The story of Roux and Cyr International Fine Art Gallery begins in the pews of a church. But where this young art gallery will go is entirely up to Susan Roux, the mind behind the bustling Free Street art space.
“We’re an infant now,” says Susan Roux as she sips a cup of steaming green tea in her sunny gallery on Free Street. The “we” she refers to is Roux and Cyr International Fine Art Gallery, which showcases fine art form around the globe. She looks around the space, gesturing for her son Josh to hang a gold-framed picture just a tad higher. Then, when the image is perfectly balanced and her son has stepped back, she smiles at me and adds quietly, “But I think we’re finally learning to crawl.”
Crawl is a humble way to put it. Since opening her gallery in May 2014, Roux has created not only a place to buy and see art, but also a place where people can come together for classes and discussions. “People think of artists as selfish sometimes, or loners,” she says. “But I love bringing people together. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for the people around me.” She shows her gratitude to those who have helped her by “paying it forward.” In Roux and Cyr, she has created a place where the artistic community can come together and flourish. Not only has she created a space for art classes in the back of the gallery, but also frequently welcomes local artists to come paint in her space. She is attentive to her visitors, a ready and capable teacher of art appreciation. She wants everyone to enjoy art—even those who can’t afford to purchase it yet. “I think that people come in the door because they love art,” she says. “For those who can’t purchase it, I try and offer them lessons, so they can create their own.”
Like many artists, Susan Roux seems to approach everything with passion. The gallery on Free Street is proof of her hard work, her labor of love. On the white walls hangs an abundance of visual riches—Mat Grogan’s ornate still lifes, Martine-Alison Chabert’s fauvist-style ladies frolicking with wildlife, Haralambos Papadopoulos’s hyper-realist paintings of seawater on rocks—that have been sourced from around the globe. In the past 19 months, Roux has transformed the space into a series of artistic moments that unfurl as you walk away from the street. Here, warm gold frames contain bathing beauties (painted by Roux herself ) as they dip their toes into the ocean. There, a zaftig ballerina pirouettes in a fluffy white tutu, a confection of sorts, but a delightfully unexpected one.
If you told Roux three years ago that she would soon own a gallery in Portland, she would have been utterly shocked. “I never thought this would be my life,” she admits. A resident of the rural town of Poland, Roux had worked for many years as an art instructor, teaching students out of her home. She found the job fulfilling (and it provided ample time to work on her own paintings), but she thought she could do more to reach others. “I believe we are all given gifts and we are supposed to share our gifts,” she says. “So this one day, I was in church and I was praying, and I hadn’t prayed more than two sentences before I started thinking about an art gallery. It was all I could imagine.” A gallery, she realized, would be the perfect way to combine her love of art with her social gifts. While many of us don’t think of our jobs as a calling, Roux does, and she believes her work is all the better for it.
But where there is now an abundance of art, there were once blank walls and a raw, almost cavernous space. Early on, Roux realized that in order to make the business work, she would need a partner. She turned to one of her students, Paul Cyr, and asked him to join her in her new venture. “I think I was afraid to do it on my own, and the space was so large, I needed help,” she recalls. “I knew if I was to continue teaching, I would need someone else to be on the floor, greeting visitors, and Paul is so knowledgeable and has a wonderful way with people.” He would also frequently paint out front, a practice that drew in passers-by. Sadly, at the beginning of April 2015, Cyr needed to bow out of the gallery due to health issues.
“That was very difficult,” she says. “Often, when people part ways in a business, they are ready to kill each other. But we are still very close friends.” The first day without Paul Cyr was “heartbreaking.” However, although she didn’t know it at the time, help was on its way. While Roux was still reeling from the loss of her business partner, her phone rang. On the other end was Suhail Bisharat, a man who would come to play a large role in the gallery and who now works for Roux, greeting visitors and aiding her search for new artists. A few hours later, a student called asking for an internship. “It was as though everything just fell together,” she says.
Going forward, Roux hopes to continue her work showcasing artists who work in the realist vein. Her soul, she admits, longs for Europe, which accounts for her decision to showcase art from Ireland, Russia, France, and Greece (alongside pieces by artists from Nevada, California, and Maine). The unifying factors in these disparate works are threefold: Roux only shows realistic art, she only shows pieces she finds uplifting, and she only shows art that “one could dream in.”
She brings me to a canvas. As we talk, she draws lines in the air with her fingers, her sleeve trailing behind her wrist, her eyes lit with an inner joy. She leads me, step by step, through a still life, from highlight to shadow, angle to angle. In that moment, I see what draws people to Roux. It may be, as she believes, that God sends her the people that she needs, nudging them towards her as he pushes her towards success. What is certain is that here is a woman who knows color and canvas, can read light and see shadows, who is gifted with an infectious love for beauty. And most important, here is a woman who wants to share herself with the world, generously and enthusiastically.