Philadelphia Metropolis

Metropolis Report


City Blocks: Two Frankford Avenue Artists

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Jeff Waring:

Painter, Director and Founding Member of Highwire Gallery

Sitting in Highwire Gallery's storefront space on Frankford Avenue, Jeff Waring thought approvingly of recent developments in Kensington and Fishtown.

"I like what's going on around here," Waring said. "You want to be in a location where there are enough galleries. Right now, we have that right here."

Active since the late 1980s, Highwire moved to their current location in 2007. Waring, 47, was one of its co-founders. He's been showing at Highwire ever since. Currently, he teaches at and chairs the art department of the Westtown School in West Chester, and lives in Media. But his career has been closely tied to the city.

After graduating from RISD with a bachelor of fine arts in painting, Waring started a sign-painting company with a friend.

Jeff Waring.jpg"We traveled around the country painting Dominos murals," Waring said.

In 1985, Waring and his wife decided they wanted to settle in a city.

"We wanted to be on the east coast. Philadelphia was the cheapest city that we liked, and had a nice feel," Waring said.

According to Waring, Highwire started as a group of artists who installed shows in unexpected places, carving out a niche for contemporary art in Philadelphia in the late 1980s. They mounted shows in a lumberyard, a funeral parlor, and on wires strung across an abandoned synagogue--the show that got them their name.

"There's so much outside of collectors and [for-profit] galleries that's going on," said Waring. "That's why we have a lot of co-ops--this DIY mentality. People are scrappy here."

At Highwire, members are given use of the space for a month-long show, every 16 to 18 months.

"They do as they please," Waring said. "Some curate, some do their own work. We were established as a space where members had autonomy to show their own work and to create shows."

May was Waring's month, and he exhibited recent paintings. This work is natural and earthy, but not in a hippie sense. Rather, they integrate industrial materials like tar, cardboard, and house paint (perhaps a nod to his early job), with natural materials like dirt, leaves, and acorns--a confluence of the built world with nature, with a tone that seems quite at home in Kensington.

"What I'm doing isn't conected with supporting a gallery director," said Waring. "They're looking for artists to bring in more clients to their gallery.

Instead, Waring hopes to show more often at colleges and universities, "places where there's an intellectual climate and decent arts departments," he said.

Waring seems a little frustrated with the art market in Philadelphia and with the mechanics of grant funding for spaces like Highwire. Yet, he seems quite at home in Philadelphia, and on Frankford Avenue.

"Bambi was the only thing around here" when Highwire moved in, according to Waring. "[But] we liked Rocket Cat and this little block.

"Rocket Cat is huge for us to anchor the place. It's nice to see yourself being a part of positive change and growth."


Tim Pannell:

Printmaker and Founding Member of Little Berlin

"Little Berlin is more of a curating collective," said Robert "Tim" Pannell, one of Little Berlin, the art gallery just off Frankford Avenue. "Its main focus is to bring different artists into the space."

Each month, a member puts together a show, coming up with a theme and finding artist. Ideas are pitched to the group, and other members give feedback. It helps focus the shows, Pannell said.

"Our ambition is to put on exciting shows," said Pannell.

But, Pannell said, "We all realize this isn't going to last forever either.

"My expectations for the collective and myself as an artist are different. My artistic practice isn't tied to this place."

Pannell, 32, moved to Philadelphia in 2006 after receiving a master's degree from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, R.I.

Tim Pannell Gun Pix.jpgPannell's work focuses on woodcuts, etchings, and 2-D animation. Originally from Florida, he studied studio art as an undergraduate at Florida State University.

In addition to showing at Little Berlin, Pannell's work has been included in exhibitions at the Print Center and Arcadia University. Around the country, he has exhibited at the International Print Center in New York, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Hexagon Space in Baltimore.

While he works in somewhat traditional media, Pannell's work sometimes tackles social and political issues.

One of his projects, begun shortly after his arrival in Philadelphia, is the ongoing "Untitled (Gun Project)," in which he prints a life-size handgun for each person shot and killed in the city.

"I came to Philly because I heard good things were happening, and it's affordable," Pannell said.

He hooked up with the members of what became Little Berlin not long afterwards.

"I was meeting people, but didn't feel I had a community," Pannell said. "I joined to have people to bounce ideas off of."

Little Berlin is primarily artist-supported.

"It's funded by out-of-pocket expenses," Pannell said. "We definitely operate at a loss."

Members of Little Berlin each pay $25 per month, and they raise money through small concerts and other events.

"In December, we had an art dash," said Pannell. "People donated work, and customers could pay $25 per piece."

On a still-gritty block of Montgomery Street without a lot of foot traffic, the location is not ideal for a gallery, according to Pannell.

"But there's a lot of energy in the neighborhood," Pannell said. "The rent is good, the space is fantastic."

Pannell thinks the audience for Little Berlin largely comes from the neighborhood, but is primarily composed of new residents."So many artists live here," Pannell said. "It's a younger crowd, I think kids just out of undergrad."

The neighborhood may be infused with youthful and ambitious newcomers making art, but making a living from art is another matter entirely--yet one with a liberating upshot, according to Pannell.

"There's obviously no money here," Pannell said. "Nobody's making any money. It's all done out of love. I think actions are different when you don't care about money. You can take more risks."


Read: Artists are rediscovering city neighborhoods and remaking them into new and vital places -- and not only in Kensington and Fishtown, but elsewhere as well.


These profiles were written by Nick Gilewicz.


Masthead Photo: Gallery opening in Fishtown

Photo 1: Jeff Waring

Photo 2: Tim Pannell's (Untitled) Gun Project



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