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Inside a booth at the Art Outside fair

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 12, 2009 -  Ben Guffee, a painter with a rising local profile and an understated demeanor, spent Thursday constructing the booth that he’ll man during the Art Outside alternative art fair happening all weekend at Schlafly Bottleworks.

Of the dozens of artists setting up shop in the Schlafly parking lot, Guffee has one of the shortest distances to travel. He moved about two months ago into a Maplewood studio that is just blocks from the popular pour house.

During the art fest, Guffee will reunite with other painters, jewelers, printmakers and photographers that show at Schlafly’s fair and at other stops on the regional art circuit. Art Outside is known not only for its focus on St. Louis-based artists but also for its plethora of young exhibitors.

Guffee fits both descriptions. He is a 29-year-old New York transplant who moved to St. Louis four years ago by way of Mexico. You'll spot him at the festival sitting in front of his collection of oil paintings depicting sweeping landscapes from the across the Midwest. Other scenes take you to the woods or to the colorful coastlines of California.

A self-described "contemporary impressionist" who uses aggressive brush strokes and brings abstract elements to his work, Guffee said he is inspired by William Wendt, an early-20th-century American impressionist, as well as by household names Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cezanne. “My work isn’t edgy," Guffee says, "but it’s not big gold frames, either."

Guffee, a freelance web and graphic designer, always liked to draw but never went to art school. Asked how he learned how to paint, he responds: "I've read a lot of books." (He swears by one in particular called "Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting.")

And this is where his modesty comes in. Guffee speaks as if it's totally normal for someone to pick up an art book, practice with friends and learn a difficult style of painting.  

He began selling his work several years ago and now has roughly 25 paintings in his collection, ranging from small pieces that sell for $350 to large ones that go for up to $5,000. Recently, Guffee said, he's been selling more paintings than he can produce.

With his new studio in Maplewood, which had its grand opening in late August, Guffee plans to have rotating shows with local artists. He previously had studio space in Maplewood but most recently worked from St. Charles.

Guffee is showing at Art Outside for the third time. He said he likes the festival because "it appeals to a younger crowd. They are learning about art and buying their first piece, and we’re sharing ideas with them, and that’s exciting.”

The fair is free and runs from 5-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. (Though if you want some late-night time with Guffee, he said he plans to be there until 11 p.m. both Friday and Saturday night.)