The new home of Quappi Projects, the gallery opened by John Brooks in 2017, is at the quieter end of East Market Street, set back from the sidewalk behind a narrow walkway of industrial-hip materials: sealed concrete, painted brick, corrugated metal and oxidized steel in a palate that ranges from light gray to black. An oversized glass door offers a portal into the stark white gallery space and back to another set of large glass doors that opens onto a minimalist patio. It would feel right at home in any major metropolitan art center in Europe or the United States and that, it seems, is kind of the point.
From Quappi’s inception in a nondescript warehouse and studio space in the Portland neighborhood, Brooks’ ambition for the gallery has been to alternate exhibits between Louisville-based and non-Louisville-based artists, showing work that explores contemporary themes in ways that challenge the viewer to think differently about the world around them and their own human experience within it. There is certainly no shortage of exemplary artists in Louisville doing just that, but Brooks thinks the new location in the prospering NuLu neighborhood will make it easier to entice artists from other cities to show at the gallery — and to expose them to Louisville artists as well.
“Showing outside artists is really important for Louisville as a city, as well as the artists who live here,” Brooks said. “I am absolutely committed to showing Louisville-based artists but we also need to have people from other cities bring their perspectives and their work. That is what connects us — our city and the artistic community — to those cities in new ways. There are artists here who deserve to be seen by as many people as possible and I hope we can expand the gallery’s reach in so many ways.”
A painter as well as a gallerist, Brooks can attest to the importance of new perspectives for an artist. Prior to opening the gallery, he was trying to secure solo shows for himself without much success and feeling that his personal practice was dead. But the stream of artists coming through the gallery (which, in Portland, was adjacent to his studio space), helped Brooks see a way forward, reminding him of his love of painting.
Not two years later, Brooks has moved from the precipice of renouncing his practice to having his first solo show in four years, on view at Moremen Gallery through August 10th. The 25 works in the show reflect a new visual language for Brooks, one that explores histories both public and private, drawing from post-war European culture as well as personal family figures and employing elements of photography and collage to create intensely evocative works, rich with narrative and heady with nostalgia.
Brooks brings his own outside perspective as well, having lived and worked in London and Chicago for the better part of a decade in addition to spending a considerable amount of time in Berlin. The influence of that culture extends to the very name of the gallery: Quappi (pronounced KWA-pee) was the nickname of the second wife of Max Beckmann, a twentieth-century German painter and key figure in Brooks’ practice.
But there are perhaps more important ideas that the Frankfort, Kentucky native would like to import to Louisville, such as the way artists are regarded in bigger cities.
“One of the things I noticed living in London and Chicago was that when people were talking about themselves or about other artists, no one ever referred to anyone as a local artist. They were just artists,” he said.
“There’s nothing wrong with the term ‘local artist’ but it defines things in a way that I don’t think is necessary. The fact that we don’t live in New York doesn’t mean that we’re a different kind of artist. Our connection to the art community is different, but we are not ‘less than.’”
There’s certainly nothing “less than” about “((( heat )))”, a solo show by Letitia Quesenberry and the first exhibit in Quappi’s new space. Although minimalist in appearance, her works exude a sophisticated elegance and sensuality, offering a mesmerizing kineticism that is as seductive as it is disorienting. In her series of lightboxes, soft hues of blush, rose, lilac, lavender, teal and green flow through nested geometric shapes in a continuous motion that manages to be rhythmically reassuring at the same time it defies any predicable pattern.
It’s a show that seems to be tailor-made for the space, where the sunlight that streams through the glass doors and skylights creates organic geometries of light that move across the room throughout the day, as if engaged in a playful dialog with Quesenberry’s work. As evening advances, the colors of her lightboxes deepen against the fading light, heightening the intensity of the work and adding yet another avenue of interpretation to the multiple layers of meaning already present.
On the Friday evening of the opening, Quappi is humming with that special kind of inaugural excitement and energy, comfortably crowded with a continuous stream of artists, friends and neighbors, happy with the advent of this new gathering place to share different voices, ideas and perspectives. A few tourists wander into the space, too, some of them doing a quick survey of the room and then exiting, but others lingering longer than they thought they might, drawn in by these mysterious things of beauty.
“Art is for everyone,” Brooks said. “This doesn’t exist just for artists or for some elite group of people. Everyone is welcome to come in and to ask questions. You’re supposed to ask questions. Art is something that, in its best forms, prompts thought and introspection and confusion. It’s an essential part of the human experience.”
Quappi Projects, 827 E. Market St., is open Thursdays 12-4, Fridays 12-5, Saturdays 11-3 and by appointment. “((( heat )))” by Letitia Quesenberry runs through September 6, 2019.