pun(c)tuation looks like a gallery — and through April 10, Chicago artist Hebru Brantley makes a phenomenal Seattle debut on its walls — but its vibe is closer to that of the businesses it shares the block with. Call it a bar without the booze or a barbershop without the shears. Conversation flows just as...
Don’t call it a gallery. pun(c)tuation looks like one — and through April 10, Chicago artist Hebru Brantley makes a phenomenal Seattle debut on its walls — but its vibe is closer to that of the businesses it shares the block with. Call it a bar without the booze or a barbershop without the shears. Conversation flows just as freely in Capitol Hill’s new salon-style art space.
It’s a cooperative run by at least 13 people, with a strong female contingent, although Kizha Davidson is the only woman present the night I visit. Sitting at the front desk, she’s surrounded by artists and friends who stopped by to hang out.
The quietest presence, Iskandar Syed, will show his handwoven textiles at the space in May. April features work by pun(c)tuation Creative Director Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes and friends, which will examine police and litigious brutality and “the alchemic, healing power of art.”
Jaycee Coleman and Gyasi Mose, who met in middle school, operate a green auto-detailing business on the side. Mose met Alley-Barnes, who does most of the talking, when he was 10 years old.
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“Maikoiyo is the magnet that drew everyone together,” says Davidson, a PR executive by day.
“An integrity and necessity to share is the common thread,” explains Alley-Barnes.
Alley-Barnes is a self-proclaimed cynic who’s nevertheless helming an optimistic endeavor. He refers to people as sages, makers and brothers. He talks about sustainable consumption and resource sharing between talented people with different skill sets.
That includes those who visit for the art. The conversations that result from Brantley’s “Lions Disguised as Lambs,” or any of their shows, seems a vital part of pun(c)tuation’s M.O.
Brantley’s mixed-media depictions of “Mammy” archetypes, cartoons from the 1940s and ’50s and other historically derogative African-American characters place them in abstract environments. They’re now surrounded by swirls of cultural ephemera drawn from blaxploitation films, comic books, sci-fi and Brantley’s vast imagination and memory. His take on Chicken George, for instance, looks like Nefertiti with a hi-top fade.
“I grew up in a family that was very supportive of the arts, and my mother was a collector. One of the things she collected was folk art — the blackface salt-and-pepper shakers, the mammy and Aunt Jemima figure cookie jars and things like that,” says Brantley.
“Those stuck with me into adulthood. I knew the negative connotation behind these things, but they were still so beautiful to me. They had such a history, whether for good or bad. In trying to find my way and my voice, I kind of reverted back to thinking of what I was most drawn to.”
It’s his approach to retelling stories.
“Kind of what Disney does. Taking an old fable and making it look better, putting a shiny coat of paint on it. The lions are the strong people, the strong tales. In order to tell these tales you have to go about it a soft way,” says Brantley.
Brantley uses acrylic, spray paint or coffee as materials — whatever grabs him. On opening night, the 6-foot-8-inch artist painted the show’s centerpiece mural without a stool.
When Alley-Barnes discovered Brantley’s work through a mutual friend in Chicago a couple of years ago, he couldn’t believe it hadn’t been shown more. From both men’s accounts, they clicked as kindred spirits.
“There’s been a gap in the support of local or emerging artists,” says Alley-Barnes.
“We forget the role that we play in the lore of our contemporaries. Far too often we allow others to knight our ‘masters.’ “
The gallery is a welcoming space. It has a purposeful lack of signage, according to Alley-Barnes.
“It’s because we want people to come in and ask. That’s the price of admission — open the door, ask the question.”
Rachel Shimp: firstname.lastname@example.org