Solar Culture brings art back to 174 E. Toole

October 19, 2011

By Teya Vitu


Life has returned to the small, cadmium red structure at 174 E. Toole Ave., which has sat empty, if colorfully, for the past three years.

George Strasburger at his new gallery at the cadmium red 174 E. Toole building

George Strasburger Gallery/Studio moved into a small nook within on Oct. 7, just a few days after Solar Culture Gallery rented the building from Fenton Investments, which acquired it recently in an uncontested auction.

The relationship between Solar Culture and Fenton Investments has matured quite nicely in the past two years as Steve Fenton acquired six Toole Avenue warehouses in Arizona Department of Transportation auctions.

Solar Culture now rents four of those six warehouses: Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole., The Arches, 35 E. Toole, 19 E. Toole and, since early October, 174 E. Toole. As Fenton first started gobbling up warehouses, the arts community was alarmed that artists would get booted from Toole.

“It’s turning out to be a great experience,” said Steven Eye, director of Solar Culture.

Solar Culture’s newest addition at 174 E. Toole is the only Toole Avenue art space with large, sidewalk display windows.

“Those are the best storefronts on the avenue,” Eye said. “George is great for there. He’s attracting a lot of attention for the block.”

George Strasburger and his partner had just moved to Tucson, but he’s known Eye for years from a previous stint living in Tucson from 1983 to 1993. Strasburger was looking for studio/gallery space; Eye pointed him to 174 E. Toole, curiously vacant for three years with the cadmium red color scheme with which the Museum of Contemporary Art baptized the building in January 2007.

“I thought it was great,” Strasburger said. “What I saw was wall space, northern light, a great view, privacy. It exceeds what I hoped to get. It’s either this or the second bedroom in our apartment.”

The Strasburger Gallery sits across from Skrappy’s and the Toole Shed Studios, and Strasburger’s arrival came just a couple weeks before the anticipated Oct. 22 makeover of the Toole Avenue streetscape with dozens of trees, shrubs and art works.

Strasburger paints oil-on-linen portraits or, as he likes to call them, character studies.

“I would say Caravaggio,” he said when asked about his style. “I’m interested in two things. One is the (person), the character in a Tolstoy sense, basic goodness and basic evil. Second is exploring how people emerge from light.”

Strasburger  grew up in Pennsylvania, moved to Boulder as a young man, came to Tucson for 10 years, then returned to Scranton, Penn., to be close to family. Now it was time to be close to his partner’s family in Tucson.

“I was living in Colorado and wanted to see different parts of the country,” Strasburger said. “When I came to Tucson, it felt like another planet. That’s what brought me here.”