Not even five years ago you'd be hard-pressed to find hipsters heading to the West Side for art openings. Sure, a few shows and cult classic films would spring up here and there but it was still pretty risky for small, D.I.Y. gallery owners to open up shop anywhere that wasn't spitting distance from the lake -- and the bulk of Milwaukee's art consumers.
In the local art community Gene and Bridget Griffith Evans are known and praised as prolific risk takers -- though if you ask them about moving their alternative gallery space -- Luckystar Studio -- out to the Washington Heights neighborhood they'll tell you that they see it as less of a chance and more of a great opportunity to grow.
"So many of our clients are from this area -- Washington Heights, Wauwatosa, Brookfield -- and they are like, "Oh my god, you're here! You came to us!" says Bridget of the gallery she opened with her husband in Riverwest in 1999 and has since relocated to the Third Ward and Chicago before settling in on Vliet Street.
What she likes best about the new and largest-to-date space at 5407 W. Vliet St. is the storefront facing the street -- something they've lived without since the Riverwest spot. Floor-to-ceiling north-facing windows stream blankets of natural light into the immaculately clean, airy space. Bright, hardwood floors walk you past freshly painted stark white walls that provide the perfect contrast to the vivid work they hold.
Although the Evans quickly threw together some work for Tosa's ArtWalk in late April, "One of a Kind" officially re-opens the gallery on Friday, June 1.
"The show is a collection of work from friends old and new, people we've worked with and respected over the years," says Gene. "It'll be a sampling of what people can expect to see here."
Their eye for art is quite specific, yet unspoken between them -- sort of a we-know-it-when-we-see-it kind of agreement on which artists are a good fit for Luckystar.
"We've always strived to find artists with an unique point of view," says Bridget.
"When we started the gallery it was to show work that we couldn't find in the Milwaukee area," adds Gene. "In 1999 it was tough to find things like this and we knew friends doing great things who were getting frustrated because they couldn't find a place to show."
Today, the bevy of options for artists are significantly more plentiful in this city, yet even after a year-long "painting sabbatical" in Chicago, the Evans revive Luckystar as a unique and strong leader in the Milwaukee scene.
"We were still members of M-80 Gallery while we were living in Chicago, so through that and participating in things like Cedar Block events, we've been able to keep up with the new artists in Milwaukee," says Bridget.
"One of a Kind," which runs until July 14, features some local artists -- Matt Fink, Ilse Klink, Stephen Somers -- as well as Chicagoans Ned Broderick, Mitch O'Connell, Jon Langford, Andrea Picard and David Van Alphen, and Rob Elliott/Swizzle Studio (Toronto), Christine Cosby (Toronto), Nicole S./Pop Tarts (Vancouver) and Brian Peterka (Atlanta).
"Girls, Girls, Girls" opens on Sunday, June 24 and fills the month between the grand opening and summer Gallery Night with 100 prints and a spoken word performance. Gallery Night then gears up on Friday, July 20 with "At the Drive-In" -- a smattering of nostalgically tugging drive-in inspired pieces and, of course, rock-a-billy guru Bobby Rivera.
Expect new and exciting things from the couple's apparel project -- the 2005-launched Luxury Rehab -- this summer, as Gene reveals they've been collaborating on a line of screen-printed T-shirts.
Sound like a lot to take in? Then relax with a nice spot of tea as the Evans host Low Tea at the gallery every Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m.
"We started doing tea about a year ago in Chicago just to break up the monotony of the week," says Gene. "There's nothing special associated with it, although occasionally we might have a talkative guest join us. It's just meant to be relaxing and anyone's invited."
Gene and Bridget, Milwaukee welcomes you back.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”