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White walls, black paint

Street art looking fine
By CAITLIN E. CURRAN  |  August 20, 2008

Not long after walking into the Distillery Gallery on a Monday evening, Thomas Buildmore removes two painted-over NO PARKING signs that had been screwed into the wall. “This show isn’t about street art,” he says.

If it were, “we’d have some cliché conversation about street art versus fine art.” Moments prior, I’d had that cliché conversation, with Cantabridgian artist Morgan Thomas. We agreed that “Paint It Now” — the show that opens tonight at the first-floor alt-gallery in the Distillery, South Boston’s living space-cum-artistic haven — is street art moved into the fine-art world. It’s just a change of location, with the added luxury of time, which most street artists — who are constantly looking over their shoulders — lack.

Buildmore’s sentiment is a surprising one, given that the show features a dozen or so artists, many of whom use city walls as their canvases. He and Thomas, who are part of a collective called Overkill Studio that’s based in the same building, organized the show with Scott Chase, the director of the Distillery Gallery.

The idea behind “Paint It Now” is simple: give two white walls and an unending supply of black paint to several of Boston and New York’s young artistic talents, and see what happens. In addition to Buildmore, Thomas, and Chase, those chosen talented contributors will include Kenji Nakayama, Dark Clouds, Noir Boston, Hargo, and Alphabet Soup — whose work, if not names, anyone who walks around Boston enough should recognize.

Artists will gradually add paint to the walls until October 2, when the show closes. The idea for the walls to be entirely black and white, says Thomas, is a limiting factor meant to both unite and challenge the artists.

As for Buildmore, he’s not disparaging street art with his entry-way comment. In fact, when the kind folks at Central Kitchen in Cambridge decided to make their alleyway wall a street-art free-for-all this past fall, they asked him to help recruit talent. But Buildmore doesn’t want the contributing group to be defined by one type of media they use.

“What we’re trying to show is a juxtaposition of styles of painting,” he says. “It’s a collision of all of the different influences we draw from. It’s like bringing all of art history right to the surface.”

All debates aside, says Buildmore, there’s an air of levity to the exhibit, whose opening will eschew wine for Pabst Blue Ribbon. On one wall, a large octopus ensnares a pixie-like dark-haired beauty. Nearby, her twin climbs the ear of a large Alfred E. Neuman–like head. Over a doorway, manic gold-and-black stenciling on a piece of wood reads HALLELUJAH! One of Nakayama’s large, meticulously stenciled paintings hangs in a smaller room; in another, a cutout wood graffiti tag, hiding in the upper corner of the ceiling, reads GROAN.

“We just wanted to paint the walls,” says Thomas. “And Scott said it was okay, as long as we don’t paint the drain pipes.”

“Paint It Now” is at the Distillery Gallery, 516 E. 2nd Street, South Boston, 617.269.8430, from August 21 through October 2. Opening reception is August 21, at 7

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