This Saturday sees a new gallery in the city of Oakland open its doors with a group exhibition entitled House Warming. When Athen B. Gallery first announced its arrival on the scene last month with an open letter to artists and the community it sits within, we were intrigued.
The inaugural group show features Aubrey Learner, Brett Flanigan, Caleb Hahne, Cannon Dill, Dan Hampe, David Bray, Eric Bailey, ESK, Ian Johnson, Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, Katherine Rutter, Lauren Napolitano, Lauren YS, Martina Merlini, Meryl Pataky (detail of her neon work above), Moneyless, Over Under, Rachel Mandala, Skewville, Spencer Keeton Cunningham, Troy Lovegates, Word To Mother and Zio Ziegler
The gallery is operated by Brock Brake (whose photography we have featured here on AM previously) and Sorell Raino-Tsui; both well versed in the Bay Area art scene through previous gallery associations. We wanted to dig a little more into this mission statement and the motivations behind their opening of the space, so decided to interview Brock about the gallery and it’s future plans.
Arrested Motion (AM): First things first tell us a little about you and your background Brock… How did your journey steer you towards opening a gallery?
Brock Brake (BB): It started in 2010 in Chicago when I met this graffiti crew KWT 2NR. I didn’t spray; I just documented all of them and their antics. Eventually through them, in a roundabout way, I met Nick Marzullo, one half of the amazing Pawn Works Chicago, who introduced me to this urban / contemporary art we all know and love. Before I knew it, I was filming Nick and Baltimore’s GAIA wearing construction hats and vests pasting up a giant lion rabbit head on the side of Cabrini Green before it was knocked down. Since that little mission, I started exclusively documenting artists and their processes. I really owe a lot of what I’ve learned, especially building relationships with artists from Nick. He has definitely been a huge mentor for me. For the next 2 and half years I documented everyone that lived and visited Chicago via Pawn Works. Skewville, ROA, Gaia, Over Under, RAE, Pose, Reyes, Omens, Ludo, and more.
After graduating from college in 2012, I made the trek to the Bay Area. All the artists I was working with in Chicago said, “Go work at White Walls if you’re moving to San Francisco” and that I should use them as a reference. So that’s what I did. I worked there for a little over a year as an art handler alongside four other really amazing guys. As handlers, we got to work with at least four different local/international artist each month. Some of those had pretty wild installations that called for early mornings and late nights. After a while, I moved into the role of PR/Media for White Walls and Shooting Gallery on top of helping with regular art handler duties. After October of this past year, we were all let go.
In November, I found a home at LeQuiVive in Downtown Oakland doing their PR/Media. It’s a completely different array of artists working in the similar urban contemporary world in Oakland. Tons of creative talent and energy. Unfortunately, a few months later that ended. As frustrating as it was to go from job to job, I remained optimistic. Sorell Raino-Tsui, one of the partners at LeQuiVive, reached out after they closed and proposed the idea of starting over and offered me a 50/50 partnership on a new gallery. He had the space LeQuiVive was in already locked down so we decided to rebuild. That’s how Athen B. Gallery came about.
AM: The next thing I have to ask is about the name. What’s the meaning behind Athen B. Gallery?
BB: I felt like a parent trying to name a new-born. Landing on a good strong name for a gallery is hard. You want people to remember it, but we didn’t want it to be to brandy, like a clothing company. We spent almost a month working on a name. Texting back and forth, back and forth. Brock Brake Gallery or Sorell Raino-Tsui Gallery didn’t really have the ring we were looking for. We finally landed on Athen B. Gallery. Athen is actually Sorell’s first name, he has just always went by his middle name Sorell and the B is for Brock or Brake. It resonates as someone’s name and in this case it represents both of us.
AM: I was intrigued by how you announced the opening of the gallery. I saw your mission statement as a call to arms. A public transmission of your legitimacy and intent. I also sense a level of acknowledgement of how things shouldn’t be done… You’ve worked at a number of galleries over the last few years, and as I understand it this is your first real foray into curating. What have you learned whilst working for others and what have you decided to put into place that is uniquely you as a curator?
BB: Over the past handful of years, I’ve been acting as a sponge, just soaking up all the good and bad experiences I’ve been through over the past 5 years in various gallery settings. I won’t say it here but I’m sure people know my past work and from some of that past work I definitely learned what NOT to do. As far as my curating style: not sure I can put it into words. I’m just going to show work from artists that I believe in and whose processes are intriguing to me. I’d like to show members of my extended family like Word To Mother, Skewville, Moneyless, Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada to name a few, and introduce work from emerging local artists like Aubrey Learner, and photographers Jason Henry and Shawn Bush. Also unique is my intention to limit solo exhibitions and instead do two, three or four person shows and encourage collaborations between artists. This means that there will be extremely unique, one of a kind works of art from artists that have maybe never worked together before. It’s an opportunity to create something that, otherwise, would not exist.
AM: There is a strong community message in your opening statement. What do you genuinely intend to feed into the community that others previously haven’t?
BB: I realize that we are a business newcomer to the Oakland and I wanted to address the community with a promise to be involved, not just to be there and exist within a vacuum within the walls of our space. I’m not sure whether others have or have not given back, we just know what we want to do. We hope to be a ubiquitous force in the mural game in Oakland, providing the community with art on the walls of their neighborhood. We hope that schools will be involved with our mural projects, bringing students to help artists and observe the process. We also want to provide educational programs for youths as well as adults, local businesses and aspiring artists in the form of workshops and forum discussions with professionals. There are far too many emerging and aspiring artists in our community that do not have this resource and have to learn things for themselves. We hope to bring in professionals in the art community to talk to these artists and have informed discussions about the “art-world.”
AM: You mention the phrase ‘serve the neighborhood’ in your statement. Other than being a place to view art, what should a gallery strive to be within a neighborhood?
BB: I think a gallery should be a resource for all in the community. There is so much potential for cross-pollination between us and different businesses, schools and even other galleries. I think that a lot of what serving the neighborhood means is tapping into the youth of the neighborhood and getting them involved – whether this means assisting and interning for credit, coming out and viewing and assisting with murals or providing talks and workshops for them. Getting the youth of a community excited about the arts and actively helping to shape the visual landscape of their community is priceless and will hopefully resonate with them into their adult life.
AM: Tell us a little about the Bay Area scene that has inspired you to open the gallery. You’ve been resident in the Bay Area for a while. SF is obviously the largest city and traditionally a center for the arts, but how has Oakland risen in terms of an arts community in recent years?
BB: While I was still going to high school in Marysville, Ohio, I was checking the Fecal Face and Juxtapoz blogs on a daily basis. A lot of the content on those sites were based around the Bay Area’s art community. Jeremy Fish, Mike Giant, Josh Keyes just to name a few of some of my personal favorites during those first years of learning.
Oakland’s art community has always been around and like San Francisco, it’s constantly evolving. My perspective, however, when I moved here was that San Francisco was overshadowing Oakland, but it was still a place where artists could prosper. Over the past couple of years, though, fewer artists have been able to live and work in The City and have moved to Oakland or started studios there because of the space/cost relation. Oakland has officially been chosen as a new frontier, in a way, and muralists especially love the large developing space to paint. A section of 15th St. in Downtown Oakland now houses a string of galleries that have unified and started doing a second Saturday openings to do something different from first Friday’s and to give some fresh breath to Oakland openings; We will also be joining in on second Saturdays to connect with our community.
AM: Who was the first artist you contacted about showing with you? I’m interested to see who you wanted to be your cornerstone and why?
BB: I didn’t ask anyone in particular right away. I knew from the get go that I needed to play the curation of the gallery very strategically. Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of artist that I still hold a solid relationship with. I made a list several pages long with a long list of names in my little black book and started the elimination process. After a couple of weeks I had a list of 23 people. I reached out, they were down.
I tried to compile a good mixture of local and national/international artist that would compliment each other. These are artist that represent what I hope to do with the space moving forward.
AM: You’ve already started on a programme of mural projects locally. Tell us a little about what you’re doing and why?
BB: Murals are something special that engages the community. Some murals become staples in the community and that’s really, really important. No one person can buy it or claim it as their own. It belongs just as much to the dude sleeping on the cardboard boxes as it does to the lady driving by in her Tesla. How often does that happen nowadays?
This week we have three murals going up in Downtown Oakland that we are facilitating. Local artist Zio Ziegler is teaming up with the United Nations to paint one of Oakland’s most historic sites, the Cathedral building. It’s a massive wall about 14 stories tall. My good friend Meggs is in town and had a project fall through so we helped find him something near Jack London Square that he is starting this week. We also have hometown heroes Ernest Doty and Irot getting down on a massive collaboration together as we speak.
AM: The first exhibition is a group show entitled House Warming. There are a wide range of styles represented in the show. Can you tell us a little about some of the works and the artists that will be exhibited?
BB: The works are so crazy. Skewville repurposed a piece from 2010 and turned it into a DJ mixing table made out of saw blades, wood and hardware. He even made headphones for it from an electrical conduit box. Troy Lovegates made a series of large wood cut outs that he pieced together like a puzzle that is about 7 x 4 ft. tall. He used an oil stick for marking trains and his finger on the wood puzzle pieces to make a series of beautiful portraits that are literally hand done. He is also making two small wooden sculptures. Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada’s works are part of his continued Fragment series created on 150+ year old wallpaper from abandoned cathedrals in Spain.
I also asked local artist Cannon Dill/Katherine Rutter and Dan Hampe/Rachel Mandala to team up together on collaborative works for ‘House Warming’. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised with the result.
AM: Is this a cross section of what you will be showing with Athen B. Gallery moving forward? What future exhibitions do you have planned?
BB: Exactly. For example Troy Lovegates and Zio Ziegler are a part of ‘House Warming’ but will also be joining Ever Siempre and JAZ in a four-person exhibition this September. I’m working on trying to get both Ever and Jaz out to Oakland so they can collaborate with Troy and Zio on pieces and hopefully a mural. Moving forward a lot of the exhibitions are going to have this collaboration theme.
In October, I’m working on putting together a group exhibition of 60 artists and 30 pieces. All of the works will be collaboration between two or three artists. This is something I’ve wanted to see for years, as a fan of many artists across the globe. Now I get the chance to puzzle piece that idea together. I can’t wait.
We’re only doing one solo exhibition this year in November and that’s with Reno based artist Overunder, who will also be taking part in our ‘House Warming’ as well. He is a stay at home art dad and with this exhibition he wants to focus on a new subject matter for him, fatherhood. Being an active urban artist, he describes his life as “changing diapers one minute, then in a police chase the next. So the work will have a feeling of hard meets soft”. We want to reach out to different father based organizations in the area to get them incorporated in some way for the show.
Its going to be an interesting 2015. House Warming opens on 13th June and runs through to 3rd July.
Pictures courtesy of the gallery.