New art space in town

You can’t throw an easel without hitting an art gallery in Knowlton.

Over the last couple of years, spaces devoted to the sale of paintings, sculpture and ceramics have included the ground floor of England Hill, on Lakeside; a former home on Maple across from the former Barnes; the building that was the Brome Lake campus of Bishop’s University on Highway 243; and Hors-cadre, another former home on Knowlton Road.

The newest player is art lab 341, a group studio that officially opened just before the New Year in what was once Mullarkey’s Garage, at 341 Knowlton Rd. As the name suggests, this huge two- storey space is a working studio that also happens to show and sell the works created by the five local artists in residence. They include painters Dominique Perron, José Fillion, Michel Gamache, Michel Beaucage and ceramist Rachel Grenon.

The first colonists, in what was most recently a showroom for the Indonesian imports of Joël Dumas, were Perron and Fillion over a year ago. She recalls calling her friend Gamache and saying “stop working at home and come work here.” He did and liked it so much he bought the place, with the help of a silent partner, the Brome Lake philanthropist Claire Léger.

Last summer and fall were devoted to renovation. Among other improvements, a previously inaccessible second floor loft was given a winding metal staircase. Windows were added, walls were painted white, new lighting and hanging systems were installed, and room was set aside for Dumas to show some of his most recent acquisitions from the Far East. Mostly, areas were carved out so that the five artists could actually set about making art, in all its messy magnificence. Its fusion of creation and commerce suggests what it must have been like to set up shop in Lower Manhattan in the early1960s, where collaboration in common quarters led to ground breaking work.

“It is, first and foremost, a place to work,’’ said a paint-splattered Gamache recently. “It is our universe. Our vision is to attract people who love art to come visit, and encourage us.” Events are planned with that end in mind, and much of the completed, and generally accessible art is priced so that it might actually sell, find a place in private residences, and attract other people to come visit, support art lab 341 and other local galleries, and help Brome Lake cement its growing reputation as the creative hotspot of the Eastern Townships.