In July 2006, tucked away on the bottom floor of the Old City's historic Hewgley building, artist Timothy Michael Martin opened the doors of his new Basement Gallery for Knoxville's First Friday. Since its inception, the gallery has been gaining momentum as a not-to-be-missed stop and a welcome addition to the downtown art scene. Now it has also become a hub for music and performance.
The gallery has earned a reputation for expertly juxtaposing local and national artists from various disciplines. So far Martin has culled artists from New York City to Olympia, Wash.
"I've always wanted the gallery to feature works from different mediums, such as photography, drawings, or paintings, and really explore the variations of certain themes," Martin says. "I also like to mix the more established professional artists with the emerging and beginning ones.... Hopefully, by mixing local and out-of-town artists, the gallery serves as a springboard for making connections that might lead to other exhibitions. It also encourages everyone to do some footwork, like getting their portfolios together."
Since moving back to Knoxville after finishing his MFA in 2005 at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Martin has landed his own work in some high-profile group and solo shows across the country; he currently has two more lined up for this year. This spring he'll also take part in the Flying Solo exhibition series at the Nashville International Airport, installing a 9-foot-by-19-foot digital collage in one of the airport terminals. Martin has a background in construction, which has visibly influenced his work. In his intricate paintings and installations, he explores the human experience through the navigation of imaginary geometric blueprints and diagrams. His vividly colored works map out complex personal experiences through systematic grids and fantastical technologies.
For March's First Friday event, the Basement Gallery hosts underneath, a solo show by Monty Montgomery. Montgomery, a painter from Charlottesville, Va., will present approximately 30 works, including a recently finished series. Symbolic forms and dizzying color combinations combine on his canvases to achieve a psychedelic effect, similar to Pop art. In one work a radiant female form emerges from a sunburst; in another a series of ice cream cones serves as a symbol for life's choices. Montgomery is not working within a conceptual vernacular, but his paintings and subject matter do have a more commercial, graphic appeal.
Later this month the gallery will extend its roster to include more experimental performances. Cradle Arts member Brandon Rogers will debut his spoken word piece where have all the phone booths gone, a mix of autobiographical musings and social commentary. "The show is a series of performance poetry pieces mixed with song samples, some films I made, and slides and other voices," says Rogers.
The Basement Gallery has already tapped into Knoxville's folk music scene for its popular monthly Folk Fight music series. Last September, Martin approached his friend James Maples, a member of the jazzy folk trio Centralia Massacre, to arrange a First Friday showcase for local and regional folksters. Their intent was to provide a more intimate, listening-room environment for musicians to play as an alternative to the bar scene. With the gallery's surprisingly adequate acoustics and donations-only policy, the gallery has landed a sleeper, drawing all-ages crowds of 100 or more.
"Essentially our philosophy for the music at Folk Fight is to keep it as acoustic as possible, as simple as possible, and as natural as possible," Maples quips. He also cites the range of styles as a major draw to the event, including more experimental new folk acts and performers who incorporate electronic elements. Centralia Massacre just released its first album, Right at Home, on the band's own label and will be hitting the road this summer for a tour. Maples is also taking Folk Fight on the road to Murphreesboro, but says the gallery will continue to host locally.
"Just as long as the community is supportive," he says.