Thursday, November 11, 2010
Last week’s First Friday Art Walk in Oldtown Salinas fragmented into little universes of activity along South Main Street. The action meteored from local cartoonist Bridget Spicer’s colorful studio to Salinas Valley Art Association’s reliable crowds to Rollick’s Internet Cafe and Cherry Bean’s irregular cast of characters to the Fox Theater, where JM Barrie and the Lost Boys conjured sweet renditions of Albert E. Brumley’s “I’ll Fly Away” and Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.”
But it was a couple of blocks off the Oldtown artery – for an opening not formally part of the monthly Artwalk – where SOMOS Media drew dozens into an art scene orbit that feels refreshingly alien for the county’s biggest city.
“There’s nothing like this in Salinas,” said several of the young adults crowded into the clean, rectangular space and the sidewalk outside to take in the latest exhibit, an eight-person photo exhibit called Salinas Exposed, composed of uncharacteristic photos of Salinas by a primarily local core of photographers.
The shop has been in operation since 2006, says co-founder Will Devoe, though unfamiliarity with the gallery/shop next to Chapala’s Restaurant on Salinas Street was a recurring theme even among Art Walk denizens just a few blocks away.
“When people get wind of it,” Devoe says, “they’re like, ‘Why haven’t I heard of it?’ We do word of mouth. We want to build personal relationships with artists and customers.”
One side of the shop’s walls is lined with bookshelves of creatively gruesome, Japanese anime-style toy monsters, robots and mutants. There’s a miniature of Ron English’s “Super Size Me” Ronald McDonald. A cast of characters who look like they stepped out of a Tim Burton animated movie pose before copies of special issues of the bewitching lowbrow art magazine Hi-Fructose. Fresh new t-shirts fromUpper Playground and Rebel 8 are splashed with hip-hop, graffiti and underground culture iconography, throw pillows bare sharp teeth and blood, and art books pack the shelves behind the register. On the other side, the photos: evocative shots of Salinas at night, moody abstracts, off-kilter local signs, and sepia-tinted seemingly archaic shots of modern Salinas. In the midst of all this, a hip-hop show broke out featuring MCs Eme7 and Lombris, scored by DJ Mike J.
Devoe and Imelda Suarez, who met as graphic design students at Hartnell College and CSUMB, opened the venue to serve as a central meeting spot for their design work clients, a hub for urban gear copped from Devoe’s DJing gigs in bigger cities, and a “conduit” for the latent talent they saw in their friends.
“These are people who are working class artists,” Devoe says. “If you’re a street artist or tattoo artist or graffiti artist, you don’t usually go to college for it. There was a shift in pop culture toward tattoo and car culture.”
That shift happened at the shop’s level with the Visual Mechanics No. 1 car culture art show last December.
“It upped the ante,” Devoe says. “A year before Jesse James [of West Coast Choppers], people were like ‘Man, what is this?’ Now it’s ‘Oh, I get it.’”
“It” includes things like the Schoolyard Antics show, on Aug. 6, which featured finished and live paintings by BasicLee and Epic, two painters steeped in hip-hop culture who often paint at local shows while DJs, MCs and breakdancers throw down. At their opening reception, hip-hop crew Joint Venture and Solis Cin performed, and a cypher evolved in which a mic was passed around for would-be MCs with skills to show and prove.
Last month, the space hosted Storybook Surrealism – paintings by Ana Morales in the idiom of Juxtapoz Magazine that wouldn’t look out of place at Seaside’s Alternative Cafe. In March, it was a tattoo-inspired show. Back in February they presented Street Cinema, an independent film installation of two locals. Three times this year they held Dunny parties.
A product of Kidrobot, Dunnys (and Munnys) are small, limited edition vinyl toys shaped like cartoon characters, painted by some of the freshest musicians and artists around – like Frank Kozik, music producer Swizz Beatz, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, Jamie Hewlett of Tank Girl and Gorillaz fame and others (including, yes, Shepard Fairey). They appreciate in value due to their rarity and seem to acclimate young people to appreciating – and buying – artwork.
“T-shirts and the toys sell really good,” Suarez says. “Some people can’t afford original art, but they can buy a toy for their cubicle.”
The shop maintains some guiding principals Devoe collectively refers to as a “backyard barbecue” ethic: collaborating with and nurturing artists is more important than selling; opening receptions are kept sober (“It’s about the art,” he says); stereotypes are checked at the door; and fresh ideas are always welcome. And that’s what keeps pushing the boundaries of what people expect from Salinas.
On Dec. 3, they’ll put on their Schoolyard Antics 2 show, evoking the original love for hip-hop breakdancing, MCing, DJing and graffiti, before money mutated the scene toward the superficial and unoriginal. A punk show of cut-and-paste flyers and photos promoting the DIY ethic follows a month later. After that, anything’s possible. Which is part of the power of this discreet spot doing vital, fresh stuff in a hidden pocket of Salinas.
“Some of this stuff’s kind of edgy,” says Devoe. “Pop surrealist, lowbrow; it’s about who we come in contact with.”