Wherefore art?

Patrick DennisBy Patrick Dennis

I am an artist and I’ve been thinking…

After seeing the Dali exhibit at the High Museum, I was in explorer mode and was anxious to investigate some new, off-the-beaten-path art houses. Yes, as shocking as it sounds there are some successful, small independent galleries, studios and workshops teeming with creativity that has nothing to do with Tyler Perry. Okay, that wasn’t fair not fair, but it does seem like he owns everything. I’m just saying.

First stop on my tour bus odyssey is the Kai Lin Gallery on Peachtree.  Run by a handsome, shy and talented young man named Yu Kai, this is one fearless environment that nurtures some unexpected talent. The space is inviting and really clean.  He curates a variety of gallery spaces all over Atlanta, and has mounted some very ambitious exhibits including the group show “Monsters” in July consisting of local illustration art, and “Zenith” in September, which showcases nature inspired imagery for the fall. Couldn’t be nicer.

Headed into Poncey-Highland, I stopped at Young Blood Gallery and Boutique.  It’s right next to the Highland Inn.  It’s long and narrow like a shotgun house, and filled with some very odd things like those semi-creepy but somehow compelling works by John Feskin, who must have had a very difficult childhood.  I wasn’t interested in the gift items, but I liked the experimental artwork.

In Decatur, a new place has opened for young talent: Wild Oats and Billy Goats. This place is fun, has lots of folk art, which I love, and is close to the Square.  Plus it’s just down the street from my own gallery (Decatur Market & Gallery). Given their name, I’d like to say “Howdy, neighbor!”

I wanted to keep going but started getting tired thinking about what artists do when they aren’t selected to be in a gallery show or making a caravan to big festivals. Since it was a Saturday, I decided to check out the Virginia Highland Market. There were about 20 artists including the legend Lorenzo Scott. His work is part of the permanent collection at the High Museum and even the Smithsonian. His sister Marguerite is a painter, too, and showed her work that day.

I loved the festive atmosphere, and best of all there was a performance artist named Sherry Bloom, who dances in an African-Irish style of “buck dancing.” She has a dog, tap shoes, a board, and Appalachian folk music on her iPod. She was dancing up a storm and made me think the South isn’t all about grits and greens but sure can be fun. But I’m not sure what the dog has to do with her act. I kept watching, and nothing. Maybe that was the point, or counterpoint in this case.

As I wound down, I started thinking about what artists do. I’m pretty sure they don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring. (“Hello artist?  This is the Museum of Art and we just love your work, yessir!”) But they have some pretty golden opportunities at these outdoor art markets on the weekends. Of course, it’s not as much fun as setting up in Jackson Square in New Orleans and gorging on beignets after making a few dollars, but for Atlanta, hey it’s pretty good!  So locals, here’s my message to you: stop waiting for the golden ticket and take your work to the public markets in Atlanta.  And if you need to you can bring your own donuts or grits.

Patrick Dennis is an artist, gallery owner and President of the Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces. Email him at Patrick@affps.com.

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