Art for an Artist's Sake 

A silent auction and a career retrospective to benefit David Mah.

I remember sitting with David in the hospital and telling him about all the calls we were getting," says Susan Mah, sister of artist and gallery-owner David Mah, who was sidelined earlier this year by illness. "He couldn't believe how many people were calling to ask about him. He said, 'I didn't even know I'd been missed.'"

Clearly, David Mah, a Memphis painter best known for his murals, landscapes, and Asian-influenced abstractions, has been sorely missed. More than 40 artists, a veritable who's who of local talent, have donated pieces to be auctioned on Saturday, August 21st, at David Mah Studio, 888 S. Cooper.

"We were getting so many calls from people who were concerned about David," Susan says. "We were so upset and overwhelmed, and we just couldn't answer them all. I had to set up an e-mail list and send out daily updates. And I kept getting more and more e-mails from people who wanted to get on the list. These were all people who really wanted to do something to help, and we decided the best thing to do was to let them."

Mah graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1980. He's worked with several architects to create site-specific murals, most recently for La Montagne, a restaurant on Park Avenue near Highland. He also painted the 14-by-27-foot mural in the grand lobby of AutoZone Park, depicting the view from the lobby toward downtown. Mah's list of influences ranges from art deco to surrealism and from American murals of the W.P.A. to Persian miniatures. The bulk of his work, however, is traditional both in terms of material and subject matter. In 2001, he opened David Mah Studio in Cooper-Young.

"You don't have to be famous in Memphis to get a show at David's gallery," Susan says. "And most galleries charge a 50 percent commission, but David charges half of that. He's shown students from the Memphis College of Art. He just does what he can to help younger artists."

Mah first became ill when an abscessed tooth led to an extraction earlier this year. A subsequent infection led to pneumonia. He was later diagnosed with histoplasmosis. He lost 25 pounds and became unable to work.

"He kept getting misdiagnosed," Susan says. "We had to change doctors. And the new doctor brought in a team of doctors to find out what was wrong," Susan says. "But he's doing better now. He still gets short of breath, and he gets tired easily, but he is recovering."

In conjunction with the art auction in Midtown, there will be a weekend retrospective of Mah's work at the Jay Etkin Gallery on South Main. The retrospective, which also opens of Saturday, traces Mah's career from childhood doodles to his most recent paintings and collages. It will also include landscapes and portraiture. The paintings all come from private collections, and none are for sale. Donations will be accepted.

"Whenever there's a benefit, artists get called to donate a painting for an auction," says artist/gallery-owner Jay Etkin. "This is one time when we can actually do something for one of our own. I'm proud to have David's work in the gallery."

"I think sometimes that we've lost our sense of community," Susan says. "I'm a therapist, so I think about things like that. And it's really a special thing that one person in the artistic community gets ill, and all these other artists rally for him. When you are in a crisis or when you are in a broken place, it's easy to keep your problems private. But when you need help, you should take it."

For those who can't make the Saturday opening, the Mah retrospective will be on display at Jay Etkin from Friday, August 20th, through Sunday, August 22nd.

Some of the artists contributing work to be auctioned at David Mah Studio on Saturday, August 21st (starting at 6 p.m.), include: Bryan Blankenship, Nancy Cheairs, David Comstock, Stephen Crump, Mimi Dann, Carol DeForest, Hamlett Dobbins, Paul Edelstein, Don Estes, Roy Eure, Meikle Gardner, Katherine Gore, Jan Hankins, Matthew Hasty, Suzy Hendrix, Pinkney Herbert, Cecil Humphreys, David Johnson, Leah West Jones, Terri Jones, Susan Mah, Joanne Markell, Sally Markell, Annabelle Meacham, Kurt Meer, Jenny Munn, Greely Myatt, David Nester, Doug Northern, Ed Rainey, Mary Reed, Murray Riss, Carol Robison, Lester Sivets, Colleen Smith, Dolph Smith, Agnes Stark, James Starks, Lynda Turley, Alex Walter, Sam Weinstein, Drew Whitmire, and, of course, David Mah.

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