This article appears in the May 2011 issue of LouisvilleMagazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
Full and frisky
Written by Jack Welch
In less than two years, the art-packed, no-pretense Tim Faulkner Gallery has risen to the top of East Market's exhibition spaces.
If you’re of a mind that legitimate art galleries should have off-white walls no more than about 5 percent occupied by a neat row of small or large canvases whose centers are at or a little above eye level, and that the viewer should stand a prescribed distance from those works to fully take in their gravitas, and that gallery owners shouldn’t dye their hair green or crimson on a whim, you really shouldn’t bother climbing the stairs to visit the Tim Faulkner Gallery at 632 E. Market St.
Its room-by-room color scheme is a riot of loud hues — from red to green to purple to turquoise to coral to yellow. Pieces are hung from the baseboards to the crown molding. Two of the “rooms” (hallways, actually) are so skinny, your nose is almost touching the artwork. And whereas proper galleries present the work of one or two artists at a time, with maybe a salon wall toward the back, the Faulkner Gallery — which is a 2,500-square-foot maze of mini-galleries with such names as the Drawing Room, the Govi Room and the Blue Room — tends to complement its highlighted-for-the-month artists with the work of about 25 others, maybe 450 or more pieces on view in all.
The second-story gallery space, once home to local artist-icon Billy Hertz, who remains the landlord but now operates Galerie Hertz at 1253 S. Preston St., opened as the Faulkner in August 2009, just in time for that month’s “First Friday Trolley Hop” event. Almost immediately it created a buzz in the art district and among First Friday-goers, presenting the work of new and not-so-new local and regional faces like Josh Vance, Jen Goodell, James Russell May, Tony Perez (now deceased), Damon Thompson (aka “Kleb”), Eric Phagan, Denz One, Linda Akers and Waller Austin. The buzz came from the gallery’s style as well as its substance: There wasn’t an ounce of aloofness in the chatty proprietor (close your eyes and you’ll hear Billy Crystal) and his equally loquacious gallery director, Margaret Archambault Spivey, both active artists born within a month of each other in 1969.
Faulkner, the owner-impresario of this new kid on the city’s hottest gallery block, came to Louisville from New Orleans in 2005 with his wife Cheryl and two kids, ages five and two, in tow — refugees from Hurricane Katrina pulling a trailer and making do in short-term hotel stays.
(Today the gallery’s rear section is home to the family.) In late 2007, having decided he should open his own gallery rather than seek representation from others, Faulkner leased a tiny, 230-square-foot space plus a hall above the Mary Craik Gallery on the 800 block of East Market and began finding new artists and putting together shows. A year and a half later Hertz provided him with his big break, offering Faulkner the prime space he’d left a few years before (which the tenant subsequently expanded). But there was a catch, as Faulkner recalls in a rapid-fire narration:
“I asked Billy, ‘Can you give me two months on this?’ He said no. He said, ‘I’ll make you a hell of a deal — you want it?’ I said yeah. He said, ‘But you’ve gotta be in in 10 days; you gotta be open for the First Friday of August.’ ‘OK,’ I said, ‘so I’ve got 10 days to move the entire space?’ He said yeah.”
Faulkner says he suspects Hertz was testing his younger colleague’s resolve. “Billy watches everybody,” says Faulkner. “I mean, he still is the godfather of art in Louisville. . . . He knows that too.”
“I came over to the gallery for the first time,” Spivey says of that initial August opening, “and I haven’t left. I dropped everything else and put 100 percent of all my energy into this gallery.” The two are a near-perfect team, exceedingly welcoming of young, raw talent and oddball practitioners and completely turned off by pretense.
“We don’t want that eat-your-cheese-and-move-to-the-next-piece sort of atmosphere here,” says Spivey. “Some people, this atmosphere makes them so uncomfortable that they’ll leave within the first five minutes. They don’t know what to do.”
“We try not to be suffocating,” Faulkner says, “but minimal shows, to be honest with you, irritate me. If you’re not grabbed right off the bat, then the entire room is pretty much worthless to you. If you enjoy art and want to support local art, you can’t come up here and not find something you like of the quality you’re looking for. We have work that ranges from $50 to $25,000.”
You might think that artists would object to having their work hung on walls in the midst of many others’ pieces, but that’s not the case here. “That’s an aspect I like,” says 25-year-old sculptor Patrick White. “I think my sculpture looks better with all the paintings around it, just as I think my sculptures add to each room. With Tim’s gallery, everything’s very much alive — not ‘in your face,’ but very stimulating, to say the least.”
Adds painter/ceramicist Eric Phagan, 31, “I like that all the work surrounds you and kind of forces you to really look at the pieces and keeps the eye moving. Everybody’s work plays off each other; I think Tim has a great eye for art and placement.”
When asked which of the represented artists bumped up his or her reputation the quickest because of the gallery, both Faulkner and Spivey blurt out, “James Russell May!” — a Savannah, Ga., native who paints mythology-recalling human figures in Neo-Renaissance style (even the digits have a defined musculature) as well as highly popular floral abstracts.
“Rusty was showing here in town for quite awhile. He was having some success through several of the galleries here,” says Faulkner. “When we moved from the 800 block to here, Rusty said, ‘Hey, can we do something together?’ I said yeah, of course. The first painting he brought over we sold in two hours. As soon as that happened, he dropped his representation with other galleries and came on board with us.”
Faulkner says he and Spivey are champions of up-and-comers, but stresses that those artists are strongly urged to attend openings and even drop in during the week. “If you’ve got a room and we’ve got people coming in, we expect you to be here to interact with those people,” he says. “You know, (a prospective buyer) might be thinking, I like the piece, but am I really going to be able to live with it for the next decade or so? When they get to know the artist, it makes it a lot easier to make that commitment.”
Of course the painters and sculptors aren’t really the ones nudging buyers toward a purchase, notes Hertz, who’s a big fan of Spivey and Faulkner. “I used to think I could makes sales — you know, sell ice to Eskimos,” says Hertz. “Well, Margaret sells ’em two bags. You need to go down there on a First Friday and see her operate.”