How one art community aims to paint, sculpt and weld its way into the hearts of Preston Hollow homes

Doug Winters paints in his artist studio, Skypony, which he shares with wife Kiki Curry Winters, pictured below.

Doug Winters paints in his artist studio, Skypony, which he shares with wife Kiki Curry Winters, pictured below. Photos by Coby Almond

When Valley View Center was built in 1973, it wasn’t considered to be Far North Dallas’ eyesore. The center, which is actually located in Preston Hollow, eventually became a shopping hub for locals who frequented anchor stores such as Dillard’s and Macy’s. Changes in the mall’s ownership and the loss of its anchor stores left the mall underused. Nowadays it appears drivers simply view the land as a means to cut across the mostly empty parking lot, dodge Preston Road traffic and access westbound LBJ faster. But it turns out you don’t have to wait the 25 plus years it will take for the city to turn the entire 430 acres — from Preston to the east, the Tollway to the west, LBJ to the south and a line along Southern Street to the north — into the bustling urban district known as Dallas Midtown. Scott Beck, Preston Hollow resident and current Valley View owner, enlisted the help of local artists who aim to make their art space within the mall more prominent than the Design District’s Dragon Street. With fresh canvases and new concepts, Gallery at Midtown’s co-directors, husband and wife duo Kiki Curry Winters and Doug Winters, plan to convince people to stop passing Valley View Center and start stopping.

Kiki Curry Winters from SkyponiesSkyponies lead the way

On a hot day in July 2011, the Winterses rode horseback along a trail in Arizona. The tour guide, a Navajo Indian, had given Kiki the nickname “Sky Pony” and told her she would later understand. Kiki mentioned it to Doug while they were on the ride, to which he remarked that his nickname is “Sky Watcher.” Less than a year later, the two fulfilled their lifelong dream by opening Skypony, their own gallery in Valley View Center. Kiki soon realized why her tour guide gave her the nickname. When she began to paint, the results of her brushstrokes were fierce horses and magnificent skies. When Kiki isn’t painting horses and Doug isn’t using his architectural background to create things like a series of paintings of Dallas for the Omni, the two co-direct the Gallery at Midtown and the entire two wings of the mall it sits on. Twenty artist studios/galleries take up the second floor of the center, and each artist has his or her work featured in the Gallery at Midtown. It’s a collective gallery that features paintings, sculptures, metal art, jewelry, fiber art, photography, pottery and glass works by more than 75 local artists. Beck says he came up with the idea for an artist community while visiting Lincoln Road in South Beach, Fla. He says it was there that a developer turned a small building into an art community with eight galleries. He brought that idea back to Dallas, and it became one of his first projects when he bought the mall in April 2012. Now the Gallery at Midtown is the largest gallery in Dallas. Impressed with their professionalism, in November 2012 Beck gave the Winterses the opportunity to become curators for the gallery and spokespersons for the artists’ two wings of the mall. “Our goal has really come to fruition in a short time,” Beck says. “It’s an artists’ community and studio space run by artists for artists.” There isn’t a shortage of artists, either. Doug says they currently have a two-page waiting list filled with local artists who want their own studio space. “I think once people realize the quality of local art we have here, they won’t go elsewhere,” Doug says. Most galleries work with their artists on a 50/50 percentage; for example, if an artist wants $1,000 for his painting, the gallery will charge $2,000 for it and pocket the other $1,000. At the center’s artist community, Doug and Kiki work with artists on a 90/10 percentage, which allows the artists to sell their works for less, Doug says. Kiki says a lot of people come in and ask when the mall is going to be torn down. Beck says the mall won’t come down until a couple of years from now, and even then the artists will be temporarily relocated until they are moved to a permanent artist community he designed for them. “We are going to be an integral part of this community,” Kiki says.

Midtown ARTwalk

“When we first started here it was a complete dead zone,” Doug Winters says of Valley View Center. Now he and his wife, Kiki Curry Winters, work on various events to let the public know the mall is open. One of those events is the quickly growing Midtown ARTwalk from 6–10 p.m. every third Saturday of the month. Each month featured artists showcase their work; there’s live entertainment including jazz bands, guitarists, keyboardists, violinists and singers; and light food and beverages are served. Doug says he’s going to add panels to the main walkway to display the Gallery at Midtown’s overflow. “We want it to be like you’re coming to an art show here; it’s not just paintings,” Kiki says.

Artist Kevin Obregon stands in front of his massive “Oztopus” mural in the artist’s wing

Artist Kevin Obregon stands in front of his massive “Oztopus” mural in the artist’s wing

The man before the Oztopus

Its tentacles stretch across a 48-foot-long wall in the artist space at Valley View Center. Artist Kevin Obregon painted a giant octopus, or “Oztopus,” as part of a series of modern fantasy and “Wizard of Oz”-type murals by local artists. Beck gave the artists the go-ahead to paint outside their canvases and on his walls, and after Olympic Paint donated about 13 gallons of paint, Obregon got to work. When the mural is finished this summer, it will be a “crazy and intricate” collaboration with other artists. The mural is just one of the many things the multi-talented artist is working on. As the former curator for Art Conspiracy, a group of artists and musicians who work together to benefit local nonprofit art and music organizations, Obregon has his creative hands in a lot of projects. He shares a metal studio in Dallas’ edgy arts district in the Cedars, and he’s working on two different hotel projects using metals and paint along with a series of two- and three-dimensional works based on his seismographic drawings, “where percussive lines meet melodic weight.” And that’s just some of the work he does outside his painting studio at Valley View Center. Obregon was one of the original artists there, so the Winterses gave him his own studio within the Gallery at Midtown, where he works on several projects simultaneously. He enjoys doing live performances in which he directly paints on the canvas instead of mixing colors on a palette. “It’s somewhat representational in the true abstract style,” he says. His piece “Dreamers II” is an example of one of his live works. The piece depicts two people dripping with brilliant greens and blues walking out of the frame on a red background. Kiki says it’s disturbing in a good way. From an artistic standpoint it’s like a story that makes you stop and think, she says. Obregon likens artistic work to “one long record,” where each time one drops the needle it evolves. Obregon speaks of his work with a sense of humility, which is surprising given his 13 years as a full-time artist. Obregon says he and the other artists within the center’s art community protect their fan base and keep them apprised of what they are doing, but that doesn’t mean he thinks this community is a clique. When it comes to the surrounding neighborhood, he believes people will “organically” learn about the community of artists. “Because we are creating our own ecosystem here, we are going to have some curiosity seekers,” he says.

Artist Richard Nuñez stands before his Marilyn Monroe painting that was shot up.

Artist Richard Nuñez stands before his Marilyn Monroe painting that was shot up.

Who shot Marilyn?

On July 7, 2007, someone stole Richard Nuñez’s full-body painting of Marilyn Monroe from the back of his friend’s vehicle. After receiving news coverage regarding the theft, the thieves returned the painting 20 days later — shot up with nine bullet holes. Now the painting sits at the front of Studio Nuñez in Valley View Center. Nuñez moved here in mid-March, but it’s hard to tell. The walls are completely bare. Nuñez says that when he officially opens his gallery later this month, he’ll hang 24 blank canvases on the wall and knock out one a week. Nuñez, whose paintings of icons such as the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn have been featured across the world, says the turnover for his artwork is significant. That’s quite impressive for someone who didn’t join the art world until the age of 45. After working in the restaurant business for years, he decided he’d do more than paint and sketch as a hobby. So he quit his job and took the plunge. “It’s wild that I have money in my pocket just by creating something from a blank canvas,” he says. When the House of Blues in Houston had its grand opening in October 2008, Nuñez was commissioned to do live paintings every night, including one of John Belushi, in which Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were reflected in his sunglasses. Later, when Dan Aykroyd introduced his own brand of wine in February 2009, it was Nuñez who surprised him with a painting of his wine. “People always ask me what my favorite piece is, and I always tell them it’s the next one,” he says. Nuñez says his studio will be open to the public during the day, but VIP only after hours. He says he’ll have a green room for VIP and celebrities and a soundproof room for live recordings, and he’ll host live music and even a speakeasy night. Though it may seem like Nuñez is all about the glitz and glamour, he says he’s actually a charity artist, and part of his proceeds go to organizations that help battered women and children. “It’s such a major issue out there,” he says. “My wife, my other half, is the one who got me involved.”

“Schizophrenic” works

Teta Smith isn’t really schizophrenic, unless it comes to her artwork, she says with a laugh. Smith says that when she paints she uses the medium and style to fit the message she wants to convey — and the possibilities are endless. Her mixed-media painting “Passing on Truths” is a series of little circles flowing out of larger ones. She says the idea came to her when she was thinking about future generations. Smith also shares her mind with others by teaching her students to relax and have fun in her working studio, Teta Smith Studio, at Valley View Center. She says she aims to make her classes fun because students learn to paint when they’re relaxed. Right as she says this, the students in her room can be seen laughing and dancing around the studio. “Painting is a lot less expensive than therapy but just as good,” she says with a chuckle. Smith says she became serious about art 13 years ago while watching a friend paint. “It was just so exciting to watch the colors emerge,” she says. Since May 2011 Smith has worked out of her studio teaching weekly classes to students from all skill levels. Students learn to manipulate acrylics, oils, cold wax and mixed media. “Talent helps, but painting can be learned. So much of getting better at painting is just the dedication to spend the time doing it,” she says. “Once I teach my students the elements and principles of design, they can do anything they want, and it’s most exciting to see them blossom.” Smith says it’s the diversity of the center’s art space that attracts different customers. Scott Beck, Valley View owner, who lives 11 blocks from the mall, says his goal is precisely to re-invite people to the area. “The type of eclectic and interesting art is the same type I have in my house,” Beck says. “This isn’t street art. This is fine art.” The eclectic mix of artwork may appeal to different people, but “the creative synergy that comes about with this many studios makes the people who come get enthused about it like we do,” Smith says. Starting in July, Valley View Center will attract more than diverse customers. Internationally known artists will teach three- to five-day workshops to groups of 20 to 25 students in the center’s community room. “It’s a real opportunity for local artists to get new inspiration and training without having to enroll in college,” she says.