January 2010: Spare rooms

January 2010: Spare rooms
Loes van Riel is an artist, and at her day job, she sells jewelry at the Downtown store Angelo. It’s somehow unsurprising, then, to find that in her studio at home, her current materials—seedpods, maple leaves, dried orchid flowers—are arranged and appreciated just like gems. 
The setting certainly enhances the effect. Van Riel and her husband, artist Alan O’Neal, have since 2005 occupied a two-story townhouse in Belmont that provides each of them with a dedicated studio space downstairs, and sparse, modern living space above. They’d both had studios at home in the past, but never enough room to display work as in a gallery. Now, particularly in O’Neal’s studio, the white walls are extensive enough that when either of the two has a new body of work, it can be hung and guests invited for an open house. 
Both studios are neat as pins. The couple acknowledges a European flavor in their hybrid home—also appropriate given van Riel is a native of the Netherlands —as though Mondrian had been consulted regarding the architecture. “[It’s] the white cube, which is both celebrated and maligned,” says O’Neal, wryly. “We’re still celebrating it,” adds van Riel.
Alan: “When we got married we found out this was kind of a dream both of us had—a place where we could have studios downstairs and live upstairs. It’s like the storefront idea. We adapted that idea.”
Loes: “Since there were no storefronts downtown.”
Alan: “We were renting studios at McGuffey—Loes for 11 years, I was there five or six years. We met there and got married and decided we wanted to build this. It was complete serendipity because Loes talked to Gabe Silverman and he said [architect] Bruce Wardell was planning on building something on this lot. We could exert an influence. The modern design was really between us and them.
“It’s really the blending of several ideas. And upstairs functions as an adjunct of the gallery. I’ve sold a piece off the wall.”
Loes: “We do a rotating exhibit.”
Alan: “I work a lot. I guess when I come downstairs I find it difficult not to start working. I usually have something on the table—I pick it up and start moving things around. Loes, you work very differently.”
Loes: “Your mood is, you’re constantly in here and things happen. I don’t know what I want to do. I play around. Sometimes before I have a show, I’ll get flipped out and think I haven’t found a direction. Then something will happen. [Before my last show at Angelo,] I found a pigeon feather on Water Street. I put it on a little piece of black mat and said ‘Oh.’ It all just came rolling out. Then I can go in and just work.”
Alan: “You can not do any work for several months and go in and do a bunch of work. I’m working all the time and throw away half of what I do.”
Loes: “There are months where I just photograph and play with those pods.
“I’m actually getting more done now. At McGuffey there’s meetings, committees, you have to be in your studio 17 hours a week during open hours. People come in and you get interrupted. Here I just come to pick something up, I move something, before you know it I’m playing. It’s given me the window of opportunity, and the privacy. But I do miss the camaraderie.”
Alan: “We’re very happy with the space. We love the neighborhood. We walk downtown all the time, of course.”
Loes: “We love the trains. The old cars—the different colors and textures—it’s like an art show going by. We call each other when a good train goes by—‘Look at this!’”

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