It often feels like the art world is populated by a cast of recurring characters: the in-the-trenches installers, the career artists stumping for their next show, the moneyed benefactors. But rarely do you come across players like Mark Basehore, 33, and James McConnell, 29, a pair of jovial friends and business partners whose favorite enunciation is the high five. Basehore and McConnell's plucky indie gallery Beep Beep has just hit the five-year mark.
Five years ago, Basehore and McConnell were the new kids on their relatively grotty block of Charles Allen Drive and Ponce de Leon Avenue. Now? "We're the man," laughs McConnell. "No, the woman," clarifies Basehore, in their back and forth finish-each-other's-sentences repartee. McConnell is the imp with the wisecrack at the ready and Basehore a bastion of good-natured calm that speaks to his one-time desire to become a minister. In a remarkably short time, Basehore and McConnell's gallery has made a distinct impact on the Atlanta art scene, offering both a place for predominately local artists to hock their wares and a distinct point of view, "somewhere between a celebration of the ecstatic and a psychedelic vision," says McConnell.
"I personally enjoy the relaxed gallery environment they have cultivated and the fact that Beep Beep is a place where an artist wants to hang out," says Ann-Marie Manker, one of the artists featured in the gallery's anniversary exhibition Me/We. "The two of them are in it to help build an art scene more than building a business," says Manker.
With each passing year Beep Beep has become a little more rooted in the city's art firmament. In addition to running Beep Beep, the pair founded the annual alt-art fest Artlantis, and this year incubated the public art series Four Coats Mural Project at four gallery locations around the city.
Me/We exemplifies the duo's eagerness to give artists new challenges and the audience another way to engage. A variation on the Surrealist Exquisite Corpse game, in Me/We one artist begins a work that a second artist completes. The 14 finished works are, not surprisingly, occasionally schizophrenic and just as frequently inspired. Working in a graphic, arresting style, Sarah Daly and Nathan Phaneuf offer two high points. The pair creates both gritty and seductive cityscapes, where hulking buildings loom against a chartreuse horizon and birds fly against a dystopian charcoal sky.
Alex Kvares moves outside of his usual regimen of precise, obsessive pencil marks thanks to a nudge from Mike Germon. Germon lays the groundwork with a pithy collage of magazine images that Kvares' hellfire sensibility juices into a Cecil B. DeMille epic of religion, sex and spectacle. Most of the collaborations intensify and animate static images to create a sense of psychological complexity. Artists tend to be an onanistic lot and Me/We nudges unhealthy quiet time into mutually satisfying lovemaking. In Sat Kirpal Khalsa and Bryan Ramey's collaboration, Garcia's image of a brooding upright cheetah in a jacket and tie is joined by Ramey's vaporous, sexy woman — a human curl of smoke — draped around his shoulders like something from a vintage Benson & Hedges ad. Manker likewise adds a Sapphic twist to a Joe Tsambiras drawing of a plaintive young woman accessorized by what could be construed as her lover offering a Mona Lisa glance out at her voyeuristic viewers.
Me/We is classic Beep Beep: a little rough around the edges, but ambitious and boding of more good things to come.
"Being at the five-year point makes you think about where you are in the spectrum of Atlanta," says McConnell.
"It's five years in. We're just getting started," echoes Basehore.