A life-size humanoid monster with wads of dollars in his hand has been known to guard the bathroom door at Alcove Gallery. He fits right in to the gallery's whimsical world of surreal creatures, fairy tale antiheroes, and playful demonic sculptures. With an aesthetic that lies somewhere between Saturday morning cartoons and folk art, Alcove reigns as Atlanta's Sothern-fried lowbrow art hub. After seven years in business, though, artist/owner H.C. Warner has decided to close Alcove's doors for good Jan. 5.
Warner's been part of Atlanta's lowbrow scene since the early '90s, when he was throwing warehouse art parties and concerts. In 2003, he gave the party a permanent home on Bennett Street in Buckhead at Alcove's first incarnation. "He took that concept and made it legit, while also providing an outlet for art that mainstream galleries in Atlanta weren't showing," says San Francisco-based artist and gallery favorite Mark Henderson. Three years ago, the gallery moved into its current digs on the border of Decatur and Avondale Estates.
Alcove's final show, Ignition, features collaborative works by Warner and local artists including Brian Colin, Bart Webb, Chris Hamer, Joe Peery, Jason Thomas and Chris Dierking. Many of the artists participating in Alcove's last hurrah had their first real gallery showings thanks to Warner and his ability to identify their pop-culture relevance.
"He's been a big part of creating a community of artists and art enthusiasts by creating a venue for artists, musicians and other performers," says musician and Dangerous Basements member Michael Koepenick, who's collaborated with Warner since those warehouse parties in the '90s.
Over the past few years, Alcove's group shows have covered everything from Willy Wonka and The Wizard of Oz to David Lynch and the nostalgia of lunchboxes. The gallery's also nurtured a variety of local, national and international talent, including Atlanta's pop surrealist queen Bethany Marchman; macabre doodle maker Gus Fink from Pennsylvania; and Barcelona's fantastical painter Sergio Mora, who had his first U.S. solo show at Alcove. Even the vixens of Blast-Off Burlesque honed their talents at Alcove, performing at exhibit openings and other events before graduating to larger venues such as 7 Stages.
Alcove is "the only gallery I have ever been in where the work always intrigued and delighted me," says Marchman.
Now, after spending so much time promoting other artists and performers, Warner is ready to focus fully on his own work. "It's time for me to start thinking about my own personal ventures," he says. "The business has changed dramatically. Not necessarily the overall purchases, and the fan base seems to be very consistent, but sadly the way things are done is different now. The Internet has changed the way people buy art and people would rather buy directly from the artist these days. I'm getting calls from people trying to buy around my own gallery."
Ignition marks a rare showing of Warner's own work within his own gallery, although his big-eyed bees, owls and monkeys have always had a presence at Alcove. For the show, Warner's works are more over the top than usual. "Kaboom!," a tryptic by Warner that depicts a matchbook, a lit match, and an ignited bomb, has the urgency of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. His painting/sculpture collaboration with Colin, a vinyl sculptor, features a dragon-like mounted head protruding about three feet from the wall.
"[Alcove] was the first gallery where I actually felt at home," says Colin. "If it wasn't for Chris' eye, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to see so many talented artists. There will be a hole in the Atlanta art scene that is going to be very difficult to fill."
Colin's statement rings especially true when considering Alcove's shuttering along with the closings of like-minded galleries such as Foundation One and Rabbit-Hole in recent years, as well as the ever uncertain future of underground art stalwart Eyedrum.
Hamer, whose work features comic book-style monsters and found objects, credits Warner for his risk-taking.
"Alcove gave me a chance that no other gallery would," says Hamer. "I think one of the great things about Alcove is the risk [Warner] took by showing unknowns."
"I'm extremely sad that he's closing," says Webb, whose studio is located directly behind Alcove, and who has collaborated with Warner the past two springs on Avondale Estates' outdoor Art-B-Que music, food and art festival. "These are tough times for galleries. I'm struggling, too. I'm hoping he will join forces with me at some point to keep things going in this area."
For Warner, Alcove's closing offers a bittersweet sense of freedom: He made his first trip to Miami's big name art fair Art Basel earlier this month; he's already working on pieces for the Delray Beach Art Festival on Jan. 11; preparing for a solo show at Stone Mountain's Art Station in March; and planning appearances at various festivals and comic conventions around the country early next year.
"It's been great for me to have a studio to constantly throw crazy parties," says Warner. "But I just need to focus on myself at this time."
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