Monday, September 21, 2009

From The Ashes-An Article from the Metroland Magazine

Here is an excellent article written by my friend Kathryn Lange Guerin about Sam and the gallery fire for Metroland Magazine, on the stands right now.

Samson Contompasis
Photo and article by Kathryn Geurin

From the Ashes
A month after a fire demolished Albany’s newest gallery, individual determination and community support have made huge strides toward rebuilding
By Kathryn Geurin

Samson Contompasis seems completely at ease in his temporary role as construction foreman. No stranger to sweat and power tools, the hulking artist has sculpted stone and painted cityscapes that stretch for yards. But his latest effort is one of restoration and rebirth.
A month after an electrical fire burned through his apartment and gallery, Contompasis is shaping a pile of lumber into new interior walls in the expansive, gutted Albany loft. Sawdust sticks to a layer of sweat, and he steps onto the rusty balcony for a smoke, still volleying affectionate insults at his father and fellow artists working inside.
“If the gods want to test our mettle, then so be it. The show must go on,” wrote Contompasis in an open letter to friends, family and supporters of the Marketplace Gallery on the day after the fire. Five months and five art shows earlier, Contompasis and his two brothers had established apartments and opened a burgeoning gallery space in the old Greenbush Tape and Label building on Broadway. The fire claimed everything in Contompasis’ apartment except for a few photographs. Fire, smoke and water damaged artwork. Xena, the family’s beloved American Bulldog, was lost to the blaze.
“That’s the hardest thing,” chokes Contompasis. “I can laugh about everything else, even the artwork. We lived in Xena’s house,” he smiles. “That’s just the way it was.”
But losing nearly everything wasn’t going to deter the artist from continuing to build what he’d begun. “I’m trying to think of it as a chance to have a blank slate,” he says, “a clean, clear canvas. We’re pretty much just taking everything that the gallery was and improving on it. And really, that’s all art is, taking something and making it better.”
Less than 12 hours after the fire, Contompasis was back inside, boxing up whatever could be salvaged, tossing whatever was destroyed. The next day he’d begun demolishing the ruined interior walls.
He is at once wildly energized and deeply peaceful about the process. Over the shrieks of power tools, Contompasis shouts his serene philosophy. “That’s just what needed to be done. There’s nothing else you can do. My brothers and I all bucked up, packed up what was left, and started starting over.”
All three brothers are artists. All lost something to the fire. All are determined to rebuild. “We all create. Through that we’ve created a network, and that network has supported us through this.”
The day of the fire, the folks from Tess’ Lark Tavern in Albany contacted Contompasis to let him know they were already planning a fundraiser. This past weekend Silver Fox Architectural Salvage and Drops of Jupiter floral design studio joined forces in throwing a fundraiser at Albany Flea. Befitting the gallery they were organized to support, the events resounded with creativity and community. On Sunday, live music set a soundtrack for work on a communal painting. Kids in garbage-bag smocks worked alongside professional artists and 20-something hipsters. Cash donations taped to a whimsical blue money tree fluttered in the breeze, and fire-damaged art hung for sale alongside unscathed work.
After dark, a troupe of fire spinners put on a blazing show that spoke to Contompasis’ spirit of affirmative defiance—the element of destruction harnessed for celebration and rebuilding.
“The support has been magnanimous. It’s been coming from everywhere—fellow artists, people who have never seen our place, people who had never even heard of it, people who knew all about it, even people that literally just feel bad about losing Xena.”
The efforts have already raised between $2,000 and $3,000, with donations ranging from $1 raffle tickets to $500 checks, and every penny has gone to buy building materials. “Thanks to all the support, we have the means to just go get our materials and get to work,” say Contompasis. “We haven’t had to waste time wondering where we’re going to get wood or screws. All our energy has been put toward rebuilding. It’s very motivating.”
The first fundraiser raised enough for Contompasis to purchase the lumber and begin rebuilding. The second funded the purchase of the rest of the lumber and some of the wiring. “It’s all been happening in phases,” says Contompasis, “Putnam Den in Saratoga, I just did a gigantic mural up there, they offered to help in any way they could, so we’re planning an event there sometime in mid to late October. We still have to buy outlets and lighting, around 100 pieces of sheetrock, we have a ways to go, but we’re going.”
On Sept. 4—the third anniversary of Albany’s 1st Friday, and only two weeks after the fire—Contompasis mounted Epic, the art show he’d been planning to open that evening. “A fire is not going to stop me from having a show,” he insists. “I already had the artists lined up. I just needed walls to hang it on.” Space at 4 Central Ave. was donated as a temporary home for the gallery, and the show went forward as planned.
Contompasis hopes to reopen the Marketplace gallery in early November, and a short visit to the bustling site makes that daunting goal seem entirely achievable.
“I want every person who walks into this place to see where the money went,” says Contempassis, surveying the still-hollow shell of the loft, his vision of the future sparking behind his eyes. “I want the entire gallery to say thank you, to show people that this is beautiful—that every one of them was part of this rebirth.”


Lola Nova said...

Wonderful article, thanks for sharing it.

Karin said...

That is unbelievably inspiring.

Melissa and Emmitt said...

hi mare

oh what an amazing story. thank you so much for posting about his progress on the rebuilding. what an inspiring person he is!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article, and congrats and kudos to your writer friend. What an awesome story.

Mare said...

Thank you everybody! Kathryn IS a great writer, isn't see? And every thing she wrote about Sam is true and accurate. He is something special...