The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - News - By Bill El­lis

Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

In the midst of the bur­geon­ing Broad Av­enue arts district, a space dubbed Odessa has emerged an oa­sis of ex­cit­ing, in­de­pen­dent ex­pres­sion. On any given month, the gallery of­fers a mix of mu­sic, film and art that is at once al­ter­na­tive and ac­ces­si­ble.

This month, the theme has been “Be­cause We Can: An Ex­plo­ration of the DIY Ethos.” Bor­row­ing from punk cul­ture (though with one eye on the arts and crafts move­ment of the early 20th cen­tury) the “DIY” (or “Do It Your­self”) aes­thetic as in­ter­preted at Odessa could be felt in its work­shops on mak­ing tote bags and books from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als, as well as its choice of in­die films and tour­ing mu­si­cal acts such as Bright­black Morn­ing Light, which recorded last year’s Mata­dor out­ing, “Mo­tion to Re­join,” in the New Mex­ico desert us­ing only so­lar en­ergy.

Then again, the en­tire con­cept, func­tion­al­ity and low op­er­a­tional over­head at Odessa might best be de­scribed as DIY.

As a mul­ti­pur­pose arts venue, it’s an in­clu­sive space, says lo­cal artist and Odessa mem­ber Jonathan Hart. “We try to tie pop­u­lar cul­ture with fine art,” he says.

Hart is part of a co-op of lo­cals with di­verse pro­fes­sional back­grounds that took over the 2613 Broad site about a year af­ter it opened in early 2008. They in­clude fel­low vis­ual artist Brooke Kan­ther, arts writer/critic Laura Sul­li­van, per­for­mance and in­stil­la­tion artist Kelly Fer­ris, dee­jays Jake Hen­drix and Co­lette Means and oth­ers.

“We’re try­ing to bring some­thing to Mem­phis that can’t be brought by a larger in­sti­tu­tion,” says fel­low mem­ber Elis­a­beth Cal­li­han, pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager for the Mem­phis Brooks Mu­seum of Art. “We can do what­ever we want. All of us bring some­thing dif­fer­ent to the ta­ble, and so far it is work­ing.”

The four artists fea­tured in “Be­cause We Can” also bran­dish some­thing of a DIY spirit in their work. Jonathan Hart em­ploys a type of “sgraf­fito” tech­nique by scratch­ing lines into gesso and black ink on board. The re­sul­tant im­ages are raw and im­me­di­ate yet carry an epic punch, eye-candy op­erettas of emo­tional and sym­bolic weight as in “Blood Em­brace” and “Sunken Ship.” Emma Self’s work, “May Tor­nado,” strings to­gether dig­i­tal-print silk im­ages of a young girl (May Eg­gle­ston from video by Joann Self Selvidge) to cre­ate an ephemeral fun­nel shape that seems to blow like sheets on the wind of child­hood mem­ory.

Shane McDer­mott, an il­lus­tra­tor at The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal, shows (per­haps not sur­pris­ingly) a flair for the top­i­cal in his brush and ink il­lus­tra­tions, such as “Shut Out: (Rape Cri­sis Cen­ter),” which por­trays the Mem­phis Sex­ual As­sault Re­source Cen­ter logo as a metaphor of aban­don­ment more than of heal­ing. Fi­nally, Michelle Duck­worth’s haunt­ing ink-and-stain ren­der­ings on wood res­onate with the kind of other-worldly play­ful­ness and mys­tery nor­mally re­served for self-taught icon Henry Darger, an ap­par­ent in­flu­ence.

Odessa may be small in size but its po­ten­tial is great for con­nect­ing like-minded vis­ual and mu­si­cal artists who think out­side the main­stream box. With the sad, pend­ing de­par­ture of Power House Mem­phis, the di­a­log be­ing nur­tured at Odessa feels more nec­es­sary than ever. Com­ing events in­clude a 7 p.m. screen­ing Wed­nes­day) of the film, “The Gu­atemalan Hand­shake,” di­rected by Todd Ro­hal and star­ring noted in­die mu­si­cian/ac­tor Will Old­ham (free).

Michelle Duck­worth’s ink and stain ‘‘Scor­pion Boy’’ in­trigues; the Odessa exhibit in­cludes three other artists.

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