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Davis, California

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

New studio and gallery brings ‘art renaissance’ to Davis

Secret Spot’s founders discuss their recent open-call show and Davis’ art scene


By LAILA AZHAR — features@theaggie.org


Secret Spot Davis is just that — a secret spot. Located behind The Wardrobe, the art studio would be hard to come across to anyone who wasn’t looking for it. 

“We’ve lived in Davis our whole lives and we know lots of lifelong Davis people,” Harry Greer, one of the co-founders, said. “We would tell them where the spot was, and they’d be like, ‘Where?’”

Once you are in on the secret, however, it’s hard to forget it. 

On Jan. 12, the studio hosted an open-call show titled “YOU,” aimed at highlighting the local community’s art. “It’s a show about you,” an Instagram post advertising the show described it. “No application fees, all levels, all humans.” 

Far from the silence typically associated with art galleries or museums, Secret Spot buzzed with excitement. People laughed and chatted as they roamed the studio. Visitors joined in with Greer playing a drum and bass set, filling the venue with lively music. 

The show displayed a wide variety of art, from vivid paintings of mythical creatures to poetry pasted on a glittery canvas, to a skateboard covered in colorful doodles. In one corner, jewelry, stickers and tarot cards were for sale. In another, a man stood completely still. “Weird Art Gallery Visitor,” the gallery tag pinned to his shirt read. “$50.” 

“What happens if we give you $50?” a visitor asked. He didn’t break his silence.

Secret Spot opened its doors in September of 2023. The studio’s founders — Greer, alongside Toni Rizzo and Stephanie Peel — had previously been working from home. 

“It was really cramped,” Rizzo said. “I really just needed a studio space.” 

The space that Secret Spot has afforded them has allowed their art to reach new heights — quite literally, as their previous show, “The Big Show,” involved the three artists painting on five-by-four-foot canvases. 

Greer cites the memory of the three artists “cranking it out together” for “The Big Show” as one of his favorite memories of the studio. 

“I’m pretty new to painting, so it was quite the undertaking,” Greer said. 

Their most recent show, “YOU,” was Peel’s idea.

“I wanted to do something to give back to the art community,” Peel said. 

For the vast majority of the artists involved, “YOU” marked the first time their work had been hung in a gallery, exemplifying Secret Spot’s goal to support emerging artists. 

“As cool as the established art community is in town, it’s not really geared towards younger people, it’s not geared towards people who are not really experienced in the art world yet,” Rizzo said. “We wanted something new that most people could relate to.”

Peel echoed this sentiment, saying she “wasn’t satisfied” with existing opportunities. 

“I was looking for the ‘weird,’” Peel said. 

Secret Spot’s commitment to emerging artists and subversive art is reflected in more than just the unique pieces exhibited during “YOU.” The wide variety of artist statements told stories of their own. Some consisted of paragraphs, some were a few lines. Some were typed and printed, some were handwritten. One was even written on a UC Davis College of Engineering post-it. 

“A lot of people had never done an artist statement before,” Greer said. “So it was really cool seeing people try to describe themselves and their work.”

Rizzo expressed her gratitude for being able to give people first-time experiences, whether that be with writing an artist statement, wiring a canvas the proper way or displaying their work. She also described gallery experiences of her own, “[I] didn’t know anything, and learned so much the hard way.” 

She aims to share her artist knowledge with the greater Davis community. 

“Long gone are the days of just focusing on yourself and getting yourself ahead,” Rizzo said. “Knowing how much work it has taken for us to get our foot in the door, might as well keep our foot in the door for everyone else.” 

This collective approach to art, which looks out for the community as a whole, is reflected in the Secret Spot founders’ love for the Davis art world. 

“Support your local scene. Find the weird things happening and go to them,” Greer advised, recommending the Good and Weird Davis website as a resource to find events. 

“If you want cool stuff in your town you have to support the cool stuff,” Rizzo said. 

Greer described Davis as “highly underrated” and “magical,” and credited it as an inspiration for his art. 

“I couldn’t separate Davis from my work. The stuff that I make is a reflection of having lived here my whole life,” Greer said. “Davis has plenty of cool art happening at all times, but it’s below the surface. You have to dig just a little bit.”

Secret Spot is the perfect example of this. The studio may be slightly elusive, and its branding leans into this fact, with flyers around town asking, “Have you found the Secret Spot?” 

However, once you’ve done the little bit of “digging” required to find it, you’re exposed to a side of the art community in Davis that goes beyond just the art itself, serving as a haven for those who work outside traditional notions of art. 

“Secret Spot, while it is physically a studio and part-time gallery, more than anything it’s the idea of bringing an art renaissance into town,” Rizzo said.


Written by: Laila Azhar — features@theaggie.org



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