Don’t think Southwest Florida is culturally diverse? Check out the Art/Rock happenings at the Howl Gallery.
The scene created by Andy Howl at the Howl Gallery in Fort Myers definitely stretches the envelope in the fields of visual art, music and, for that matter, body enhancement in our area. In Naples, “getting a little work done” typically refers to botox, liposuction or a plastic surgery “lift.” For Andy Howl and his crew, the body is a canvas, and they will cover as much of it as you like with tattoos.
Howl (his original name was Howell, but the shortened moniker seems to fit) is owner, curator and chief tattoo artist at the HOWL Gallery/Tattoo parlor, on Cleveland Avenue across from Edison Mall in Fort Myers. The business is half art gallery and half tattoo parlor.
Once a month, on the evening of the first Saturday, they add music to the mix. An enormous mobile stage provided by Brent’s Music, on a semi-trailer with one side removed, is trucked into the parking lot, and while an exhibit of artworks takes place inside, live bands fill the night air with sound.
Just as the artwork on display in the gallery is lightyears away from the condo-ready seascapes in muted tones often seen in local galleries, the music is not your father’s easy-listening. At the Aug. 3 show, rockabilly with an attitude was the softest sound to be heard, from the Undead Idols, one of the three bands playing that night. The genre for the other two was “death metal,” in the words of Howl.
Inside the gallery, the sound of music faded into the background, and one’s gaze was drawn to the wildly eclectic paintings, sculptures, collages and installations.
What: Combination art show and outdoor concert
When: 8 to 11 p.m. first Saturday of each month
■ Sept. 7: Illustrator and fine artist Seldon Hunt. Music by Black Falcon, Neither, and Undead Idols
■ Oct. 5: Rock concert poster artist Derek Hess and graffiti artist BASK. Music by After the Fact and The High Chiefs
■ Nov. 2: Dia de los Muertos group art show. Music by The Young Dead and more
■ Dec. 7: Sideshow Art Collection of D.B Doghouse. Bands TBA
■ Jan. 4: Sideshow Art Collection of D.B Doghouse. Bands TBA
Where: HOWL Gallery/Tattoo, 4160 Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers (across from the Edison Mall in the Miracle Plaza, behind David’s Bridal and Brent’s Music)
Information: 239-332-0161 or www.howlgallery.com
“We focus on lowbrow art,” said Howl, “sort of West Coast contemporary — kind of illustration meets high art, with a lot of other stuff in the mix.” He is an artist himself, both a fine artist with a degree from the Savannah College of Art & Design, and a tattoo artist, and while he had a couple of his own pieces in the group show, no one style or artist predominated.
There were lifesize sculpted wooden figures reminiscent of do-it-yourself kits, realistic nudes in diaphanous gauze, disturbing painted images of twisted figures with multiple mouths gaping open, and a realistically drawn face in a thicket of vines, with three-dimensional tubing continuing the lines outside the frame, titled “Infestation” — yours for only $450.
One striking piece, appearing to show a psychedelic octopus and perhaps a hookah, painted on an assemblage of 12-inch vinyl records, would have been right at home in the East Village circa 1968. Titled “420,” a dope-smoking reference, it was priced at just $200 by artist Alisha Koyanis.
A lot of the artwork in the HOWL gallery was refreshingly different, to say the least, and priced very reasonably for original works of art. A lot of it also had a comic book sensibility — think R. Crumb — and this is not coincidental. Cartoons, said Howl, don’t receive the respect they deserve from the gatekeepers of culture.
“Comics are not accepted in the higher art world — just like tattooing,” he said. And he should know — his work features both. “We’re filling a little void.”
On that first Saturday in August, the gallery was filled with what looked like young hipsters, people in black, men with piercings and many women with hair in colors never provided by Mother Nature. Quite a few of the patrons sipping the complimentary wine had “gotten some work done” in the adjoining tattoo parlor, or another establishment.
The combination of the two disciplines, said Andy Howl, is what makes the place work.
“I love the paintings, but it’s the tattoos that pay the bills,” he said. The tattoo artists’ workstations fill half the space in the storefront. Chairs like those in a dentist’s office or a barbershop share space with massage tables, the better to access whatever portion of a patron is being tattooed. Multiple colors of inks, tattoo machines like electric pens, toothpicks, rubber bands, and a 25-person industrial first aid kit line the shelves in the booth of artist Chris Buckholts, along with his personal collection of skulls, including a coyote, a bear, a muskrat and a pelican.
Skulls are a common motif in tattoo art, and well-represented in the samples of work that cover the walls, along with spiky flowers, knives through hearts and, of course, odes to “Mom.”
Skulls also are a recurring theme in the work of Seldon Hunt, the Australian-born artist who will be featured in the Sept. 7 show.
“Yeah, I definitely do a lot of skulls,” said Hunt from his base in Brooklyn, N.Y. “My images cover a range of interpretations of skulls and other investigations into death and anatomy.” His work deals with suicide, fairy tales, mythology and fantasy.
Recently returned from a show in Luxembourg, Hunt expects to bring 25 or 30 pieces to the exhibit at HOWL, and agreed with Andy Howl that his genre often gets short shrift from traditional art galleries and critics.
“There’s definitely a bit of snobbery involved,” said Hunt. “Also, fine art is very conceptual, and art connected to heavy metal and tattooing is more literal. Hopefully, people will enjoy my take.”
His impetus for pursuing a career in art, he said, was “really, not wanting to work. I like doing what I want to do. Whenever I had regular jobs, I was always incredibly depressed.”
Hunt has had success as an illustrator for cover art for heavy metal bands, including Neurosis and Monster Magnet. He should feel right at home with the bands who will be entertaining during his show, which include Black Falcon, Neither and, in a return engagement, the Undead Idols.
October’s event will be a two-man art show featuring Derek Hess and Bask. Hess is known for reinventing rock concert posters in the 1990s, and has art in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Louvre in Paris. Bask is a well-known graffiti and gallery artist whose work was recently featured in “Iron Man 3.”