New gallery brings diversity to downtown
Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 15:05
There was no silence or expansive white walls at the grand opening of WoodGrain Gallery last Thursday. It felt more like a lounge than a traditional art exhibit. Gallery owner Stephanie Wood displayed her own artwork, along with other local artists’ work, from 6 p.m. to midnight at the grand-opening event held in the Church Street Exchange building on Garland Avenue in downtown Orlando.
Church Street Exchange is a historic building used only for special events and to house other art galleries on the ground floor. However, there was life flowing through its doors on Thursday night. Not even the downpour of rain that came as soon as the doors opened stopped the gallery from being filled with people for six hours.
“I don’t like galleries that are super stuffy and white walls and nobody talks to you and its super awkward,” Wood said. “I didn’t want that. I wanted something comfortable.”
As soon as guests crossed the train tracks toward the building, hip-hop music and the rumbling of voices could be heard spilling onto the street. Soft lighting was seen from down the road, and each visitor was greeted with a drink ticket from security.
Inside, there was so much going on it took a minute to soak in. Brick walls and warm colors made the long, rectangular space feel cozy, while a young eclectic crowd socialized to the beat of a DJ.
The smell of leather came from the left side of the room where a large exhibit was set up near the window. The pieces, created by Hellbrand Leather, ranged from wallets and bracelets to duffel bags and $500 men’s dress shoes with colorful soles, which had been re-created from vintage leather shoes.
Display cases of custom sneakers created by 3R Customs led the way through the gallery from front to back. Sitting in the back were racks of street wear and graphic tees created by Jbon Clothing. Wood’s paintings lined the walls along with photographs by Chris Glenn. Sprinkled throughout the gallery were unique sculptures in various materials including wood, aluminum, glass and iron by artist Drew Mcguckin.
“I love the shoes, I’m a sucker for the Nikes,” said guest Melissa Freeser, as she socialized with a friend between two of Mcguckin’s sculptures. “It’s very urban chic, like hip, downtown, pop art-y — very modern.”
The turnout was impressive, especially since Wood had only started working on the gallery two months earlier when she was approached by someone who works in the building.
“My goal was, I wanted to not bartend and open a gallery of my own,” Wood said. “I kept having shows around Orlando, and I wanted my own space because I got sick and tired of trying to find a spot that would be open to my certain taste.”
She describes her work as “pop art, street art and stencil-y.” Wood takes photographs, mostly portraits, on a commission basis from customers, digitally alters them, then draws them out on canvas and paints them using whatever colors the order calls for.
Even more surprising than the short period of time she had to get the gallery up and running is her success in the art community when she’s only been showing her work since 2004.
“I was scared to show anyone,” Wood said. “I didn’t think I was good enough, and I wasn’t really proud of it … and I was embarrassed.”
There’s no need for Wood to be embarrassed now. Not only was her gallery’s opening filled with people, but she has also recently been asked to paint seven Gibson guitars for the Gibson Foundation’s charity event in November. The guitars will be auctioned off, and Wood will be featured in Gibson’s magazine.
Wood, along with the other artists on display, hopes the gallery brings open minds and awareness to the art community in Orlando.
“It’s kind of revitalizing an art community that I think exists here but doesn’t know where to go,” said Kevin Oaks of Hellbrand Leather. “I think it’s kind of a concentrated space for creative people.”
The gallery will be open Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wood will be in the built-in studio space during those hours, working on new pieces.
“I want to be open all the time, so I have a functioning workshop,” Wood said. “You can come in, chitchat, and we’re in there working on stuff.”
The other artists in the gallery will be on display for three months. Wood said she will continually hand pick local artists to display their work in cycles in order to keep the gallery “fresh.”
Artists can email their work to email@example.com if they are interested in vying for one of the spots.