Though it began as an afterthought, the gallery at 1819 Central has attracted some impressive artists in just four months of existence. Displayed so far: photographer Lisa Law; screen printer Jeff Wood and painter George Frayne. Coming soon: the digital art of Mark Mothersbaugh.
The thread that ties these artists together is music. Mothersbaugh, scheduled for an exhibition and video conference in May, is a member of Devo. Law has captured in black and white some of the biggest names in rock and roll. Wood, former singer of the now-defunct metal band the Sound and the Fury, designs psychedelic posters for jam and bluegrass stars.
Frayne, whose bright, impressionistic paintings of performers such as Jim Morrison will be displayed November 6 through December 31, is better known as the recording artist Commander Cody.
"You've got a wild man on piano," gallery co-owner Scott Burnett says. "Music happened for him, and he still paints and creates all the time."
Burnett is responsible for bringing the work of these and other artists to the walls of the simply named 1819 Gallery and Event Space, which he opened over the summer with Lawrence photographer John Gladman and local music producer Duane Trower.
Burnett is a self-employed 34-year-old whose work within the music scene has included operating his own record label (Minnow Records), a lot of event promotion, Web-site creation, online branding, marketing for bands and a little producing. When the 1819 space became available earlier this year, Burnett thought of his friends Gladman and Trower, two guys whom he knew could also use a place to work on their passions.
Burnett introduced them to each other in the vacant building one day last spring. Almost on the spot, the three men decided to rent the studio space together. They easily envisioned how — after some intensive, DIY remodeling — Gladman could display and manage his photography business in the front of the building, Trower could record music in the back, Burnett could use one room as an office, and they could all benefit from the kitchenette. "I've always had an office somewhere," Burnett says.
But an art gallery may be the coolest space he has worked in yet.
Opening the building to the public on First Fridays and Second Saturdays was a no-brainer, given the Crossroads location and Gladman's profession. (When I visited the gallery recently, his oversized prints, including a portrait of his very rock-and-roll daughter, took up the walls near the entrance. Burnett says a series of music-related photos by Gladman will go up this Friday.)
"I'm not active in visual art at all," Burnett says. "I hadn't been to a First Friday in several years until we opened this." As it turned out, though, Burnett had a surprising number of connections to visual artists around the nation, mostly through several years of helping organize, run and promote the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise in the Carribbean and Pacific. "I just called some contacts," he says, "and the next thing you know, I had a year of shows booked."
By "shows," he isn't referring only to exhibitions of paintings and photographs. The 1819 Gallery opened officially July 4, with Law's live shots of idols such as Bob Dylan. About 500 people came through the doors of a room that had still been a work in progress up to that day. "Two hours before we opened, we were hanging the sign on the roof," Burnett says.
In the months since, Burnett also has taken the opportunity to book some concerts. So far, the 1819 Gallery has been host to intimate performances by Ben Nichols of Lucero and Austin's Flying Balalaika Brothers. Burnett wants to book more acoustic concerts and punk shows.
His vision also includes a bistro, the possibility of upscale rooftop concerts next summer and other all-ages entertainment — all scheduled to help hype the KC arts scene in general. "We'll do events based on the events that are happening in the area," he says. Maybe a reception before a concert at the new performing arts center or a meet-and-greet with an indie rocker playing later that night at RecordBar — activities meant to extend what Kansas City already offers. "We want to do anything we can to support," Burnett says. "We want to be educational to people about local venues."
And while they're in the building, perhaps the musicians will be down for a little recording.
Trower's Weights and Measures Soundlab — two rooms with high ceilings, no 90-degree angles and sunlight pouring through unexpected windows — will open for business this month.
The electronics weren't in yet when I got the tour. But Burnett says Trower already has sessions booked.
He better keep First Fridays open.