Atlanta Artists Ask, ‘What Did You Expect?’ In New Exhibit | WABE 90.1 FM

Atlanta Artists Ask, ‘What Did You Expect?’ In New Exhibit

Feb 17, 2016

Artists often collaborate in creating new work, but one new Atlanta art gallery is getting artists to work together on the exhibition side of things as well.

The work hanging on the walls at Notch8 in the exhibit "What Did You Expect?" is bold, but an interesting thing happens when you put a group of the photographers behind it into a room together … they get pretty quiet.

"It was like all the real smart kids in class for a second," explains photographer Artemus Jenkins about the group's initial meeting. "Everybody’s just kind of looking at everybody else, waiting for somebody to talk."

All the smartest kids in this class includes Jenkins; photographer and performance artist Kelly Blackmon; and artist and entrepreneur Chilly-O. The conversation among them and the seven other artists in the show eventually did get rolling.

Sharon Dennehy, former director of the Nelson Street Gallery in Castleberry Hill, is co-owner of Notch8. She explained that her first task was selecting the artists she wanted in the show, and then putting them in a room with each other.

"[We] let them brainstorm and become engaged with the show," Dennehy says. "So it was actually the artists who came up with the name of the show and the concept."

Gallery co-owner Miya Bailey says this helped get the artists out of their comfort zones "and do something [he] wasn’t expecting to see from them."

And expectation became the focus of the show.

"People place so much expectation on one day," Blackmon says, noting that the exhibit opening was so close to Valentine's Day, "when you could be loving someone as genuinely every day of the year."

The title, “What Did You Expect?” grew out of that.

"Also, it played into the fact that we’re all trying to put a new work," Blackmon says, "something new created for this show specifically."

For his part, Chilly-O plays on audience expectations. The photographer and clothing designer delved into collage -- collaborating with an Instagram artist who goes by Thunder Color Queen, who posts selfies wearing elaborate face and body paint. Chilly-O took his photos of her and edited them into dream-like landscapes and other configurations.

He said he wanted to push himself and the audience while staying rooted in photography.

"I don’t think photographers get a whole lot of credit in the art world," Chilly-O says."I guess because there’s a camera on everybody’s phone and technology makes things a whole lot simpler to look good."

Chilly-O says that attitude belies the skill -- and often the luck -- involved in making photography.

"It’s like hitting the lottery, you know, when you get those combos right," he says.

Artemus Jenkins' take on the theme seems to play off his own expectations for his work. His photographs -- deceivingly simple urban shots taken around his hometown of Baltimore -- were taken in 2014 and sat undeveloped for a year.

"All I could really remember was what may have happened," Jenkins says, "or what I might have thought, you know, that something looked like. And the interesting thing about them is that they came out pretty much like I remembered them. It was just a real familiarity."

One striking image in the series is a slightly tilted street-scene. A building’s facade dominates the frame; it's an otherwise bland brick building painted pink with the words “DREAM TAVERN” painted over a lone door. The place next door is boarded up with a public auction sign on the door and a lone figure walks down the street, away from the camera.

It’s at once melancholy and kind of beautiful. Jenkins points out that there aren’t really any windows into the Dream Tavern.

"And the thing about all those old-style inns and taverns is they’re just like boxes that you can’t see what’s inside," Jenkins says. "And it’s just like, 'What is happening in there?' Thinking about that as a child, you know, it’s so foreign. So the Dream Tavern, it’s got this feeling to it like … what type of dreams is really happening in there?"

"What Did You Expect?" is Notch8’s fourth show since they opened in July of 2015. They have previously attracted rising and established Atlanta talent like Peter Ferrari, Fabian Williams and Paper Frank, and their South Atlanta location affords them room to grow in their old factory space.

This method of giving artists ownership over their gallery show presentations feeds into Bailey's and Dennehy’s modus operandi of building artistic community. Dennehy says they don’t want to be a place where one just submits work without having say-so or control.

"We like to do everything together and collaborate," Dennehy says, "because it just makes all our ideas stronger."

"You know, just try to make sure it’s fair," Bailey chimes in, "and put in artists that’s putting in work for Atlanta -- for the whole entire city of Atlanta and for the bigger good, you know?"

In pulling together artists working toward the greater good of the Atlanta community, Notch8 is hoping to create their own sort of "Dream Tavern" with -- as Artemus Jenkins described them -- the smartest kids in the class.

"What Did You Expect?" is on display at Notch8 through March 6th. The gallery is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays, and by appointment.