Innovation exists somewhere in the murky middle between establishment and fantasy. It’s not always neat and tidy, and it is certainly never predictable. Originality is pushing and pulling at comfort zones, stretching them into new shapes and new directions. In the Columbus gallery scene, the earth-shakers are the young ones, the emerging artists who are looking for ways to merge their obsessive creativity with the demands of “real” life, all while shaking up the art scene at the same time.
78 Parsons Ave. • abnormalallies.com
You can find these outliers in small clusters around the city, drawn together by the desire to have freedom of space and creative control—for example, the screen printing storefront that magically opens up to 7,000 square feet of maker-space in Olde Towne East. Originally concepted as the Chop Chop Gallery in 2006, originators Craig Dransfield and Ashley Puckett moved into the pre-hip Olde Towne East with the idea of having a space to create their own work, as well as show the work of others or host one-off events.
“Originally, I was doing art shows all over the United States and I needed to have a home base to come back to,” said Dransfield. “It was a two-tiered thing: a place to do my stuff, and a gallery for contemporary art.”
Before Chop Chop, the Athens native had studio space in other parts of the city but nowhere that he could trust to leave his stuff. “I didn’t want to worry about the landlord being an asshole and my stuff getting thrown on the curb,” he said. “I wanted a place with a key and a lock, a roof over our heads, so we could make our art and do our thing. But there’s always, ‘How do we play the bills?’ What’s the hustle gonna be?”
Chop Chop became much more than that—it became a layover spot for national artists or musicians swinging through town, such as Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, or Holly Woodlawn, one of Warhol’s superstars, or the Found Magazine/Post-Secret dual appearance. The space also turned into a small business incubator, helping numerous small design companies or fabricators like Seagull Bags get their start. “This was in the early days of Parsons [Avenue], when it was just us and Carabar,” Dransfield said. “At the beginning, people were like, ‘I’m scared to come over to Olde Towne East.”
Just as neighborhoods change, Chop Chop changed as well. Puckett went on to start her own interior design business, and Dransfield changed things up at Parsons Avenue, rebranding as Abnormal Allies along with Abby Troxell. Dransfield gets enough screen-printing business now that he only hosts a couple of shows a year, but he throw his all into each one. “They’re mega-shows, all-inclusive with music, art, visuals,” he said. “We really push the limits of what we can do with this space.”
In between the mega shows, Abnormal Allies hosts “Waffles & Wax,” a DJ soundtracked waffle party that unveils the shop’s latest design in a limited edition run. “We do 20 amazing things instead of 1,000 half-assed things,” Dransfield said. “Let’s make it awesome, because next week they will all be gone.”
The Parsons Avenue space is also a hangout for up-and-coming creatives looking to pick up some skills. “A lot of people come around and if they keep showing up, I’ll find something for them to do,” he said. “Do some grunt labor and I’ll show you how to weld, give you some one-on-one time. That’s how I learned, by banging on people’s doors.”
Next up at Abnormal Allies: the monthly Waffles & Wax event. Follow them on Instagram to get hints of the upcoming design and details of the happening @ABNORMAL_ALLIES.
934 Cleveland Ave. • 934.gallery
The notion of community sits in the forefront of the minds behind the latest alt gallery in town, 934 Gallery. As Jamie Abbott, Kyle Charles, and Mark Warren Jacques sit around a card table outside the nearby Milo-Grogan gallery, the talk turns to the neighbors, a helicopter from the Ohio State Fair buzzing by every 15 minutes. “The neighborhood kids stop by,” said Abbott. “One kid came up to me the other day—Kayne—and he said I was the first person to remember his name after meeting him one time.”
“We’ve made it a point to get to know the neighborhood, and they know this is an open space,” added Jacques.
While 934 Gallery is new, Milo Arts, the old-school building that has been converted to artist studios, has been looking out over the neighborhood for years. Owner Rick Mann also owns the former transmission shop that 934 now occupies. “The Milo-Grogan commission has been really supportive; they have a sense of comfort because Rick is adding to the community and they can see the evidence,” said Abbott.
Milo artists walk through the community garden often to check out the goings on at 934. There is also a music studio, Screaming Ear, nearby. This two-block radius is slowly becoming an unassuming hub for artists of all genres.
Groveport natives Jacques and Charles have known each other since playing in embarrassing middle school scream-o bands. Jacques has shown in, and run, galleries everywhere from Portland to San Francisco, Houston to New York City. Coming back home, he noted that Columbus has changed a lot. “I loved doing this in Portland with four other artists,” he said. “And now, being part of this community.”
Pulling the space together brought out the best in everyone, and their friends. Parents chipped in their expertise; friends of the families came by and added their talents to the job. “We could not have planned it any better,” said Charles. “Everything fell together—if we needed something, someone would say, ‘I know a guy’—everyone worked together.”
The gallery hosts exhibitions, music shows, and parties in its chameleon space. The walls, both interior and exterior, can be painted to reflect each show. “The space is funky enough,” said Jacques. “It’s less stuffy, and we are able to get everybody involved. The collector types here are different than in L.A.—they care about the artwork foremost, not as an investment.”
The gallery also showcases local artists, established and emerging, as well as national artists. The next show will be an artistic conversation between Matt Carmean, a 60-year-old traditional painter and former OSU professor, and 30-year-old Mario Joyce Harper, an artist living in the Bronx who is originally from Columbus.
“We are doing two artists who don’t know each other, but their color palettes are similar, they both use oil, and the collaboration works out perfectly for our space,” Jacques said.
At 934, the OIL show featuring Carmean and Harper opens September 5, and the gallery will host an artist talk with the two on Friday, September 4 at 6:30 p.m.
MINT Art Collective
42 W Jenkins Ave. • mint-collective.org
You can bang on people’s doors, or you can just find your own door. That’s what the group over at MINT Art Collective did. Taking over a long-defunct meat processing plant on the city’s south end, MINT recently celebrated its first anniversary, an inaugural year that brought local, national, and international art shows, dance parties, dinner events, concerts, film screenings, the beginning of the spectrum AA/Chop Chop has traveled on—under an even bigger umbrella.
The Jenkins Avenue warehouse is 17,000 square feet that the collective is slowly but surely turning into viable studio space. Currently, there are 21 artists utilizing MINT, as well as a gallery area, a large outdoor space with chickens clucking about, a couple of shiny Airstreams parked on the side, and a house…yes a house… smack dab in the middle.
“There was this door that was always locked,” said artist Rachel Hohman. “We were terrified when we first went up there, we all had the flashlights on our phones on.” Indeed, nestled within the concrete and wide spaces of the former meat processing plant is a house, complete with hardwood floors and a full bathroom and windows some of which which look out over the side yards, while others other open to the concrete walls of the plant.
When the group first took over the spot, they found all sorts of odd paraphernalia—voided checks, social security numbers, Red Barn meat stickers, a raccoon colony, the previous tenants’ “meat sink” and NAMP (National Association of Meat Purveyors) signs still hang on the walls.
“No one is doing anything like this,” added Ginssivo Apara. “Columbus is f*cking boring.” Instead of complaining, Apara and friends decided to do something about it.
“We were looking for cheap studio and gallery space,” said CJ Brazelton, one of the founding members. “A space for conceptual and cutting——edge work. Columbus caters to the established artists, not the emerging. [MINT] is bringing a lot of demographics together—queer artists, people of color—and creating different dialogues focusing a lot on identity, it seems, talking to the times about gender and race.”
“We’re the only group that confronts these issues,” added Clare Gatto. Additionally, the group hopes to link together all the micro-scenes in Columbus that rarely mix it up—the CCAD and OSU students/grads, the DIY punk scene in Clintonville, the CMA group.At last month’s anniversary party, there were DJs, art, and skateboard ramps set up with skaters zigzagging through the crowd. “It’s not just viewing art,” said Brazelton. “It’s a cultural experience.”
“People have really responded, it’s beautiful that it’s panned out,” echoed Maritt Vaessin.
For Brazelton and the group, MINT not only is one of a kind, it’s also an invitation to art lovers and collectors to start supporting the up-and-coming artists in the city. “We want to raise the profile and have support for the emerging artists here; people don’t need to go to New York or Chicago,” Brazelton said. And a space like MINT also shows young artists that they don’t have to hit the road. “People think you have to go to New York City, but you can create a good space here… in NYC, you’re just part of the white noise,” added Hohman.
While the community is having its definition of art reinvented by this mix of CCAD and OSU grads as well as self-taught artists, the group is also learning from each other. “Art grown in an academic setting has realism and technique, but it doesn’t focus on what we are saying,” said Hohman. “There is a wide variety of people here, and I’ve learned a lot spending time with these people.”
Currently at MINT: the NSATSAT&A featuring works by Karen Azoulay, Ann Hirsch, Angela Jann, Kathryn Shinko, and Beny Wagner show hangs through September 11.