My favorites are the artfully packaged “sushi sox,” a pair of socks folded and presented as sushi.

The gallery also displays some of Shimko’s own creations, accent tables constructed out of discarded tools.

“The way I choose the work is: If I want to hang it in my home, I’ll show it at the gallery,” he said. “And yes, I do have a few pieces that I have shown that are not entirely my style, but that’s where showing a range of work comes in.

“I am always open to seeing new work. If it jumps out at me, then I’ll likely show it for a time. Work that is in conflict with artists that I already represent is art that will not work for me.”

I’ve heard Woodman/Shimko Gallery referred to as a “gay” or “homoerotic” gallery before. Shimko had his own take on these labels.

“There are some people who come in and say they love the ‘gay’ gallery, but that is not a term I use to describe the spaces,” he said. “I do show a number of male images, but I don’t focus on them. My most popular artist, Cassandra Complex, paints only men. There is nothing erotic about the images, but when people see them, they assume it’s a gay man painting the images. That’s most likely why I am termed a gay gallery. But if that’s what people think of the space, cool—I’m happy with that. The only real homoerotic art I have shown—and have had to warn families about if they came in with their kids—was the Tom of Finland collections I have shown. There’s no fig leaf on the statue of David, so I’m OK with showing male and female nudes.”

Shimko said he will be focusing on Cassandra Complex’s art during this Pride season.

“Her work is truly an icon for gay men,” Shimko said. “The second-biggest buyer for her work is lesbians. Even our straight customers are drawn to her. The Kennedy family bought three of her pieces over the years. Cassandra lives outside of Boston. She is self-taught and paints men’s faces that she makes up in her head. None of the faces are real people. After her father died 10 years ago, she went through depression, and his was the first face she painted. He was a rugged man, so she keeps that look going through for her father.”

Complex has an unusual painting technique: She applies paint to the canvas with a deck of playing cards.

A couple of other artists stood out to me. Christopher Sousa’s portraits of young men evoke a surrealistic, dream-like character.

“Christopher Sousa is based in Provincetown and is one of the most sought-after artists,” Shimko said. “Before becoming a successful artist, he worked at a coffee shop in town and would draw images on coffee cups that he would give to his customers. He is represented by another gallery in Provincetown, so I can only show him in Palm Springs. Many of his models are friends of his or people he knows in town.”

Another artist, Robert Rainone, creates male nudes—not with paint, but by cutting through different colors of matte board.

“Robert Rainone is an architect in New Jersey,” Shimko said. “His precision in drawing has led him to create some truly amazing matte-board cutouts,” Shimko said. “Many of his pieces are between six to nine layers of matte board. You can see him do a number of his pieces on YouTube.”

I asked Shimko about his favorite elements of Palm Springs.

“The views and the design element,” he replied. “The architecture is amazing. There are many people that not only buy art, but live in art.”

Woodman/Shimko Gallery is located at 1105 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. It is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily. For more information, call 760-322-1230, or visit www.woodmanshimkogallery.com.

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