Tonight’s last show, starting at 6 p.m. at Salvo Art project (at Nature Scapes, anyway) is a fund-raising to help the move to a new location. The show features the work of Harrison Huijskens, with live music by Caroline Drive, Beatles tribute band Glass Onion and sitar player Rick de Yampert, door prizes, art raffle, and silent auction, with all proceeds go towards the purchase of the new location. For one more night only, Salvo Art Project is at 313 Old Brick Road in Bunnell. Entry fee: $20 (includes raffle ticket for an original Oil painting). Contribute to Salvo’s fund-raising here.
Walking into Salvo Art Project early this afternoon it didn’t look like a gallery on death row, let alone one down to its last 48 hours of life.
Artist Harrison Huijksen, 18, was working on his paintings, installing lights, moving tables, preparing the space for tonight’s showing of his work, his first ever gallery showing. Gallery co-owners Petra Iston and JJ Graham and were similarly busy. There were only a few hours left before the show, which includes musical performances by several musicians, a silent auction, the usual hors d’oeuvres and wines.
But every once in a while you could catch Graham or Iston move a box—not within the building but out, to a van pulled up to an enormous garage entrance at the east end of the 6,000 square-foot, hangar-like brick building. A big recycling bin propped the front doors open. Two heavy-duty vacuum cleaners sat near the entrance. Three, four big black bags of trash were piled up, still filling, in various spots, all of it hints of a more industrial than cosmetic cleaning.
Compared to previous visits the place did look spare, the front reception’s counter more bare than usual, its shelves beneath the countertops almost empty, as if the place had been raided. Then you realize the ample work space and works in progress that usually greet you to the right as you walk in are gone, replaced by four stacks of smaller works that have been put on display, fire sale-style: works for $50 in one stack, for $100 in another, and so on.
It hits you when looking closer at the half dozen artist studios around the building. They’re empty. The artists are gone. So are all of their work except those some of them left behind for the silent auction tonight: sculptures and paintings displayed next to sheets for the auction’s bids. It’s part of a fund-raiser for Salvo’s future, just as are tonight’s show and $20 entry fee.
It’s as if Salvo Art is being readied for its own wake.
So that’s what it’s come to: two years after leaving City Market Place in Palm Coast, where Salvo used to be Hollingsworth Gallery, and turning an abandoned brick building in Bunnell into the most vibrant and unpredictable art space in Flagler County, Salvo is being booted out by its landlord, Nature Scapes, co-owned by Chris and Nick Baiata, with a considerable helping hand from Graham himself, who of his own account committed a few missteps in his relationship with the Baiatas along the way, including late last year the withholding of rent and the construction of a wooden, second-floor structure that hadn’t been cleared by Bunnell building inspectors. (See the full story of the eviction here.)
None of the issues were very serious—not as serious as the fact that, in the end, the relationship between Graham and the Baiatas had soured, the Baiatas had other designs for the building and their own nursery. They’ve had the building up for sale. Formalities aside, bad blood had accumulated between the 30-second walk that separates Salvo’s building from Nature Scape’s office, a walk tactically, purposefully doused in water from the nursery’s sprinklers at various times of day or night. It’s one of those niggling slights at Salvo’s owners and customers, reminding Graham who’s in charge.
So when Nature Scapes sued to evict last fall it wasn’t as if Graham was blindsided. The two sides went to court and last month after a tortuous mediation session they settled, with Graham agreeing to pay $10,500 in back rent only if he doesn’t clear the building by January 7—this Saturday.
Tonight’s event, dubbed Vita brevis ars longa, Latin for life is short art is long, is Graham’s own sprinkled way of reminding the county that he’s down, but not out: the event is to raise money for Salvo’s next move, and it may happen much sooner than anyone imagined when Graham returned from court that December day, depressed and uncertain.
“We have a letter of intent on a property that’ll house 11 studios,” Graham says. “We’ve already raised over half the money for the down payment, and the mortgage will be about half of what we’ve been paying here. It’s already up to code and ready to go.” Sprinklers, fire alarms, air conditioning, insulated walls and roofs: it’s all there, a significant improvement on the current building. “I hope everything goes as planned.”
Graham preferred not to reveal the building’s exact location until the process is further along, though he allowed that it’s a 5,500 square foot building in Bunnell, selling for $279,000, with more than half the planned $27,000 down payment secured, and more coming in as Salvo continues to fund-raise. “The higher the down payment we can put down, the more affordable we can make the studios for the artists,” he says. “Everyone we’ve taken over there is on board with having a space, so we’re going to keep the band together, so to speak.”
The money’s been raised through a Go Fund Me account, through private donations, sales of Graham’s own work (with several of his works prepared to be handed out to donors) and events such as tonight’s art and music show.
Jan Reeger, the realtor for the property in question, said it’s been for sale since July 1. “I’ve had quite a bit of interest, still have people interested,’ Reeger said. “Right now it’s temporarily off the market in consideration of what we’re talking about.” She added: “That ball is in JJ’s court as to whether or not he can put together a transaction.”
So tonight’s show may be marking an end, a disheartening occasion: salvo’s space was uniquely suited to its ends. But it’s not the end. It’s less wake and more like a moving party, with the destination not yet absolutely certain but at least in sight.
“It was a sad occasion when JJ walked in after the mediation. Now we’re looking ahead and forward to new possibilities,” Iston said. “No regrets. I think what I’m going to miss the most is the space itself, the size of it, the fact that we were able to really showcase what we can do, and grow.” In a text later she specified that she doesn’t allow herself to think about the things she’ll miss about the space. “For now I’m just trying to look ahead and see how we can fulfill our vision. I can say though, that I will miss the ability to teach our young students, the ability to prepare and curate art shows for our artist and community. There are no regrets, I am only grateful for this whole experience. It made me grow as an artist, teacher and curator and the finale of it all made only stronger.”
Imagining Salvo in its new space, possibly not far off, Iston continued: “I’m pretty sure we’ll create something beautiful there. It will be another opportunity for us if it will work. It will be a more stable one, and from there, JJ and I still have the vision of creating something of this size in the future, with Thea Mathen.”
Iston was referring to a long-term project Bunnell business owner and art philanthropist Mathen has in mind for a property she owns at the corner of Belle Terre Boulevard and U.S. 1, where she imagines the beginning of a network of artist colonies. Mathen has been discussing the possibilities with Graham and Iston, but the time such a project would need compelled Graham and Iston to find something sooner where they can keep Salvo going. They themselves can barely stop working: they may not open the new Salvo for months, but they’ve already rented a studio at Marvin Gardens, adjacent to the grounds at Nature Scapes, so they can keep painting.
There’s no set time for the move, but should the deal go through, it would be the first time that Graham would be free of landlords, whose appearances in future paintings of his are somewhat likely, and not in the most colorful light. “I feel like it’s going to feel a lot more like home, our home,” Iston said.
“I want to leave on a positive note,” Graham said of his last days at Nature Scapes, “and I really don’t have any animosity, outside of having to clarify that we’re not a bunch of irresponsible artists that have put people’s lives in jeopardy.”
Graham was still seething at a quote by one of Baiatas in a December News-Journal account of the break-up, where the landlord linked the fire at the Ghost Ship, the Oakland warehouse where 36 people died the night of Dec. 2, to what could possibly happen at Salvo—an outrageously absurd comparison: the fire in Oakland had started on the first floor and trapped people on the second floor of a hulking two-story structure with a labyrinthine layout, few doors and few windows. Salvo’s building is all ground floor and is more bay windows and doors than brick wall, literally: a total of 12 glass bay doors, each 12 feet wide, ring the rectangular building, along with three regular doors and a giant garage door. The chances of a slip and fall on ground misted by sprinklers are likely considerably higher, all told, than the possibility of a fire with injuries.
Graham called the comparison of Salvo to the ghost Ship “low and opportunistic” and worried that people who had not seen the building would be kept away. But he’s always been able to count on the gallery’s core supporters. And this afternoon he was busier getting excited about Harrison Huijksen’s show than any lingering snippiness.
Despite being a mere teen, Huijksen represents the arc Salvo traveled from its days at Hollingsworth where, as a 9 or 10 year old, Huijksen started taking art lessons from Graham. Hollingsworth had just opened at City Market Place. Five months ago Huijksen rented a studio at Salvo and lately has been painting into the night.
“If it means anything to me it’s just kind of a sense of awe that I’ve been doing this or anything consistently for 10 years,” Huijksen said. “I’ve seen Hollingsworth and then Salvo go through all the motions, now I’m just kind of looking forward to what’s ahead, I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that it’s going to be better than what we’ve left. It’s usually how it goes.”