A new kind of gallery scene is emerging in the East Bay, according to Oakland artist Jason Byers. It's something like San Francisco's self-proclaimed "Mission School" -- the recent, much-touted infiltration of street artists into local galleries, and vice versa. But what's happening over here, Byers says, is grittier, more genuinely urban -- an altogether different sort of neighborhood production.
Byers is the featured artist in the first one-person show at Lucky Tackle, a brand-new gallery on San Pablo Avenue just south of the Berkeley-Oakland border. The space was home to a bait and tackle shop until a few years ago when Adam Rompel, another local artist, cleaned it up and transformed it, first into a studio for himself, and recently into the Lucky Tackle gallery. Now the name and the original sign are all that remain of the shop's former occupants.
Lucky Tackle's inaugural show, a group exhibition confidently titled "Shit-Hot," opened this last July. It included works by more than twenty artists and summed up, according to Rompel, what his new gallery is all about.
"I see Lucky Tackle as part of a Bay Area tradition of artist-run galleries," he observes. "These platforms provide a voice for the fringe, the degenerate, or punk-ass artists out there. And with this crowd being seen, a totally new dialogue opens up for other artists as well as the art-viewing public."
Rompel and Byers met four or five years ago as graduate students in UC Berkeley's art program. They share a love-hate relationship with the "art world"; they both appreciate intelligent, thoughtful work, but dislike the self-important, high-minded attitude that so often comes with it. "I've studied my fair share of 'those French guys,'" Byers says with a smile, "enough so that I don't really like them anymore. But I've always been interested in taking a philosophical approach to art. I'm not trying to create a literal, mechanical, nice, clean, hyperconceptualism like, say, Sol LeWitt. I approach things with more of a sense of humor and lightheartedness."
Byers' paintings of everyday objects, like bicycles and can openers, appear almost humble at first. But the longer you look at them, the more they seem to point outside themselves to more abstract ideas of language -- the arbitrariness of words and the naming of objects.
Future shows at Lucky Tackle will focus much more on installation-based artworks. They certainly won't be as salable as paintings, but Rompel says he's learning, with the help of other local artist-gallerists like Charles Linder (Refusalon, Linc Real Art), and Marisa Jahn and Steve Shada (Pond Gallery), how to strike a balance between profitability and experimentalism.
"I don't think I'm going to change the world, or even change Oakland," he says, "but I'd like to create something that people would be excited to go see. Oakland lets me afford to be risk-taking. I don't have to be concerned about sales to make the rent."
"Once Adam gets going," Byers predicts, "the work will reflect the gallery's location a lot more. People just going out on a limb -- crazy stuff. He'll also get foot traffic from the street, like people shopping at the Goodwill next door. There won't be any tourists walking by in that neighborhood."
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