OpticalReverb, the Web site, originated as a place for writers to post their poems and musings. But before long, Jason Zacharias, newly arrived in Colorado Springs from Kansas City, Mo., realized that his site could also be a gallery for painters, graffiti artists, sculptors, printmakers and visual artists of most any medium.
"I met [local artist] Marc Huebert and discovered the parallel universe of visual art," says Zacharias, wiry and intense with a shaved head and a carved brow.
Huebert's paintings and drawings can be found via a drop-down menu on opticalreverb.com, along with the work of more than 100 other artists. Zacharias has built what he refers to as an "art hub," a central online site where artists can post their portfolios and sell their work. The bulk of artists represented are local, though some contribute portfolios from distant locations.
With OpticalReverb, Zacharias joined a worldwide wave of thousands of online art galleries, and has since expanded his art hub to include other "land" locations in Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
Once the Web site took off, Zacharias, armed with enthusiasm and a newfound appreciation of visual art, became a hands-on curator in a physical gallery space at the then-new Cedars Jazz Club. For a year, he hung shows ranging from graffiti to classical batik.
"Basically, I talked the owners into thinking outside the box and bringing in new kinds of people," he says. Benefits were staged, lighting was added, there were hip-hop and breakdance shows. "I raised hell out there, basically."
When Cedars and Zacharias parted ways in 2005 "we decided we'd outgrown one another," Zacharias says the curator jumped into a number of other venues. He opened his own gallery space in the Depot Arts District, OpticalReverb, and convinced bar and restaurant owners in the Springs and in Pueblo to use their vast walls as gallery spaces with changing exhibits.
Downtown's Phantom Canyon, his first and most successful site, now promotes several artists at once in shows hung, lighted and designed by Zacharias.
"[Works] sell better here than in my own gallery," he says.
Don Goede, who helped bring the recent show of Ron English's work to OpticalReverb, believes Zacharias closes the gap between new, interesting artists and potential buyers a great service in an otherwise scattered and fragmented art community.
"Jason seems to have his finger on the pulse of, for lack of a better word, the counterculture," says Goede. "The Web site is kind of a one-stop place to go and see the work of local artists. He's got a good eye and he loves to curate and get the art out there in the eye of the public.
"He's really representing that experimental culture where, in my opinion, truly great art is born."
Love and hate
Zacharias says that, in general, he likes to introduce an artist's works at the OpticalReverb space, then move them to one of the satellite galleries, like downtown's V Bar or Park East, a Pueblo restaurant that separates City Park and the city zoo. Between all his physical venues, he is currently showing the work of around 20 artists.
After a couple years developing the satellite concept, Zacharias feels it has peaked here. He hopes to find work as a curator in a gallery elsewhere, possibly out of state, where he can introduce Springs artists to other audiences and direct new artists here. At the same time, he hopes to hire one or two employees who will keep the OpticalReverb concept going locally.
Zacharias says he's always looking for artists who raise eyebrows, like Jason Kehl, whose work at OpticalReverb Gallery featured a piece with four photos of the artist sculpting himself.
"In one piece, he was lifting art out of his brain, then eating, or possibly pondering, it. It freaked people out," he says, laughing. "To me, it's good to have an emotional response one way or another to a piece. Either I love it or I hate it."
He has grown to appreciate what he calls "the power behind the work," and the artists' individual visions. Brett Wilson, for example, whose work is currently showing at Phantom Canyon, is a "spiritually based artist, very slow and precise, head-on, straight."
Zacharias says he's had many more plans for his Depot Arts District space, like concerts under the bridge, which may still see the light. He's also planning some big fall shows that will feature more artists from out of state alongside locals like Huebert.
He's encouraged for the local art scene by what he sees happening in new venues like Rubbish, a small gallery in the Bijou Street alley, and by the Emerging Arts Leaders group, which has come together to celebrate and shake up the arts in the Springs.
What does Zacharias want to tell the larger community?
"Buy some local art. Quit supporting Hobby Lobby and Target."
Relevant Locale II, works by Sam Pisciotta, Brett Wilson and Lance Butcher
Phantom Canyon, 2 E. Pikes Peak Ave.
Paintings by Martin McCormick
V Bar, 19 E. Kiowa St.
Train Station Glimpses, Works by Tim Davis, JeffJag, Michael Sanderson, Tylan Troyer, Erica Reyes, Douglas Rouse and Pathos
Park East, 720 Goodnight Ave., Pueblo
Behind the Door, Inside the Mirror
OpticalReverb Gallery, 218 W. Colorado Ave., Suite 101
Friday, Sept. 8, 5-8 p.m.