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Summit Plano Climbing Gym Becomes an Unlikely Art Gallery

At Summit Gym you can stare at things more beautiful than the sight of your muscles reflected in a mirror. Like this painting by artist Tory Lonn.EXPAND
At Summit Gym you can stare at things more beautiful than the sight of your muscles reflected in a mirror. Like this painting by artist Tory Lonn.
Tory Lonn

These days, rock climbing seems to be becoming more popular by the minute as climbing gyms surface all over. Summit is establishing itself as a fitness giant — in the last few years, they’ve expanded their locations to include Dallas, Grapevine, Fort Worth, Denton, Carrollton, and even Oklahoma City and Norman. The latest locale of indoor climbing gyms opened in Plano just this past year.

But they aren’t just spreading their chalk-dusted fingers all over North Texas (and beyond). They’re also dipping their toes in aspects of our culture that have seemingly nothing to do with rock climbing. One such venture is into the world of art.

Last Monday, Summit’s Plano location held their first Artist Showcase event. In an attempt to bring together the worlds of art and climbing (and to spotlight local artists), the gym is hosting the work of two artists per month in a little gallery to the side of their 55-foot climbing walls.

This month’s artists, as well as those lined up for future showcases, are all either staff members at the climbing gym or climbers. Anybody else surprised to find such an overlap between rock climbers and artists?

But when you look closer at both art and rock climbing, their intersection isn’t so surprising. In fact, the intersection of rock climbing with almost any creative field makes a lot of sense.

Like any creative endeavor, rock climbing requires an almost meditative focus, technical skill and a passion for the activity. And like art, it’s hard to tell which of those elements is the most crucial.

Of course, the Artist Showcase isn't primarily about climbers making art; it’s more so about climbers appreciating art. Don’t let this be a sly comment about climbers failing to appreciate art as it is. But if given the choice between going to an art gallery or going to the climbing gym, the climbing gym would probably win out for most avid climbers. Why not cut out the decision altogether, and turn the climbing gym into an art gallery?

The exhibiting artists note the similarities between climbing and making art — and the release that rock climbing can give a tired artist’s mind.

The idea to do so first came from Jason Duong, who is also one of the artists of this month’s showcase. Duong’s selection of drawings displays the keen attention to detail one would expect from a rock climber, as well as diversity of subject. He has a few portraits present, as well as accurate sketches of that ever-tricky body part — hands. Animal drawings are prevalent throughout his work; a gorilla is his most climbing-inspired piece.

Duong's artistry is well-integrated with his climbing: He painted that same gorilla onto his climbing harness. He also prints his artwork on vinyl stickers, perfect for climbers to add to their sticker-bedecked water bottles.

Many of Duong’s drawings can be seen in a sketchbook laid out for viewers to page through, offering us a privileged look into his oeuvre. You may think that it’s daring to put one’s sketchbook on a table for the grubby hands of countless climbers to flip through, but it’s tame for Duong. His initial plan for the Artist Showcase was to distribute artwork on the climbing walls themselves, for climbers to look at while they’re actually climbing. The idea, which proved, sadly, to be impractical, was meant to bring a whole new level of intersection between climbing and art.

But climbing isn’t the only part of a climbing gym: Summit also offers a full schedule of yoga classes. The second contributor to the Artist Showcase is Tory Lonn, a yoga teacher at Summit. Her work certainly demonstrates the yoga side of a climbing gym. Alongside Duong’s ink drawings and sketches, Lonn is showing bigger canvases, presenting stark contrast in both material and style.

The four abstract works she has at the showcase are varied in color, texture, geometric theme — but they all carry a common strand. They are calming to look at and induce an almost meditative state. But, although there’s definitely a zen, bodily quality to her abstract paintings, they’re open to interpretation (as art arguably must be).

One piece was intended to represent the feminine form, but some viewers interpreted it as a manifestation of anger, others as a mythical story. Some climbers are bound to interpret them as representations of the climbing wall. The variety of people viewing the art is sure to bring about a multitude of responses, all of them highlighting something important about both the viewer and the piece of art.

That calls back to the most important part of Summit’s little art gallery: the people seeing the art. These people aren’t going to be art critics — they won’t even necessarily be people who are interested in art. They’re going to be climbers, surprised at the intrusion of a different sphere of culture into their gym. This surprise will bring with it new interpretations and experiences, things vital for all humans — climbers included.

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