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Two Art Chicks flying the coop

by Amy Kingsley

For eight years, Two Art Chicks gallery has presided over South Elm Street’s motley cultural district: a purple elder stateswoman surrounded by antiques shops and painting studios.

Gallery management changed several times during those years, which also witnessed the dawn of a South Elm arts boom that introduced institutions as varied as the dada Elsewhere and the figurative Blue Diamond to the neighborhood. When the Flying Anvil closed, gallery director Melodi Fentress even welcomed displaced local bands and their fans.

This month Two Art Chicks will close. The building’s owner, Clyde Marr, sold it to the Mellow Mushroom, a chain of pizzerias, at the end of the summer.

Fentress and her business partner, Emily Stewart, will be starting over in a narrow storefront a few blocks away. The gallery, which will occupy the spot where Four Corners Market used to be, will move from its funky-boho locale to a corner better known for its concentration of classy coffee bars and upscale eateries.

“In the short run, a pizza place might actually bring more business to the other galleries that are here,” Stewart says. “That’s the thing with art galleries, they really rely on foot traffic.”

The new gallery will be called Focal Points. Aside from the name and address, very little will change when the space opens in mid-December, Stewart says. Small studios will be available for artists, just like at Two Art Chicks, and several of the current tenants have already signed up.

“We were sad for about three days when [Marr] announced the sale,” Stewart says. “Then we thought, ‘Okay, we gotta get a new space.'”

For her final exhibition as gallery manager for Two Art Chicks, Fentress arranged a showing of work by Tracy Hayes and herself. The show, titled Budding Transitions, will hang in the main gallery until it closes on Nov. 24.

“Since I’ve been working here, I haven’t really had the chance to paint because I’ve been so busy trying to sell other people’s work,” Fentress says.

The name of the show reflects both the obvious transition and one that Fentress says is happening within her art. Her earlier work was much more abstract, she says, compared to the pieces in the show, which mix found objects like buttons and newspaper with painted pastel images.

“It’s a transition from pieces that don’t really tell a story,” she says, “to paintings where I’m actually getting a lot of things out of my head.”

Hayes has a studio across the street from Two Art Chicks and occasionally worked the counter for Fentress. The two artists got to talking about the creative block both were experiencing, and Fentress suggested a joint exhibition.

“I kept saying ‘I want to paint, but I don’t know what to paint,'” Fentress said. “So finally I said, ‘Alright Tracy, let’s conquer our fear.'”

Hayes’ work includes small ink drawings ripped from the annals of science fiction with titles like “Unusual Growth” and hanging sculptures of toes and noses.

Most of Fentress’ work is painted on birch board. She says she studied Carl Jung’s theory of the unconscious to better understand how to translate her neuroses into art.

Fentress, who turned the gallery’s failing finances around when she started hosting rock shows, hasn’t just been learning from books. She and Stewart say the new space will be an improvement over Two Art Chicks. They plan to open up the back and design the studios for better public interaction.

They are also going to treat the walls for better sound and attach some insulation to the wall that separates the gallery from Glitters, the shop next door.

“They used to have a lot of problems with [water pipes] falling off the walls during shows,” Stewart says.

Focal Points is still accepting applications for studios at the new location. In addition to the artists who are following them from Two Art Chicks, they have added a number of other artists to their roster.

“The new space is going to be so much better than this one,” Fentress says.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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