Artist’s Playground: Couple strives to incorporate fine art into everyday life

Artist’s Playground: Couple strives to incorporate fine art into everyday life

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski / Photo by Kimberly Carrillo

As a child, Phillip Payne saw art galleries as his playground. In some ways, he still does.

“I used to play hide-and-go-seek in an art gallery,” Payne says with a laugh. “It probably makes most parents cringe, but that was my world.”

He and his wife, Gabi, now spend their days at their Desert Mountain Fine Art Gallery in Kierland Commons. The duo pride themselves on showcasing a variety of original works, including Western, pop, photography, contemporary and bronze sculptures by the likes of New Mexico artists B.C. Nowlin and Bette Ridgeway.

“It’s a dream come true,” he says. “We approach it a lot more like a museum than a gallery. We’ve really been enjoying curating different things.”

The Paynes encourage artists to experiment. “If they’re famous for landscape, and they want to try painting jellyfish, we want to show it,” he says. “We want to see what the public thinks and be on the cutting edge of fine art.”

The couple planned the gallery for a year and a half. Phillip previously managed a gallery in Santa Fe. The two moved here to fulfill a desire to be more community-oriented.

“Our vision for a gallery was to be somewhere with a steady stream of local residents and become part of that community,” he says. “Santa Fe is very much a tourist town. You don’t get the same people coming through. We want to build relationships with local residents for the types of events and classes that we want to do.”

In September, Desert Mountain Fine Art Gallery will donate artwork to “Time to Shine,” a fundraiser for Phoenix Children’s Hospital. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

“Time to Shine contributions directly support innovative treatments for children battling cancer and the completion of the new Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders opening this fall,” says Steve Schnall, senior vice president and chief development officer at Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Payne says he’s honored to participate. “We’re creating artwork specifically for them,” he says. “We’re always looking for something that’s important to the community and important to us. Where the two things meet is that sweet spot where we want to create content.”

Born in Colorado, Payne was raised by his father, late renowned bronze sculptor Ken Payne, and mother, Karen, in Sedona until age 9. Subsequently, they lived in Chinle and New Mexico. His father died in 2012.

“I grew up in an art family,” he says. “I was surrounded by amazingly talented artists who shared tips and talked about what they were doing.”

Payne, who didn’t study art formally, wants to impart his knowledge and love of art to the next generation. Desert Mountain Fine Art Gallery will host “Painting It Forward,” a workshop for young artists, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays August 12 and August 26. Similarly, an adults-only “Sip and Paint” takes place from 3 to 6 p.m. on the same days.

“We are lucky,” Payne says. “We were blessed for being exposed to fine art. I want to share that with the next generation. I really want to stimulate that right side of the brain and teach them something, as opposed to day-caring.”

He calls his father his inspiration. “My dad inspired a lot of people,” he says wistfully. “I’m just one of many. He was my hero. You’ll see a lot of his work here. He’s really well-collected in Arizona… I’m honored to carry on the legacy.”

Like his father, Payne works in bronze but reflects on historical moments. “I’m a painter and sculptor, but oil painting is my cup of tea,” he says. “Sculpture is such a long-distance run in some ways. It’s a long process. The paintings are a really nice complement. You get instant gratification, as opposed to sculpting, where one piece may take two years.

“You’re pouring yourself into the art. When people see it and react, that’s when the emotional energy comes back. Painting balances the two. My dad was working on a piece for seven years. I asked him how he still has the patience to do it. He said, ‘It’s nothing compared to raising kids.’”

Gabi and Payne met through a volunteer program when she was 16 and he was 17. The couple, who married 11 years ago, also played in a garage band – he on guitars, she on drums.

Like her husband, Gabi is an artist. She’s an oil painter who is inspired by flowers. She uses a palette knife, passed down by her father-in-law, and oil paints to create colorful works.

“She’s been really popular here,” Payne says. “People love the look. It looks great, decoratively. They’re colorful, happy and bold.”

Payne hopes art has the same effect on others that it had on him. “We really hope that everybody will come in and feel welcome,” says Payne, while his dog, Max, plays nearby. “We hope that people bring in their kids and expose them to more art. If it’s a quick run-through, or they participate in our classes, our goal is to make art a bigger part of people’s lives.”

Desert Mountain Fine Art Gallery
Kierland Commons
7012 E. Greenway Parkway, Suite 160