If you miss it, don’t say you weren’t warned. On the ninth day of the ninth month, the wrapping comes off Mobile’s newest and most unique arts venture to date.
A trio of artists with shared pasts and parallel talents will unveil their new project at 754 Government St. for the Sept. 9 LoDa Artwalk. What you find depends on which part of the building you enter.
Behind the storefront will be the new location of Serpents of Bienville, an art gallery bearing the atmosphere of a darkly mysterious curio shop, previously based in Daphne. Founded by tattoo artist Sean Herman and his wife, Amanda, their fascination with folklore sprouted the venture in February.
In a space behind Serpents will reside flux, a curated gallery space born from the minds of Chris Cumbie and Duane Knight. Both artists will also carve out their own studio spaces in the remaining portion of the two-story building.
“It’s about 5,000-ish square feet. Serpents will be about 425, about the same for flux. The rest of downstairs is Chris’ studio and I’m upstairs. He’s got the back two-thirds and I’ve got the upper four-fifths,” Knight laughed.
The collaboration is appropriate since a joint project in the last decade got Knight to think of art as both pastime and profession. Previously, his creative projects usually wound up all wet.
“When I was 19, I moved out and started making surfboards. I taught myself how to do it and had a shop on some land in Loxley. I sold them in Gulf Shores, Fairhope, some went to Costa Rica,” Knight said.
In addition to some bartending on the side, the Spanish Fort native kept the business going even while attending school. For seven years, Knight’s solo endeavor was alive but “overwhelming” until nature stepped in.
“Lightning struck a pine tree next to my shop, caught a CD player on fire in my shop and burned out the whole place. It didn’t burn the building down but one morning I went out to get a tool and opened the door to find it was all black, The lenses from the fluorescent lights were hanging down like sheets of fabric. I had surfboards in the racks and they were all melted,” Knight said. He said it was a release of sorts.
After a hurricane downed some trees on his property, Knight salvaged a piece of wood. He collaborated with Cumbie on creating a sculpture that went on to sell for a tidy price in Nashville. It sparked him.
Though he took up house remodeling for income, Knight began to exercise his creative urges more. He eventually opened a Fairhope gallery tabbed The Fourth Dimension.
Continuing with found-object art, Knight experimented with painting techniques employed in his surfboards. The tinted resins and quasi-industrial hues blended with screen-printed form laid over nebulous backgrounds.
“I use subjects related to the animal world, kind of mixing the ethereal and material worlds. I’m learning more about the iconography of imagery and how things are read so my specific intentions are communicated better,” Knight said.
For a glimpse of Knight’s work, go to duaneknightart on Facebook. Considering his past with surfing, much of its zen approach translates to his new aims.
“I’m learning how to let go, because you’re never going to pull off what you see in your head. I’m trying not to judge it and let the process happen more organically,” Knight said.
Along with nature, time brought the trio together. Cumbie, Herman and Knight have an association stretching back decades.
“Sean and I went to school together and kind of grew up together. We rode the bus back in seventh and eighth grade together. We had PE together so we would hide under the bleachers and talk about stuff while everybody else was doing their thing,” Knight laughed.
Cumbie discovered this new space first. He asked Knight to join him. Then the Hermans’ lease in their previous location ended. Serpents of Bienville’s quickly ascendant reputation and social media presence was another bonus.
“So, flux is going to be a curated gallery with Serpents representing artists in more of a store or retail space. We’ll do seven shows in 2017, a couple of regional shows, a couple of local shows, a collaboration show, a guest-curated show,” Knight said.
While Serpents will be ready in a few weeks, flux is still counting down to its first show. The September event will have signage and literature about the application process along with next year’s roster of shows.
Cumbie, a known local name who competed in the 2015 Mobile Arts Council Throwdown and won the 2016 Nappie for Best Mixed Media Artist, has a busy market schedule that keeps him on the road regularly.
Knight’s 2005 business degree from South Alabama will prove its merits soon enough.
“Supporting artists can be like herding cats. You have to have a concrete plan,” Knight said.
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