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IX Redux

After moving to a fresh city and show venue, IX9 delivers a spectacular first show at its new home.

 

By Sunday, Oct. 23, the holes were starting to show.

IX9, formerly known as Illuxcon, had been going on for five days, and as the final morning commenced, red dots were being replaced with more and more empty spaces on display walls as collectors claimed their spoils. Over the previous four days, hundreds of visitors had passed through the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading, Pa., to peruse, examine, and purchase some of the more than 2,000 works of imaginative realism on display. Now, as the show dwindled into its final hours, paintings and sculptures were being packed for destinations as close as Philadelphia and as far away as the United Kingdom and Australia.

To be sure, IX9 had been a successful week of firsts: the show’s first time in Reading, its first time at the GoggleWorks venue, and its first time combining the main show and the weekend salon into one giant exposition. And even though many artists had the opportunity to sell some of their work, the real draw of IX was the camaraderie, the fellowship, and the educational opportunities. For repeat attendees, it was a chance to see old friends and meet new ones; for first timers, it was a chance to enter a one-of-a-kind fantasyland for a few days and emerge dazzled.

 

IX Reborn

Launched in 2008, Illuxcon was the first juried art show, symposium, and gala dedicated solely to imaginative realism. Nine years on, the event has grown to international prominence — and was in need of a new show space to accommodate its continued expansion. After several successful years at the Allentown Art Museum, IX organizers in 2015 signed a five-year deal with GoggleWorks to move the show to Reading until 2020.

As a result, expectations were high going into this year’s IX9. How would the new show space and host city perform? Would it be a step in the right direction or a costly mistake that would take years to correct?

Overwhelmingly, exhibitors felt that GoggleWorks was the right ingredient to foster IX’s continued growth.

Billed as a place to “nurture the arts, foster creativity, promote education, and enrich the community,” GoggleWorks is, like so many adaptive architectural spaces in the Northeast, a former factory that once made optical glass. To wander through the five-story building today is to pass through 145,000 square feet of original brick, exposed industrial ceilings filled with pipes and conduits, and tall windows that provide plenty of natural light.

 

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Framed by the brick walls and large windows of the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading, Pa., Iris Compiet sketches at her booth. (Photo by Patrick Scalisi)

 

“I like the venue,” said Kelly Potts Martinez, a wearable sculpture artist from Devon, U.K. “It makes a great exhibit space that juxtaposes between art and industry.”

Sitting next to her table, purple hair framing her face, Kelly was eager to show off the dragons, fairies, and other fantastical creatures at her booth. All are made to adorn the wearer’s body, and she is just one example of how imaginative realism as a genre is pushing boundaries beyond traditional fine art.

“An art form is an art form,” Kelly went on. “It just happens that my preferred medium is imaginative realism, mythology, and fantasy. People are just starting to accept that this is an expression of the genre.”

Similarly, IX exhibitors spent the first hours of the event growing in acceptance of the new event space. By way of both a secondary wood-paneled elevator straight out of the 1950s and a gray-and-white stairwell, artists traveled between IX9’s four (!) floors of exhibit space to reconnect with old friends, visit other booths, and even scope out some of the things they might be interested in buying before the end of the weekend.

However, the show’s spacious accommodations was also the thing most cited as in need of improvement in the years to come. Though IX volunteers explained the show’s layout to every registered attendee, some missed the fact that the show extended all the way to the fourth floor — or felt that there was simply too much to see on floors one and two (the third floor was mostly for workshops) to make it to the fourth floor on their first day. Artists reported a bit less foot traffic than their counterparts on the lower level, though organizers confirmed that sales were distributed evenly among every floor.

 

 

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Even though he was located on the fourth floor, no one had a problem finding MTG artist Mark Zug’s booth to get cards, prints, and even playmats signed. (Photo by Patrick Scalisi)

 

 

Still, having the space to breathe — not to mention GoggleWorks’ high ceilings and superior lighting — was a touch better than the sometimes-cramped conditions that IX experienced in its final year in Allentown. Venue organizers were prepared with gear that made it very easy for artists to set up their booths and target their lighting.

“GoggleWorks proved to be a phenomenal venue for the show,” said Patrick Wilshire, co-founder and director of IX. “We got positive comments from both artists and attendees — people loved the space, the lighting, and the ‘vibe,’ and collectors especially appreciated the fact that the show was broken up with discrete spaces and areas.”

As for how things can be even better next year, Patrick added with a smile, “Going forward it would be nice if the main elevator at GoggleWorks wouldn’t break down an hour before the show opened.”

 

A Place for Novices and Veterans

Like so many others, Steve Ferris was attending IX for the first time. Hailing from Long Island, N.Y., Steve’s booth occupied a front-and-center space on the second floor and was hung with several of the oversized and stunningly colorful paintings for which he has become known. With a detachment of beautiful Valkyries riding behind him through a cloud the color of a candy apple, Steve shared some of his expectations for the show.

“I’m hoping to network with art directors or people looking for talent and peers who have been doing this for a while,” he said in his distinct New York accent. “I’ve also been enjoying all of the talent.”

Talent is a word that is used often at IX, mainly because artists don’t look at the show as merely a sales venue, but as an opportunity for professional development and growth. There are just as many conversations about brush technique as there are deals being made because the hallmark of every artist at IX is, unfailingly, a devotion to lifelong learning.

“I’ve already been sharing information and techniques with students and peers, learning from each other,” Steve continued. “I have approaches that have opened the eyes of other artists, and that’s a two-way street.”

 

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Steve Ferris’ “A Flight from Valhalla” is seen on display. (Photo by Patrick Scalisi)

 

For artists at the beginning of their careers or still in school, IX offered more than just a potential shopping spree. This year’s programming included workshops on, of course, art techniques, but also on how to work with a model, how to navigate a contract, how to handle intellectual property questions, and even how to deal with depression and anxiety. As it has grown, IX had become a one-stop shop for both collectors and artists looking to get a bit of higher education.

For Quintin Gleim of Ohio, IX encapsulated the full spectrum of experiences — as a showcase artist, he was able to show off some of his work; as a student, he was able to learn; and as an art aficionado, he was able to meet some of his heroes.

“I got a ton of great, great advice,” Quintin said while making his final rounds on the last day, sketchbook in hand. “A few people mentioned the same thing, so I know I have to work on that for sure.”

In addition to vending, Quintin was able to network and get ideas about how to push his work forward and “get to that professional level.” Plus, getting to meet “Donato Giancola and David Palumbo is just insane. Being able to talk to them was surreal.”

 

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Legendary imaginative realism artist Michael Whelan demonstrates a painting technique.

(Photo by Patrick Scalisi)

 

Up on the fourth floor, artist Linda Adair’s booth occupied a place of honor at the gallery entrance. As one of the featured commission artists of IX9, Linda was charged with producing a major personal work that was used to promote the show, the imaginative realism genre, and her own work. These commissions, according to show organizers, are a key part of the IX mission — encouraging the creation of new, major traditional media works at a scale and complexity unlimited by standard deadlines or content restrictions.

And boy did Linda deliver. Her piece, “Adolescence,” was used in IX9 marketing collateral and featured prominently throughout the event. To see the painting in person, though, was a special experience, an almost voyeuristic look at a young dragon and a young girl, and the connection between them.

“I wanted an intimate piece,” Linda explained. “It was a very simple, original idea, and I wanted to keep it that way.”

 

A Feast for Magic Fans

If you spend enough time roaming the IX show space, chances are good you’ll see what might be considered an unusual sight: a guest asking an artist to sign something the size of a playing card.

Among the hundreds attending the show was a cadre of Magic: The Gathering fans, often carrying backpacks or cardboard cases full of ephemera from the famous collectible card game. This is no coincidence, though, since the thousands of pieces of art that have been used in Magic since the game’s inception in 1993 have played a large part in bringing modern imaginative realism into the mainstream. Today, Magic’s publisher, Wizards of the Coast, remains one of the most respected fantasy art clients in the gaming industry, and many of the younger artists at IX cited the desire to work on Magic or sister game Dungeons & Dragons as their ultimate goal.

Over the past several years, IX has become a bigger draw for fans of the game’s artwork than even the largest international Magic tournament. At IX9, more than 45 Magic artists were in attendance — an astounding number, and surely one of the game’s biggest art reunions in recent memory.

 

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Artist Scott M. Fischer (second from right), who has contributed more than 140 pieces of art to Magic: The Gathering, talks to fellow artists. (Photo by Patrick Scalisi)

 

An even bigger enticement for collectors than getting cards signed was the chance to buy original art from the game. Once a niche industry in which paintings sold for pennies on the dollar, Magic art today can command hundreds or thousands of dollars. Paintings from the game’s early years or associated with especially powerful cards can fetch five figures.

“As a collector of original Magic: The Gathering art, IX was certainly the place to be,” said Phil Li of New Jersey. “Seeing that much talent all congregated in one place was awe-inspiring. It’s like being a kid in a candy store all over again — much to the chagrin of my wallet!”

Phil went on to explain what an opportunity it was to meet artists like Lars Grant-West, Mark Zug, Rob Alexander, David Palumbo, and Aaron Miller at the main show. For their part, the artists all expressed their gratitude for the chance to meet and talk with fans in a setting that is less stressful than, say, a Grand Prix tournament. All were happy to sign cards, show off prints, and even let lucky buyers peruse original art.

On Friday and Saturday night, Vintage Magic had a vendor table at the IX showcase to display original artwork and unique MTG collectibles, such as ultra-rare Beta artist proofs. Among the most striking pieces on view were “Brainstorm” by the late Chris Rush from the 1995 expansion Ice Age and the reimagined “Force of Will” by Terese Nielsen’s from this summer’s Eternal Masters. (Many pieces of original Magic art are available for purchase at VintageMagic.com.)

 

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Daniel Chang (right), president of Vintage Magic, and Jeremy Jones (center) look on as Magic: The Gathering artist Rob Alexander gestures at a case of artist proofs at the Vintage Magic vendor table at the IX9 Showcase.

 

A number of Magic artists were also at the showcase, including legends Liz Danforth and Jeff A. Menges, and current artists like Zack Stella and Ryan Yee. Liz, in particular, wrote a touching reflection follow IX that perfectly summarized the event for Magic and non-Magic artists alike: that IX is a singular experience that touches one’s “artistic soul.”

 

A Universal Team

IX is different things to different people. Whether you’re an artist or a collector, a student or gallery mainstay, a sculptor or a painter — or some combination of these — the show unfailing provides an experience that lingers for days and weeks after the display walls have been emptied and the floors have been swept for the next event.

Artist Carly Janine Mazur of Connecticut has been coming to IX for the past seven years — nearly the entire show’s history. She has seen Illuxcon grow and herself as an artist alongside it. In fact, she got her first freelance assignments through her presence at the IX showcase.

“The first couple of years, I would come and scope the place out, see how the tables were displayed. Then I started to do prints. Now I’m doing the Inktober stuff, and that changed me artistically,” Carly explained as guests flipped through a bin of pay-what-you-want prints at her booth.

 

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A buyer peruses sketches for sale at the IX9 showcase, often a place for up-and-coming artists to show off their work. (Photo by Patrick Scalisi)

 

Fellow artist Andrea Sipl of Atlanta isn’t surprised by this assessment. A showcase presenter for the past several years, Andrea says the energy of IX is palpable. It’s almost as if the art community is participating in the creation of an unfathomable mosaic that spans time, space, and potential — not surprising given the community’s closeness.

“I really feel connected to the other artists,” she said. “Even though we all have different styles, we’re all connected by this unspoken language. We all have the same hopes, fears, and wishes. We’re all part of the same team.”

For more information on IX, including 2017 dates, jury deadlines, and more, visit illuxcon.com.

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