Sunday, April 11, 2010

Blurring the lines

If there is a line labeled "too far" in the Willamette Valley art community, the Emerge art show would like to pour bleach on it.

Maybe set it on fire.

"We reserve the right to refuse submissions that don't go far enough," said Jonathan Boys, Emerge founder.

Boys' attire on the evening of Emerge's opening at Coffee House Cafe was a yellow polyethylene coverall with fake blood splatters and "I killed the Willamette Valley Established Art Authority" scrawled on the back.

"Have you seen the other art outlets in the area?" asked artist Jesse Lindsay. "It's all landscapes, but there's a fringe element to every art scene and that's who Emerge is for."

Lexi Price, a 13-year-old artist who attends Claggett Creek Middle School in Keizer, made her first sale at Emerge. When Boys approached her with an offer, she was stunned.

"I just sort of stood there," said Price. "It wasn't until he asked me again if he could sell it that I gave him an answer."

The abstract piece titled "Wrath," which she painted while Salem was under a tornado watch, sold for $55.

Boys said Price is exactly the type of artist he's hoping to bring to the fore with Emerge.

"I like to push the edge. Landscapes, birdies and flowers don't exactly do that," Boys said. "We want to attract a crowd. That's what art is supposed to do."

More than 200 people attended the October show. Artists can register three pieces for the show for $5 and if a piece sells, artists keep the whole take. Shows with such a low cost of entry are mostly unheard of in a day and age when galleries take at least a 30 percent cut. Boys wanted a place where young artists could show their work in a non-threatening environment.

Boys grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and co-founded a gallery there, but heard about Oregon as a mecca for artists.

"Didn't realize they meant Portland," Boys said.

Figuring the only way things were going to change was by getting involved, Boys did just that. With assistance from his brother-in-law, Aaron Brown, they put together a one-night show that attracted 15 artists and 80 visitors to the Keizer Art Association.

In June, Boys exported the show, which became known as Emerge, to Coffee House Cafe in downtown Salem where he is the creative director.

"We pretty much gutted the back room, and we've got plans to clear out some additional areas where bands will perform during the show," said

The DIY space, which is intentionally underlit save for tap lights that spotlight artwork, is a reflection of the show - small-time artists looking to make big noise.

"There's a group of people who want to keep Salem small. They're the same people who let the prisons get built here and those prisons are the same reason it's going to keep growing. After people get out, they can't afford to leave," Boys said. "The focus now is on attracting jobs to the area and shows like Emerge are promoting small business. These are artists trying to sell their work."

Lindsay had his own take.

"Considering people are coming down from Portland to check out the show, we must be doing something right," he said.

Coffee House Cafe hosts the deejayed show the first Friday of every month from 6 to 10 p.m. with an afterparty at Venti's Cafe. For more information about the show, visit

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