Art Meritocracy

Posted September 28, 2007 in Arts & Culture

On Saturday, August 18th, Soul Expressions Tattoo Studio once again reinvented itself into an art gallery, hosting the Give Me 5 on the Down Low art show. Featuring pieces from contributors as local as the resident tattoo artists in the shop to ones from as far away as the United Kingdom, the show displays diversity both geographically and stylistically. The 217 pieces on display run the gamut, showcasing classic art forms next to graffiti work, and photography alongside tattoo artistry. The amount of works submitted for display and the well-attended opening of the show could not have been completely unexpected, given the shop’s previous success with its first show, Mi Vida Artista, which received its own critical acclaim. As with the previous show, Give Me 5 on the Down Low began as the idea of co-curators Aaron Mason and Jason Gallo. This time around, they wanted to feature smaller pieces at a price that almost anyone could afford, making art accessible to people who’d rarely–if ever–have the means to own a professional piece. From this initial goal grew the concept of having five 8"x 6" or smaller pieces, all priced under $100. The "down low" aspect of the show comes from the pieces being displayed "blind," meaning no placards list the titles or artists to make for a purposeful anonymity, yet the artists were asked to sign the pieces on the back (which most of them did). As a result art browsers–from the casual browser to the cognoscenti–wholly experiences a piece for itself, without pre-existing notions or context. While price lists are available, which eventually reveal the identity of the artists behind the pieces, initially everyone is on an equal playing field, and the art is appreciated for its quality alone.

Certain styles of contributing artists were unmistakable, however. One such example is the last-minute addition of well-known artist (and Riverside local) Jeff Soto. His contribution came after the fliers were created, so those who came to the opening were able to appreciate the artwork of up-and-coming locals, as well as be pleasantly surprised by viewing the work of a famous contributor. This was another mission of the show–to give good exposure to artists who may not have another way to get the word out about their art. With over forty art contributions to explore, the show had enough variety to keep people interested–yet was intimate enough so that there was never a moment of boredom or a feeling of being overwhelmed. All the pieces could be seen in the course of a single night.

The addition of Jeff Soto was exceptionally surprising, given the packed schedule of the Riverside artist. In addition to the Give Me 5 show, Soto this past weekend had the opening of his solo show Storm Clouds at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York. Also, Soto took part in another opening last week in San Francisco at 111 Minna Gallery, which featured the Fighting 4 Dreams crew. Other artists from the Give Me 5 show were featured there, including co-curators Jason Gallo and Aaron Mason, as well as MAXX242, who designed the Give Me 5 flier.

For opening night of the Give Me 5 show, the crowd was as varied as the artwork: older people with an affinity for the classic art forms rubbed shoulders with younger die-hard street art fans, and both were interspersed with curious spectators from all different backgrounds just coming by to check out what was going on. This is exactly how Mason believes the world should be–"[with] a melting pot of different artists, everyone should see it as all one art." And with over 300 people walking through the tattoo shop’s doors for the show on opening night, the world is one step closer to reaching this harmonistic vision.

Give Me 5 on the Down Low runs through September 18th at Soul Expressions Tattoo; 27326 Jefferson Ave. #15, Temecula; (951) 296-5065; for more info go to


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