Her mouth is wide—stretched beyond the common yawn, laugh, or scream. She sits upright, strained—her feet pushed hard against the Earth, legs opened enough for her child to fall into the hands of his awaiting father. The photograph is dense with detail—wooden barn, lamb and donkey atop hay. This is Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus as depicted by UK-based photographer Natalie Lennard. A part of Lennard’s Birth Undisturbed series, Creation of Man is one of many pieces by Lennard entrusted to gallerist Emily McEwan-Upright. A San Jose native, in 2019, McEwan-Upright took over a 1,200-square-foot storefront in downtown Gilroy to act as the home base for her feminist-minded art gallery. McEwan-Upright’s Gallery 1202 opened its doors that October, and by the end of November 2019, it was hosting its first group exhibition, Show Me Your Neon: A Feminist Dialogue. The collection was a clear statement of intent on McEwan-Upright’s part, who explains, “It was all about discussing the challenges that women face either as an artist or as a woman, or as a sister, or mother, challenges as a black woman, as a Chinese woman, as anything. I really wanted works that spoke about different things. I don’t want everything to be the same. I wanted it all to be different.” That first exhibit sits as a highlight and hallmark of the gallery headspace.
McEwan-Upright has a bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of California Santa Barbara as well a master’s degree in art history from the San Jose State University, an education that fostered her love of research, which facilitates her quest for a variety of female voices. Looking briefly at an exhibition roster at Gallery 1202 will show you artists from Slovakia and India, as well as McEwan-Upright’s neighbors in Gilroy. It is as vital to lift up local artists as it is to bring international artists to the community. “I definitely have a mission for the gallery. I want to elevate the artists in Gilroy, but also elevate these marginalized voices that haven’t been able to be represented because of either sex, race, or materials. That’s my big thing—do that while exposing people in Gilroy to more artists.”
I definitely have a mission for the gallery. I want to elevate the artists in Gilroy, but also elevate these marginalized voices that haven’t been able to be represented because of either sex, race, or materials. That’s my big thing—do that while exposing people in Gilroy to more artists.
Throughout college, McEwan-Upright parlayed her bookkeeping experience into an enrolled agent certification and managed to launch Gallery 1202 while maintaining her career as a tax preparer. Her husband, US Navy Lieutenant Commander Rory Patrick Upright, gets called away often, but McEwan-Upright has help from her nearby parents and a cousin who assists with both the gallery as well as with McEwan-Upright’s tax practice. Her family and those of her artists and guests are fundamental to the success of the gallery’s goal. Children are welcomed with a bag of toys tucked behind a couch. This is life in full overlap—both personal and work life blending into the modern lifestyle of the working artist. With the shared experience of the working mother, McEwan-Upright builds an immediate connection between herself and the artists she chooses to work with. “A lot of them are women who have very young children, like I do. A lot of them that I met, I met with my children. They’ve met my kids, I’ve met their kids, and that’s not something that you get in a gallery environment. I want to support women who have the studio in the nook of their house.” This sentiment was echoed by artist Natalie Ciccoricco, “Emily visited my home studio, and we really hit it off. We’re both passionate about art, and we’re both juggling our art careers with motherhood, so we really bonded over that. It’s really remarkable how much she has achieved with her gallery in such a short time. I applaud her for her dedication to representing marginalized artists from the moment she opened her gallery. She works really hard to get her artists’
Beyond the exhibits at her Gilroy location, the gallery’s reach broadened through events like the LA Art Show, which saw over 75,000 in attendance over one weekend, and Superfine in San Francisco. McEwan-Upright had a full calendar leading up to the shelter-in-place order that has kept the gallery’s doors closed. She had to make some adjustments to her workflow to ensure the work she represents is visible and available to her audience. She has deepened the gallery’s online presence, finding success selling pieces through sites like Artsy, Artnet, and 1stdibs. If having the physical space connects her to the tightly knit nature of the community that binds Gilroy together, being forced to focus on the online sales helped Gallery 1202 gain exposure to a global audience. Online, there is no difference between a gallery in New York City, Los Angeles, or Gilroy. It is the art that moves, and now McEwan-Upright is regularly selling work across the country and across the world.
McEwan-Upright lights up when discussing all of the artists she has plans for at the gallery. There’s artist Yulia Shtern and her upcycled sculptures of animals affected by humankind, Ritu Sinha’s mixed-media works depicting the political strife she’s experienced in her native India, and Natalie Ciccoricco’s A Thread of Color, a solo exhibition putting Ciccoricco’s blending of found imagery and embroidery on full display. Each artist offers a different lived experience—that variety of female representation that McEwan-Upright craves. With each piece, her cadre of artists display a variety of materials and techniques used—the watercolors of Sinha’s pieces against the threaded collage work of Ciccorico, the traditional fine art and the craft and folk art that certain materials immediately self-categorize. This was the intention from the start of the gallery. A look at the first exhibition, Show Us Your Neon: A Feminist Dialogue, was a visualized forming of a question; as McEwan-Upright states, “I had different kinds of mediums. I had a woman who works with all fiber. We’re crossing that boundary between crafts versus fine arts, and why is there even a division between craft and fine art? I want to hone in on women, black women who work in contemporary art. I want to hone in on people who do textile works and why is that a craft, things like that. It was a perfect show for me to start out with, because it encapsulates all of these marginalized voices. I just really loved it.”
McEwan-Upright had the gallery booked well into 2021 with exhibits, and trips were set to both display at art fairs and speak on panels across the country. Those exhibits involved artists living across the globe and with no clear date when the world will be safe once again for large crowds, a lot will have to change on the fly, which is something that McEwan-Upright is accustomed to. She has worked with ever-changing scenarios—husband in the military, two children under the age of four, a new business venture fitting alongside her established work as a tax preparer. Despite being pulled in all directions, she is continually focused on her mission to offer an avenue for those voices that rarely get heard, for the women that don’t want to give up the dream of creating art just because they became mothers. “Women who are doing art at two o’clock in the morning because that’s when their baby is sleeping, that’s hard for them. It’s hard for them to find representation. People think that they’re distracted by their children, whereas I think it can inspire them too. It’s all about this balance in life.”
Article originally appeared in Issue 12.4 “Profiles”