NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
W: Art as an Engine
NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
W: Art as an Engine
Corey Bechelli is a comic creator and art-enabler of sci-fi psychedelia that plumbs the likes of American fascism and the internal realm to create work that is buoyant, meditative and, as he calls it, “pro-living.”
As one of the founding members of the Artclash Collective, he’s put together the annual West Philly Fun-a-Day, now in its 13th year. His live, kinetic reading-performances of his comics (such as Astral Sass, a “psychedelic cosmic philosophy comic”) are as spectacular in their vim as his accompanying illustrations to his musical co-projects Blown Away and charm/strange experience are (verbally) quiet and (visually) bold! But whether bright and central or behind-the-scenes, Corey’s multiple kinds of art can be linked perhaps by their ethos of introspection and vivacity. I highly recommend Corey’s canon for its soulful narratives, soaring foundational-existence questions and big, blocky designs and colors: sunny and scary, he’s a reasonable and reliable detailer of the everyday human horror.
– Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, curator
Rebecca Katherine Hirsch: You are an individual who comes together with others to create art experiences with galleries, art shows, music, and performances. Tell me about that.
Corey Bechelli: Under the name Corey Bechelli, I draw comics, usually by myself, but sometimes collaborating with others. Under the banner of the Artclash Collective, I helped found the annual Fun-A-Day project and show, which is an art project encouraging participants to work on a creative project every day during the month of January, with a group art show in February. Under the name charm/strange experience, I created projected visual accompaniment to composer Gina Fontana’s piano music. Under the name Blown Away I performed live projected rhythmic mark-making along with Sammy Shuster’s original music. Under the name Corey Bechelli I project my comics and read them to audiences, usually using weird voices.
RKH: In a sentence, describe your arts (comics, lifestyles)
CB: Preposterous psychedelia attempting to offset a growing cultural nihilistic malaise.
RKH: Who are you as an artist alone? And how does this enable the art you create and curate with others?
CB: I am heavily influenced by the psychedelic experience. My comics all explore similar themes of transcendence, enlightenment, and the quest for continued awareness. In my mind, these themes make up a “pro-living” philosophical stance. When collaborating with other artists, either as a visual artist or curator encourager, I try to continually promote a “pro-living” stance, encouraging creativity, spontaneity, and self-actualization. The world can often be devastatingly horrible, but it is also amazingly mind-blowing. The creation of art is a safe space to work out “anti-life” feelings and find our own individual “pro-living” practice.
RKH: What genre is your art? How do these genres affect your LIFE?
CB: Most of my art could be categorized as cosmic sci-fi. This makes sense to me as science-fiction is usually used to project a world that we as a species can strive to get to. We need to use art to express our creativity and practice our creative thinking, to better mold the world around us into a direction we feel it should go.
RKH: Can you tell me the genesis of your art experiences? What are their FRAMES, what are their MODES and how do they OPERATE?
CB: For some reason I really understand visual images. I began drawing as a child, where I used it as a coping mechanism to help me feel better about the outside world, often the source of overwhelming emotions. Making marks on paper made me feel better. This coping mechanism has never been abandoned; instead, it was reinforced continuously by myself and others, until I began to actively use it as a tool to disseminate ideas. I gravitated towards drawing comics simply because any drawing with a story or plot is a comic, and the more complex the story, the more drawings are needed, so the more I could draw and ignore the outside world. In a way, creating comics forced me to create my own interior world, of which comics are some of the few things that purposefully escape outside. Ideally, my comics are infused with specific ideas or themes that are carried through in both the art and story, the goal being the emergence of an abstract concept that is transferred from the comic to the reader’s imagination. Once the reader has the idea in their head, it can live on and mutate/die/combine with other ideas into something else. I’m just making colorful memes.
RKH: Can you go over the storylines for one of your comics or illustrations and explain WHY and HOW it emerged?
CB: “Beyond death, beyond ethereal physicality, exist innumerable energy levels, realities with a logic unto themselves. An untold number of beings wander these fantastic planes, exploring the unknown, pushing the boundaries of the conceivable. What happens above space, outside of time, in the outer reaches of the unthinkable?”
This is the gimmick text for Astral Sass, my ongoing comic series and occasional performance piece. Each issue features tales from the Higher Vibrational Realms, following Energy Beings on a quest for Ultimate Awareness. It’s a psychedelic cosmic philosophy comic.
At one point in my life, I was heavily influenced by Carlos Casteneda’s Don Juan books. I hold a kind of cognitive dissonance with these works, as I find them fascinating and full of profound existential truths, but at the same time they are a greatest hits collection of new age mumbo jumbo, used to manipulate and abuse a generation of desperate truth seekers. Astral Sass is my attempt to reconcile my paradoxical feelings about Carlos Casteneda… and really, about life itself.
Its emergence happened when I let go. Using everyday tools, not subscribing to a particular point of view, I began drawing various scenes taken almost verbatim from my inner monologue. Allowing myself the freedom to draw whatever I wanted to, in whatever way I wanted to, with whatever I wanted to, opened my mind to become a sort of conduit for spontaneous creative energy. The characters I draw write their own stories, as they are living embodiments of a larger transcendental energy, and I am just the substrate through which they take form in this specific reality.
RKH: What are your influences?
-Being alive and all the horrors and joys that come with it.
-Works (performance, art, music, writing, and so forth) that subtly hint at the profound effects of Living on the psyche.
-Jack Kirby, Eric Drooker, Carlos Castaneda, Terrence McKenna, professional wrestling
RKH: Can you tell me why you’re interested in the story of Gilgamesh?
CB: Apparently the Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest recorded story in human history. In reading its plot and story details I was looking for some kind of universal truths that would unite a person of today with a person of antiquity. I did discover a unification, and was interested in exploring the idea of exalting one specific person into demigod status. From what I understand of the story, it is a sort of redemption narrative for Gilgamesh, who begins as a murderous raping tyrant, and ends as a humbled beacon of cultural preservation. I explored these ideas through a lens of the current Neo-Fascist American Oligarchy in a comic called “The Parables of Gilgamoid.”
RKH: Is it helpful or harmful to draw powerful villains?
CB: Helpful, especially if the goal is to create a powerful antagonist that a protagonist can somehow overcome. If the protagonist itself is a villain, it’s a bit trickier, but exploring villainy through art is a better way to deal with the concept than actually being a villain in real life. I’ve explored villainy through a protagonist before. I personally don’t see a point in contributing to a larger cultural nihilistic death worship, so I used the constraint that I still needed to acknowledge the negativity the villain creates, and show its destructive consequences, not revel in its transgressiveness. All that being said, the “anti-life” side of living needs to be explored in some way, as we all have to deal with the concept of death.
RKH: What’s it like to make art by concentrating on the faces of terrible people?
CB: Of course terrible is subjective, but some of these people seem completely terrible simply because they seem to always inhabit an “anti-life” frame of mind. I once drew a series of trading cards called “All-Star Scumbags,” featuring George W. Bush and his cabinet. In a certain way, I began to feel bad for these people, bad for humanity in general. I drew them in black and white, from photos, so I was creating abstract representations of their likeness. Distilling their image down to its core components just made me think that we can all be broken down to similar parts, thus we all share a similar experience on some level. I was creating images of people who seemed to have forgotten that we all share more similarities than differences, that we are all basically in the same position, and that this forgetting is just a trait of human nature. We can all forget this from time to time . . . but these people forgot it more? They were at least in a position where their forgetting had an enormous negative effect on large numbers of people.
RKH: What is your process? How does your work get formed?
CB: Almost everything I do is collaged in some way. It’s great because you can see both the larger structure of the work and the intimate details at the same time, while leaving room for spontaneity and letting the work itself come alive and show you where it needs to go. With my comics, I generally have an idea of a theme and just start drawing things, scenes, whatever. Sometimes it’s characters or random scenes, other times I draw multiple pages. There comes a point where that initial burst of energy dissipates, and I take a look at what I’ve got and figure out where it’s going, if it’s viable, what I need to do to keep working on it. Sometimes I’ll rough out a whole comic, other times I’ll start writing a story or dialogue, sometimes I’ll redraw what I already drew to get it right, other times I just go with what I have and keep drawing. Eventually through a kind of start-stop-start approach something will emerge.. I always have various projects going on at one time, at various stages of completion, and kind of rotate through them, like they are ideas on a lazy susan. I work on something until I can’t any more, then spin the wheel and see what’s next. Somehow things actually get done this way, but external deadlines like comic shows or performances help keep it all on track. There are plenty of finished works I have that could be reworked and “made better,” but I’m learning to let go and leave finished things finished. If I “messed up,” then get it right next time. Done is better than perfect. We have a finite amount of time in this world, so I need to keep going.
RKH: You create visual art. What has this art created of you?
CB: A being with a pretty well developed sense for non-verbal communication, with the ability to, in moments of acute awareness, understand the underlying intent and/or emotions of specific works/situations and examine them from multiple perspectives from within a rich interior world. On the flip side, I believe this has hindered my ability to communicate effectively verbally, as I learned to comfortably process my thoughts/feelings through drawing, not talking. On the flip side of that, I’ve also developed a keen understanding of the underside, the unspoken forces emanating from the Transcendental Object outside of time and space (God, higher calling), and the idea that there is so much more to life that we can explain. The sense of mystery, and exploration, remains essential.
RKH: What do you do for fun?
CB: I like to go on random adventures to weird places or weird situations with a partner, then recapitulate in detail how weird it was. Sammy Shuster is one of my favorite people to do this with.
RKH: Does ambiguity play a role in your work?
CB: Yes. I think it’s good to leave some wiggle room for the viewer/reader to have their own interpretation of a work of art. It will happen regardless. If the work can be intentionally created with ambiguity, that just creates the possibility of more potential interpretations, which is a good thing in my mind. It’s all about the transference of the meme and letting it be a living, evolving construct.
RKH: What ideologies and questions can the comic reader detect in your work?
CB: A brief list of ideologies explored in my work includes socialism, capitalism, communism, anarchism, racism, patriarchy, misogyny, white supremacy, self-actualization, destiny, afterlife, transhumanism, monogamy, polyamory, nihilism, and death.
-Can we shift levels of awareness?
-How do we maintain specific levels of awareness?
-What is the responsibility of a self-aware protagonist to the other characters in a narrative?
-Is there a hierarchy and who does it benefit?
-Can we topple oppressive systems of control? If so what is it replaced with?
-What is beyond death?
RKH: I love the kinetic momentum and bigness to your artwork… How would you DESCRIBE the visual experience of creating it?
CB: It’s completely nonverbal, and for me, the level of information packed into any one line, shape, or color can often far exceed something like 10 pages of writing. The visual experience comes at me from the underside, a deeper level under girding verbally constructed reality. In a comic like “Astral Sass” I am attempting to create a purposefully psychedelic environment, so I push colors to the limit, making them as bright and varied as possible within the confines of CYMK printing or RGB color space, while using lines as a sort of containing unit to get across a type of plot. I don’t necessarily see swarms of rainbow colors in every psychedelic experience I have, but there is a level where under every color there is a Crystal Matrix of All Color ready to burst forth, so constant use of rainbow color is in a way a visual shorthand implying the understanding of the Matrix. I also purposely change the way I’m drawing, or the tools I’m using, to better reflect the emotional core of the narrative. This is partly helped by collaging a comic together over time . . . one day I will draw a scene with colored markers and crayons, two days later I’ll draw a different scene with just a black pen. Just like in real life, each moment can feel different, so having that reflected in the drawing is important.
RKH: What’s your performance philosophy? Do you write in the aim of performing?
CB: I think I need to have some type of practice before I perform, simply because I find it too difficult to both perform and watch myself on the first try. Practice helps me take mental notes, and gets me accustomed to the specific amount and type of energy I need to bring to make the performance successful as a meme transference device. I don’t always plan on performing every comic I draw, but I’ve found it’s easy enough to transpose comic panels into single images for projecting, so with a little work, every comic could be performed. Like anything, it’s a different medium and changing the form will change some things about the narrative, but as long as the core themes are still communicated, that’s OK. The core idea is the point. It just gets adapted to different mediums.
RKH: What other projects are you working on? For example, the podcast you spoke on with Dre [Grigoropol]…
CB: I have a number of projects in various stages of completion. Here’s a short list:
-I’ve been a guest on a few episodes of Dre Grigoropol‘s Comixgab podcast. I actually am planning on interviewing her about her work soon.
-I recently completed a Psychedelic Romance comic called “Psychedelic Gaze,” which contains four short stories. I think I have a few more stories to add to it, so I will either make another issue or just expand the one that already exists.
-I’m working on an All-Ages Coloring and Activity book called “Call of the Cosmos,” which, like “Psychedelic Gaze,” I’ve already published but plan on adding pages to.
-There’s a performance project in the works with Gina Fontana that seems likely to take up the bulk of my summer. More planning is needed here but I think it will be good.
-I’m always working on my comic “Astral Sass.” I have published 5 issues so far, and have 6 others in various stages of completion.
-There are a few projects on the back burner that aren’t getting a sustained push, but I work on regularly, including a psychedelic action comic, two different capitalist revenge fantasies, an illustrated manual describing white supremacy as a corrupting virus, a sci-fi collaboration with Richard Cocchi, and a continual mail art exchange with James Jajac.
-I’m also tabling at the Scranton Zine fest in June, the Lehigh Valley Zine Fest in August, and hopefully the Philly Zine Fest in November.
RKH: Can we find you on the Net?
CB: Yes. In order of actual activity:
RKH: Please finish the sentence: Art, sorrow, desire, ____
CB: Art, sorrow, desire, transcendence.
RKH: What don’t people know about your art?
CB: It’s readily available for free, for trade, or for purchasing.
All artwork by Corey Bechelli.
Sean Martorana is an institution. If you are involved in the local art scene or are a member at Indy Hall, you have seen his work. Everything is Sean’s canvas, from wine glasses to jewelry; his iconic designs have graced both murals and products. Most importantly, Sean believes in fair pricing for artists and has generated one of the greatest self-pricing formulas I have encountered.
– Amanda V. Wagner, co-founder
Pricing artwork is tough for an upcoming artist. For 13 plus years I have worked to find the simple formula I now use to price my own work.
A few years after graduating a two-year college I started a small marketing and design company for small to mid-sized clients like architects, fashion designers, restaurants, and financial firms. Eight years later I switched my focus to my own artwork and design. I have been a full time artist for over seven years now, selling works of art, jewelry, murals, select commissions, and more. For all of these, I use the following method to help set my prices and charge for my time.
Pricing on materials and time doesn’t work. Does something that takes one hour cost less than something that might take three hours? What if you were inspired and you got it perfect the first time? Does this make the end result different in price? Absolutely not. Pricing based on your emotional attachment is also a terrible idea. If you love the piece, you will price it out of range and nobody will actually be able to afford it.
So, How to Price Your Artwork.
I price it by the square inch. Yup. By size. And it works every time. I originally learned this technique from Maria Brophy, an Art Business Consultant whose blog has provided answers to many questions I’ve had. Since I found this method, I have molded it to my specific career and helped others find their way with it as well. Let’s look into this formula and go through the process of pricing a 16” x 20” work of art.
16″ x 20″ = 320 square inches
At $1.00 per square inch, that = $320.
Is $1 per square inch an appropriate fee? To determine what you would actually be making off of the work you have to subtract your costs.
Canvas cost you $50, paint cost another $20; so, after you subtract your equipment costs from the square inch price, you are now making $250 off of this art.
A gallery’s commission could be anywhere from 40% to 60%. Let’s go with 50% for a happy medium. If that is the case you are now making $125 off of the painting.
What does that look like on an hourly rate? It all depends on how long it takes for you to create the work. If you spent five hours on the painting, you are getting paid $25/hour. Ten hours, you are getting paid $12.50 an hour. I’m not just talking about the actual time paint is hitting the canvas (or which ever medium you use), I’m talking about ALL the time. The time it takes to set up your easel. The time it takes to clean your brushes. The time it takes to research the subject you are about to create. All these and more are billable hours and should be accounted for.
Knowing around what you want to make hourly is important too. If we look at our final price and you aren’t making that mark, you need to raise your price. A good practice is comparing your rate to the rates at which companies contract freelancers. For example, if I were designing the branding and identity for a company, illustrating a poster, or even consulting on the interior of a space, I charge anywhere from $85/hr – $125/hr and this is within the market standard. Why should my fine art be any different? Don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth.
16″ x 20″ = 320 square inches
We are now at $320 according to the $1 / square inch math. The gallery is going to charge 50% commission. This should be added on top. Not baked in. You saw above that when you bake it in you start making close to minimum wage. So 50% of $320 is $160.
Total is now $480.
$70 in materials could be baked in but let’s add this on top allowing more room for time.
We are now at $550.
If you want to get this custom framed, add another $200 – $400 or more on top of that. Framing costs more than the artwork sometimes. This makes no sense.
So $550 (unframed) seems to be an ok price for a 16″ x 20″ painted canvas. This doesn’t look at the time spent because that changes for every artist and every work of art. You need to do the math and figure out if that actually makes sense to you.
If you don’t profit from your artwork, you end up paying people to take your art away from you, and begin to collect debt. You are not helping your craft. You are actually taking away from it and not financing your next project.
I move fast and I create a lot. I want to create more all the time. But I can’t do that if I have to spend my time making money somewhere else. People are not benefitting from my art or design if I have less to offer due to spreading myself thin with multiple jobs. I want my undivided attention on making this world better through art and design, and to do this I must charge accordingly and realize that this time spent creating art is valuable.
Kat Zagaria is one of the most active consumers of Philly art that I know. A founding member of Paperclips215, Kat acted for a long time as their writer, which made sense, since she’s always out and about, attending gallery openings in Kensington, Fishtown, North Philly, and Old City.
Kat is also a visual artist. As she’s leaving Philadelphia for at least a while, to pursue an advanced degree in Chicago, it’s appropriate that the images below, which she drew of her erstwhile neighborhood of Brewerytown, draw our attention to fadings in and out, to things that are here and aren’t, and to the negative space that isn’t there.
-Julius Ferraro, co-founder
Kat Zagaria has long been one of the most active members of the Philly arts community I know. A founding member of Paperclips215, Kat acted for a long time as their writer, which made sense, since she made it a point to be out and about, attending gallery openings in Kensington, Fishtown, North Philly, and Old City. Kat took me to my very first First Friday, where I made connections with theartblog, Little Berlin—where I’ve since performed—and Curate This co-founder Amanda V. Wagner.
Kat is leaving Philadelphia for at least a while, stepping away from her job at the Barnes Foundation to pursue an advanced degree in Modern and Contemporary Art History at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. We wanted to make sure to get her perspective on Philadelphia, as someone who knows and has seen more artists and art than most in her relatively brief tenure here.
—Julius Ferraro, co-founder
It is justifiable that many artists, curators, and art-lovers alike think they cannot do anything to change the entrenched infrastructure of Philadelphia’s art world, of which complaining about being excluded from the national arts scene is something of a pastime. It is frustrating that many issues in the arts community in Philadelphia stubbornly remain despite the best intentions. One person alone likely would not be able to affect change. But there is a larger, more insidious problem at work that causes Philadelphia’s non-competitive status to stagnate, and it is the lack of collaboration on artistic endeavors.
As excited as I am about the individuals that surround me, I cannot help but feel that in Philadelphia we often pigeonhole ourselves through complaints about exclusion from the international art scene. We box ourselves in and create a self-fulfilling prophecy of never being quite able to compete with our big brother and sister cities, with us taking the role of the poor stepchild forever excluded through no fault of our own. I see it every day when curators, artists, writers, and anyone involved in the art scene offers a myriad of reasons as to why Philadelphia is not competing, not being reviewed, not being talked about. As angry we are about our situation, years of living here have beaten us down into complacency. Many of us no longer bother to look at national publications, and the latest ICA show’s snippet in Art in America goes undiscussed by the very city that wanted the press coverage so badly.
During the past five years in Philadelphia, I have found a small community of collaborators that I was looking for when I arrived. I came to the city after graduating from art school in search of new experiences, and the most intriguing people I’ve found have one primary thing in common: they are doers, and doers attract others to collaborate and make their projects bigger, better, more innovative, and more fulfilling than they ever could have dreamed them to be. I have watched as Conrad Brenner built partnerships between his blog, StreetsDept.com, and many mainstream institutions in the city, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I have watched a (still budding) collaboration grow between FringeArts, our IndeGo bike share program, and the Women Bike PHL Community, which will enable more theater lovers and adventurous bikers to see the shows together this year. These are examples of the doers, who recognize that great art does not exist in a vacuum.
Collaborative projects have, in the last few years, produced some of the most interesting initiatives our city has to offer. Canicular at The Print Center in 2014 featured a collaboration with the Franklin Institute in order to fully realize artist Demetrius Oliver’s vision. Viewers watched a live feed of the Franklin Institute’s telescope view of the star Sirius—but only once they had crawled through a small doggie-door (Sirius is also known as the dog-star). As the star can only be seen at night, the Print Center had to change its hours just for the exhibit. This was not initially planned as part of Oliver’s piece, but the institution remained flexible in order for the exhibition—the collaboration—to work. It produced one of the most interesting collaborations the city has seen. Both institutions went outside of their comfort zones to produce something more intricate and beautiful than either could have done alone.
Little Berlin is a collaborative art space run by its contributor-curators. The space has no board of trustees or overseeing governing organization apart from the collaborators themselves, each of whom curates a show on a rotating basis. The result is one of the most innovative spaces that Philadelphia offers, one that is not beholden to any particular type of art. Theater, contemporary fiber installation, and interactive art all share the stage. Sometimes, Little Berlin’s shows fall flat. Other times, they are extraordinary, reflecting the diverse range of tastes that the curator-collaborators have. They are a testament to the interesting complexity that can arise when doers meet each other and make truly original art.
Collaborative art spaces need to multiply and build off of their success. Philadelphia needs more spaces that welcome a diverse audience by showcasing different types of art in innovative ways. We need spaces that encourage collaboration on an individual and institutional level. To achieve such a goal takes fiscal sponsorship, of course, but we as an arts community have to be willing to show how we support each other in our common goals. Instead of squabbling over our right to be compared to other cities, we should focus on improving ourselves. Improving our collaborative spirit will lead toward greater projects, gains in our cultural sector, and most importantly of all, great art.
Collaborations are messy. They are not a succinct process, and often the results that they yield are less than what their creators intended. But all of that is the beauty of the process.
In this, we can take a lesson from Pittsburgh and its Charm Bracelet Project, where smaller institutions are pooling their resources together to do greater projects. The project has seen a once-desolate concrete wasteland become a green space called Buhl Community Park, featuring a piece of public art by Ned Kahn called Cloud Arbor. The model that Pittsburgh has built is being touted as an example of creative collaboration and was recently featured in an American Alliance of Museums webinar on engaging new museum audiences. They are now looking at renovating the former Carnegie Library into a space fit for even more artistic collaboration and community engagement.
To take this line of thinking a step further, our city should actively collaborate with other cities on art projects—and not simply on traveling exhibitions. Artistic exchanges, residencies, and works that are created through cross-city communication should become the norm. Other cities must be invited to the table to see how wonderful the arts scene here truly is. As recognition of the communicative collaborative scene here spreads, so too will Philadelphia’s reputation as a city serious about its art.
We do nothing but hinder ourselves when we complain that we are always compared to New York and LA. Let’s give someone a reason to focus on us over New York. Let’s build something different, unique, and beautiful, and ignore anyone who says that New York is doing it better. We’re not them. But our cities have a rich, collaborative history, and it’s time for us to capitalize on that individually, institutionally, and internationally with an eye towards our inseparable artistic future.
Suzanne Maruska once made a skirt with a repeated pattern of William Shatner’s head. Most of what I have to say about Suzanne is summed up in that sentence. I lived with her in Baltimore, and partially with her urging ended up in Philadelphia. She always brings a playful perspective to situations and thinks deeply about most anything she sees. She is a talented fibers artist and a great writer. She can be found out and about at many First Fridays and museum nights in Philadelphia, and really cares about our city and its art scene. – Kat Zagaria, Curator
Giappo has (literally) stuck his face all over the city. Yet the ownership, the relationship between the artist and the city, that these stickers imply may be misleading. As an ex-gallery owner in Philadelphia, a lifelong artist, and long time curator in the city, Giappo has born witness to the flux of interest in Philadelphia’s art scene from the inside and outside. Despite the challenges, Giappo continues to strive for global recognition in a gallery scene that so frequently ushers its saviors to the manger. Curate This had the opportunity to take a tour of Giappo’s studio at Berks Warehouse.
Amanda V. Wagner, co-founder
All photos by Rachel Wisniewski.
First Friday in Old City is reappearing on the radar. There has been a staple group of visitors for First Fridays, yet the event has a reputation for discouraging local artists from participating. “In art school, we used to go to Old City for examples of what not to do,” a friend told me as we shoved through the crowd this past Friday.
When you have a chance to actually look at the work you see that the majority is skill focused, not informed by contemporary interests, says very little about the art community in Philadelphia, and (perhaps the biggest complaint) it is overly commercial. Why go to First Friday in Old City when you can go to Frankford Ave Arts’ First Friday, or to a show at Vox Populi, and be a part of something that reflects the art community and displays relevant work?
The First Friday tradition in Philadelphia has branched out, in part because Old City was only representing a small portion of the contemporary art scene in Philadelphia. Granted, a good portion of the art showing in the 40+ galleries at Old City’s First Friday is created by local artists, and the same can be said about the street vendors—who scale from pandering flea-market-esque venders to actual artists trying to support themselves through their work.
There is a distinct difference in the crowd at Old City and Frankford Ave Arts. In Old City you are confronted by people who are traveling from outside of the city, where Frankford Ave Arts caters to and supports their North Philly community. Community (and competition) seems scarce in Old City, but there are exceptions.
Surprisingly, some non-gallery spaces in Old City are drawing on their clientele to support local talent. This past Friday Indy Hall opened its doors to the public and invited people to KIN: “a collaborative exhibition featuring the creative endeavors of an evolving artistic community.” Indy Hall is not a gallery but a member based cooperative working space. All showing artists were Indy Hall members. A wider Indy Hall community was in attendance, supporting them, and as a result, purchasing local work and advocating for our creative economy.
Art in the Age, a store that sells an array of artisanal products, featured the work of Eric Kenney. His T-shirts, flags, paintings, and prints straddle the line between commercial and art, which sits well with a shop that does the same. Art in the Age is not stepping outside of their wheelhouse when they show and sell work like Kenney’s, but what they are doing is encouraging their customers to buy from a local artist.
Support for Philadelphia’s larger art community is why people like me are returning to Old City for First Friday. There are only so many Facebook invites from friends that you can ignore, but there is still a lot of room for First Friday to become more relevant. It will never be a noncommercial experience, but it has the ear of communities outside of the arts, so it is vital for those of us involved in the art scene to look at it critically.