No one likes to wait in line at the bank on a Friday afternoon or at the Farmers Market crêpe stand on Saturday mornings. The person in front of you always seems to be making a large deposit in loose change, or the sun is beating down on your neck while a woman with a giant stroller and a labradoodle nearly knocks you down. Not so at Theatre 99. Waiting in line for beer at the new and improved Gallery 99 is a fun-filled experience thanks to the colorful, fun works from emerging local artists.
Over the last few years, local painter Nathan Durfee has transformed the theater's hallway into a legitimate exhibit space for artists whose work might not fit in the typical downtown gallery. "We have a simple goal to give recognition to artists with a lighthearted style," Durfee says.
Gallery 99 offers "standing power," which Durfee says gives artists the chance to have their works up for an extended period of time and to be seen by viewers outside of the art world. "This is not your typical art crowd," he says. "We've piggybacked onto Theatre 99's community and opened their eyes to visual art." With a lot of foot traffic and the casual nature of the crowd, the intimate space offers a relaxed, positive vibe to view innovative, and sometimes silly, art.
Improbable as it may seem, Durfee himself was an emerging artist just a few years ago. He tells the story of tagging along with his then-girlfriend who was auditioning for a casting call at Theatre 99. As a recent graduate of SCAD, Durfee was new to town and struggling to get his work noticed. That afternoon, Theatre 99 co-founder and co-artistic director Brandy Sullivan chatted him up, and the two devised a plan to hang some of his art on the walls outside the theater. Durfee has since transitioned to the sought-after artist that he is today. "We've all been new to town at some point or another," he says. A few of his paintings still hang on the walls of the theater alongside friends like Lisa Shimko and John Pundt.
The art of graphic designer Marius Valdes of Zoo Valdes Art and Design will fill the walls of Gallery 99 for the next few weeks. Colorful cartoon animal characters with toothy smiles exchange witty dialogue in the illustrations. Valdes' most recent works are part of a series called No Context, and it will be the first time he has shown works that are not acrylic on canvas or drawings. These pieces are digital collages made from fashion photography in magazines, text/cartoon bubbles from his childhood comic book collection, and hand drawings. "I try to find text from my comic books that just sound either really absurd when taken out of their original context or maybe sometimes poetic and mix them with some fashion photos that I find interesting either for the graphic quality of the image or silliness of the model's pose. It's sort of like a puzzle and highly addicting to match up the different word bubbles with the right image." Once he finds a good fit, he runs everything through a copier machine and Photoshop.
"With No Context, I wanted to try and do something different than the paintings I have made for the last 10 years, but is still animal and character-based. I wanted to do something that is quicker, more spontaneous, and raw," Valdes says. "Having shows at Theatre 99 gives me a good excuse to hang out with the crew there, which is actually exhausting because they are so funny and you end up laughing the whole time."
The Gallery 99 exhibit schedule is flexible in terms of how long the artists' work will be displayed, which Durfee explains gives him the ability to take risks. You might have to wait in line, but you won't be wasting your time.