The Order and Randomness of It All | painting exhibition review

The Order and Randomness of It All

New paintings by gallery painters at GVG Contemporary address the intersection of order and chaos

By Christina Procter

Blair Vaughn-Gruler, GVG Contemporary co-owner, set up a basement painting studio as a child. She was fortunate enough to have parents who encouraged her creative explorations as a young artist, gave her a set of oil paints for Christmas when she was 8, and nonchalantly accepted her proclamation “don’t bother me when I’m in the basement.” Over the years, Vaughn-Gruler’s non-objective work has become large-scale and methodically process-based. Now, along with her husband, fine art furniture maker, painter, and sculptor Ernst Gruler, she’s run GVG Contemporary for 10 years, providing a formal exhibition space for an extraordinary group of artists.


The two have now curated a show of new paintings by gallery painters whose approach in an array of media could not be more unique, and yet work in conversation with each other. It’s a conversation that is at once contemporary, nostalgic, futuristic, and imaginative. After a buzzing opening reception with many returning and lots of new visitors on Friday, July 5, the show will be up through Sunday, July 28, 2019.


The show borrows its title from a piece by Lori Schappe-Youens, an abstract expressionist painter who used to live in Michigan, where she met Vaughn-Gruler, but has spent decades now in South Africa. “Lori is a self-taught painter who’s done some training at the University of Michigan,” says Vaughn-Gruler. She points out the cascading turquoise and pops of other colors in Schappe-Youens’s additional, dreamlike pieces in the show, Viscosity and Light I and III. “Pure expressive mark making is what she’s accomplishing here, and she does it remarkably well.”


Schappe-Youens has worked in many mediums, often using acrylics and pencil before applying oil paints. “Part of the charm is you can get engaged in all the tiny marks,” notes Vaughn-Gruler, pointing out the not-so-immediately-obvious. Schappe-Youens addresses ideas of order and chaos by creating a series of similarly composed, turquoise-based paintings for this show that conjure associations of dilapidated structures and new, burgeoning forms that Vaughn-Gruler says “build containers” for the playing she does with the viscosity of paint.


In a very different style, painter Kathleen Hope presents delightful new works that continue to push her unusual play with mediums. Hope works with a mix of cement, plaster, and powdered pigments to creature textured, high-impact, design-oriented pieces like Hydrangeas, which moves from abstracted hydrangeas and blue skies to thick, horizontal gray lines, and Imprint, with bold reds, grays, and blacks exploring patterns likely sourced from the natural or animal world. “Kathy is a powerhouse,” Vaughn-Gruler says. “The media is guiding her. This work is not sourced from dreams or concepts but a physical relationship with her medium.” Hope’s new work joins the two large pieces she has in the gallery, some of the pieces most regularly commented on by visitors, including Red Ballad, which many say looks like an ancient book, and Night Moves, a mysterious, dark piece that incorporates adobe-colored collage-work.


Present at the opening was another longtime GVG Contemporary painter, Elle MacLaren. Also a sound healer, MacLaren works in the challenging medium of encaustics to evoke a sensory response from tactile, abstract expressionistic representations often inspired by landscapes. In the encaustic practice of melting beeswax and resin, MacLaren doesn’t always know what she’s going to get, as the process itself often necessitates incorporating surprises. Her pieces El Malpais I and II are a nod to the surreal and majestic National Monument in western New Mexico. Another piece by MacLaren, the evocative Meltdown, is a stark black and white encaustic and mixed media painting embedded with pine needles. It seems to hold a dark chasm within, one that is, however, being broken up by white forms. “There is so much feeling in MacLaren’s work,” notes Vaughn-Gruler. “She’s shown all over the country.”


Popular in the show was Mary Tomás’ new large piece Fusion, a splash of color, joy, and one what visitor simply called “peace.” Vaughn-Gruler notes, “Tomás creates an atmosphere in her work. She’s working in an ethereal, splendorous form of abstract expressionism.” Tomás uses mixed media to create a textured layer below her swaths of sometimes muted, sometimes bright color work in acrylic paint. She owns a gallery in Dallas, Texas, where Vaughn-Gruler is also represented.


Last but not least, it’s the work of the show’s curators that brings it all together. Ernst Gruler, who started off as a high-end furniture maker and has become a sort of maverick of the arts, creating repurposed steel sound sculptures, lamps made from old steel tanks and tree saplings, and furniture so remarkable in aesthetic and design that a few visitors have said “this should be in Game of Thrones.” On top of all that, he’s also a painter, working in abstract expressionism, but not in the realm of ideas, but rather physicality. “It’s not about the emotions for him so much, I don’t think,” observes Vaughn-Gruler. “He’s letting the medium guide him.”


For Gruler, art is a kind of meditation, a practice he started informally since he was a teenager. Like him, Gruler’s work is always moving and evolving, and perhaps never arrived. “The way I see it, even enlightenment is just another step on the way to enlightenment,” says Gruler, who has studied various Eastern philosophies but ascribes to no doctrine. “Enlightenment is just another phase so long as we’re in this mortal casing.” The meditative aspect to his work aside, Gruler creates aesthetic objects that are also often functional: a sound sculpture one can ring like a bell, a tank that becomes a lamp that you can turn on and off (and fade) with a tap, a wave-like table that brings people closer together than typical designs. One visitor at the show, David Haines, whose daughter is also an artist, commented: “I like Ernst’s bells best—original, rustic, and functional.”


Vaughn-Gruler’s work might be that which best addresses the show’s theme: Order and Randomness. Her large work Lineage exemplifies her process-based approach to painting, in which she buildings layer upon layer of shapes, curves, and lines in a meditative progression. “It could be interpreted as putting order to the chaos,” says Vaughn-Gruler, pointing out the graphite scribbling at the base of her Equilibrium I and II paintings. Interestingly, Vaughn-Gruler never plans her compositions, though they come out perfectly balanced. She follows her hand and thoughts as she moves the paintbrush, starting in one area and building out.


“I like the space between organization and chance, so there’s a tension back and forth,” says Vaughn-Gruler. She adds, “I also listen to talk radio my studio, which seems to foster a process of re-contextualizing emotional reactions to politics into shapes and lines.” Each painting seems to work through chaos, arriving at a point where “the chaos smooths out.” Vaughn-Gruler, who started painting as that little girl with a studio of her own, completed a BFA in Painting in 1974, and her MFA in Visual Art in 2010, 30 years later. She says doing this later in life has had a profound impact on her painting practice. She says, “it is endlessly compelling to use the vocabulary I discovered in grad school, and keep folding it over on itself, mining it for more meaning and connection.”


Visitors can infer their own meaning to the abstract expressionistic and non-objective work currently up at GVG Contemporary. At the opening reception for this show, we asked people to vote on what they thought was “Best in Show.” What’s most fascinating is that most people had an entirely different answer, with very few votes for the same piece. Vaughn-Gruler’s Little Drawings, however—5 x 7 pieces that compress the skill of the painter’s larger works—came in first. One visitor, however, gave a compelling vote for Elle MacLaren’s piece Haywire. “A view from my childhood,” reflected Karen Heiken. In the midst of The Order and Randomness of It All, perhaps it doesn’t get much better than that.

Blair Vaughn-Gruler of GVG Contemporary Interviewed by Voyage ATL

Today we’d like to introduce you to Blair Vaughn-Gruler.

Blair, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am a painter and my husband, Ernst Gruler, is also an artist. We had been living in Sedona, Arizona and making most of our living through selling our artwork and real estate projects when 2008 happened. The galleries that were representing us started to close, and of course, the real estate market changed dramatically. We decided to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico and open our own art gallery.

This was not completely out of left field: we had had a successful retail venture for 12 years in the boutique business, so knew something about retail, we had art inventory of our own, and knew a plethora of professional artists to possibly represent, and I was in graduate school in a low residency, research-based MFA program that had me deeply immersed in the art world on many levels.

That was almost 10 years ago. Our gallery, GVG Contemporary, is thriving and we have built solid reputations for ourselves as artists and for the other artists, we represent. We are considered one of the best contemporary galleries in this city of over 200 galleries, which is humbling and also a testament to believing in yourself, staying the course and hard work! Our collectors are from all over the country – including many in Atlanta – and also from around the globe.

Of course, there was a certain amount of – shall we say “discomfort” involved in diving into a new business in a new city as the bank accounts dwindled and the stakes kept getting higher. Did I mention that our 2 sons were also in college and grad school at the time?

With nowhere to go but up, we developed a vision and have watched it manifest. My own work has continued to develop and gain more presence in the art world. While the retail sales of my paintings are gratifying, the best part is growing as an artist and having the opportunity to be immersed in a meaningful art practice.

My husband Ernst has had a similar experience with his own work, and those 2 sons, both also artists, have made their homes in Santa Fe as well, Both of them have been founding members of the artist collective known as Meow Wolf, which has taken the art world by storm

Out of a scary time came a wonderful future. We re grateful we took the leap.

Has it been a smooth road?
The first summer we opened our gallery, we were just about out of money. I was flying out to the summer residency for my grad school program and had no funds to get back at the end, 2 weeks later. The day my husband had a $5,000 art sale about halfway through the residency meant I could return home after all. It was an incredible relief – and an affirmation that we were going in the right direction after all.

From there, the emotional and financial roller coaster ride continued for several years as the economy struggled and we worked to build a new business within it. Each sale, no matter how small, usually meant we could get groceries. Many, many months we pulled off paying our rents by making a sale on the last day of the month, like some kind of miracle.

And then slowly, about 5 years in, we started to see sales numbers that were more predictable. Repeat collectors, new opportunities to show our work and good employees have helped to smooth out the roller coaster.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with GVG Contemporary – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We are a contemporary, artist-owned art gallery in a city with over 200 galleries – the 3rd largest art market in the US.

I am quite proud of being able to maintain the title of an artist owned gallery because it is really 2 full-time jobs (artist and gallerist).

We specialize in paintings, sculpture, fine art furniture and jewelry by mid-career and emerging artists. The paintings we show are predominately non-objective (abstract), and all the work is material forward.

I am also proud of our customer service, and consider the gallery to also be an educational venue. Gallery owners and staff always work to help people understand the art world – especially in terms of contemporary art – all day every day.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
Santa Fe is a wonderful artist community.


  • Artwork available at GVG Contemporary ranges from $100 to $30,000

Contact Info:

  • Address: 241 Delgado Street
    Santa Fe, NM 87501
  • Website:
  • Phone: 505-982-1494
  • Email:
  • Instagram: @gvgcontemporary
  • Facebook: gvgcontemporary

Voyage ATL is a blog specializing in local creatives and artists in the Atlanta, Georgia area.

GVG Studio Tour: Jeffie Brewer Artist Interview


Jeffie Brewer | 2017 | sculptures from left to right | Yellow Bunny | Yes! | Orange Kitty | With Friends Like This | Giraffe Monster (all available at GVG Contemporary)


“I make things. I show people how to make things. I have an insatiable desire to create, to explore, to understand. I work with my hands. I work with my head.”  –Jeffie Brewer

Jeffie Brewer grew up in a small, rural town in East Texas. The son of eccentric junk yard owners, he learned to spot beauty in the mundane, developed an array of industrial skills and discovered he had a knack for drawing. Those early revelations have influenced his artistic trajectory ever since. Recently, I had the pleasure of conducting an interview over email to get to know about the artist behind the Kitties, Bunnies, Robots, Clouds, and Monsters that grace GVG’s sculpture gardens.


Enamel over steel sculptures from left to right | Red Bird | Junkyard Cloud | Yellow Bunny | Blue Kitty | Red Monster | various sizes | 2017


Renee – How about your share a formative experience from your early life as an artist.

Jeffie – I grew up in a smallish town in Texas, the son of a junk man. Across the highway from the junkyard was an old gas station. The gas station had candy. On occasion, I could coax money from my dad who was affectionately known as “Crazy Ray,” and make the harrowing journey to the wax lips, chico sticks or whatever other weird 1970’s candy was available.

In this specific summer day memory, Palestine, Texas was as hot, dry and dusty as one can imagine. Being made up of 99% sweet tooth I could hear the siren song of cokes and candies. After procurement of money and blessing to cross highway 79, I embarked on my heroes quest.

As I stared out across the dusty highway dark clouds filled the sky and it started to rain. I could see the line of rain come into view, engulf the station and then stop midway between me and the candy. The rain lasted just a moment and then just stopped leaving a perfect line between me and the store. I was transfixed. Where I was going was washed clean and new, where I stood dusty and unchanged.

I pinpoint this moment as maybe my first aesthetic moment. I was overwhelmed with emotion and wonder, every time I recount this story it gets me. I try to see beauty – it’s my job.

from left to right: PoP, Junkyard PoP, ‘esprit-d’escalier, and Blue Bird | enamel over steel | various sizes


Renee – What is your preferred media and why?

Jeffie – Pastels – I can work fast and intuitively, building a drawing quickly. The drawings are where the sculpture comes from. The drawings are free and joy-filled play. Steel is up there but steel is hard work and we have a love-hate relationship with hard work.

Renee – Describe a typical studio day for you.

Jeffie – Wake, panic. That’s the only constant.

There is no typical, every day is an adventure. I teach so I’m floating back and forth from selfish to selfless all the time. On the non-teaching days, I have the best intentions to hit the studio early and draw a bit, then get my assistant going once he arrives, then on to welding and grinding or bending. If it’s too hot or cold in the afternoon I do computer design, proposals or things like this. On teaching days I sneak in work at school or sometimes draw alongside students. I do half days at the university two days a week so it’s a delicate dance. I think it’s great for my students to see that I’m an active working artist and not just a stuffy academic blowhard. Lead by example.

But as I said there is no typical – it’s an adventure.

Jeffie Brewer | Drawn Flowers | enamel over steel | various sizes


Renee – What is the most indispensable item in your studio?

Jeffie – My assistant. If I need someone to grind (the most boring thing all day…) he’s got it. Indispensable.

Renee – How has your practice changed over time?

Jeffie – It’s always in flux. It goes from work to fun back to work in a day. 25 years ago it started as play then morphed into work… all work, so much so I stopped making “art” for a few years. In the past 7-8 years, it has merged into both. In these recent years with commercial success and seeing the public works out in the world mixed with making work that is fun and accessible… redemption.

Renee – What do you listen to when you’re working?

Jeffie – Crippling self-doubt… no. Dogs barking? Grinders? A shuffling mix of the most eclectic music ever. Right now there is a sassy flamenco song playing –  I’ll come back when the next song drops… Lionel Richie, Three Times a Lady (wow)- Peaches, Boys Wanna Be Her- something from Rachmaninov (it was long)- Ted Hawkins, Green-eyed Girl – Mike Snow- Merle Haggard, Kendrick Lamar, Adam Green, the Bear Necessities from the Jungle Book… I couldn’t make this up. You get the point. I’m all over the place.

Renee – Name three career milestones that you’ve hit so far.

Jeffie – Commercial success, fame and fortune seem like the right answers but I think I’ve had fun, I’ve led a creative life, and I’ve shared that life through teaching for 20 years. That seems more sincere.

Renee – One more question, what are three artistic goals that you hold yourself to for the future?

Jeffie – Make it bigger, dumber and better as far as the work goes… International, another residency, and more public art.

“We are given a brief amount of time together. As an artist, I consider it a gift to be able to share my vision and experience. Sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s thoughtful and a lot of the time it’s just silly.” –Jeffie Brewer

Jeff earned an MFA in sculpture and metals and an MA in sculpture and painting from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he currently serves as Assistant Professor of Sculpture.

To read more about GVG’s artists through the GVG Studio Tour Series, click here.

All interviews have been conducted by Renee Lauzon, Gallery Manager at GVG Contemporary. If you have any questions you can email Renee at

To see more of Jeffie’s work, stop by GVG Contemporary @ 241 Delgado Street in Santa Fe, NM, or visit his online gallery page, by clicking here.