Art Across the Alley: Finding Art in Unexpected Corners of Clintonville

Creativity and the spark of inspiration live in the attic above the garage, just a few doors down. The tangled, messy stuff – you know, the stuff that happens at the origins of all art – seeps from the house, which is playfully decorated with the work of at least 100 local artists.

Colorful stories run up the mural-covered exterior wall of the garage. It’s the sort of space neighbors use to hide away their unused ski equipment, for storage of grandma’s prized collection of doilies, or as the home base for their old, bent and broken gardening tools.

If you’re a regular around here, cruising down the narrow alley, you might see some work in progress, when the garage door is open, and the artist is in residence. The pieces come together upstairs, in a space dedicated to ongoing and evolving artistic expression.

If you’re in a hurry you might miss the signs that something special is happening here, distracted by all the other activity going on in this micro-neighborhood. There’s a surprising amount of activity going on here.

You see, across the gravel alley, behind my rented duplex in Clintonville, there is a trio of small dogs – the kind that give small dogs a bad name. They bark and bark at me when I take out the recycling, then bark at me some more when I hang wet laundry in the sunshine, on the thin line that stretches across my yard. One starts, sending out a call to the others, and they holler at me in unison, until their Dad hollers back, calling them into the house.

On sunny days our neighbor works on his old yellow Ford, from the late ‘50s, in the parking spot between our garage and his. More hours than I can imagine have been invested in the beloved vehicle. It will take a lot more elbow grease, and a fresh coat of paint, to earn any prizes at the car shows, but it runs well enough to occasionally be parked out front, making room for a fiery red, already restored model.

A golden retriever wanders into our yard, sniffing about, as if he’s looking for his Golden pal Finn, who moved away over the summer. Or perhaps he’s tracking the neighborhood prowler, a redhead named Julius, whose tag reads “outdoor cat,” alongside his home address. (I imagine he’s tagged this way because folks kept searching for the friendly feline’s home, or taking him to local shelters, only to discover that he was playing the entire neighborhood for wet food and extra treats.)

There’s a ruckus a couple of times a week, as the trash and recycling are picked up by trucks that block the entire width of the alleyway. A husband and wife team knows the waste collection schedule, and arrives a day early, to collect cans that they can turn into much needed funds. I wonder if they have ever noticed the street art that decorates their path.

Have they speculated about its origins? Do they even realize that a public display of art is there, for all to enjoy? Do they find value in the work – does it ever give them pause? I hope so.

Stephanie Rond, a local Columbus artist whose work has a strong focus on gender roles, uses her chosen medium to speak to the accessibility of art. “Art is a necessity; it’s not a luxury,” she says, “and although it’s wonderful to go to galleries and museums and performance spaces, and experience art, we should be experiencing it every day, in our everyday lives, and in all of our communities.” (TED Talk)

Street art is Rond’s primary mode of expression, and she’s known for this, in and around the Columbus art scene, and beyond.

“Rond’s work challenges the traditions associated with both indoor and outdoor space. Her work shows women and girls as positive role models and active citizens, combating the typical objectification of women in advertising.” (Stephanie Rond website)

Open Studios is a yearly event that opens dozens of art studios and performance spaces, all around Columbus, to the public. This is how I gain access to Rond’s living space for the first time, as a welcomed guest. I am familiar with her work, having seen it on the sides of buildings all over downtown. The event welcomes art patrons into creative spaces, like Rond’s garage, that they might not otherwise have access to. In fact, visitors may have been unware of the presence of the art space.

In previous years the event took me to the Cultural Arts Center, located downtown along the Scoito River, then I followed a neighborhood map, winding through communities that hug the downtown area, and expanding outward in all directions. This year I was focusing on the Northern-most galleries and studio spaces, in Clintonville.

There are many artists living and working in Clintonville, an area of town known for its environmental stewardship, community involvement. . .  and creative flair! I arrive at Rond’s home by bike, but I could have just as easily walked out of my back door, across the alley and into this inspiring space. It’s full of new ideas, artistic passion, and paint!

Rond may not realize it, but she is my neighbor, and I’m quietly motivated by the work of this fellow artist, trained at Fort Hayes High School and then The Ohio State University, my graduate school alma mater. I’m pleased to meet her husband first, as he greets visitors at the front door, to begin their house tour. The space has a homey feeling, while simultaneously eliciting surprise, due to the sense that my fellow cyclists and I have just stepped into an art gallery.

Paintings and sculptures, crafted by local artists, are on display all over the living room. Each is labeled with a title and the name of the artist. I’m taken aback by the effort made here, to promote the Columbus art community. I’d crossed the threshold expecting to see only Rond’s work, but instead I get a taste of the artistic diversity Columbus has to offer.

Moving into the dining area, I’m treated to two unique displays. The first is a doll house, acting as a miniature, functioning art gallery, S.Dot Gallery. The tiny space is adorned with miniature pieces of art, created for exhibition. The display rotates monthly, complete with gallery openings and a web gallery, accessible 24/7.

“S.Dot Gallery is a dollhouse sized gallery founded by Stephanie Rond in 2011. S.Dot Gallery specializes in contemporary tiny sized artwork. Over the past seven years, more than 150 artists have shown in miniature in S.Dot Gallery. The small artworks–which have run the gamut of mediums–defy preconceived notions of scale and environment. They openly challenge the viewer’s idea of what art is.” (S. Dot Gallery)

The second display, a visual treat, hangs on the yellow walls beside the doll house. A collection of small pieces, stretching the length of the dining room, represents every gallery showing that has taken place inside the miniature house. There’s a lot to see, and I’m inspired to look back at the history of the gallery, when I have more time to explore online.

The dining room table is covered with books and magazine articles, featuring the development of Rond’s work. I’m tempted to settle in and read, but the artist herself is filling the space out in the garage, with her colorful personality, and I’m anxious to meet her.

On my way to the back door, cutting through the kitchen, I’m tickled by the collection of cat butt magnets, pinned to the side of the fridge, scattered among travel magnets and personal memorabilia. I’d noticed Rond’s fondness for her feline companions, a pair of black beauties whose oversize images were were above the mantle in the living room.

I wonder if they know Julius. . . I’m certain they spend many contented hours lounging in the front window, perched on the dark wooden cat tower that blends into the living space, like another piece of art. They have probably even made friends with the birds and squirrels who entertain my girls, and their brother Jeffery.

Finally making my way out to the garage, signs point the way upstairs. “On the right side of the garage, there are stairs leading up to the loft where I compile my ideas as well as my large collection of paint.” (Open Studios Artist Statement) There is a lot of paint up there!

More than that, today there is a large collection of art lovers, leaning in to see Rond’s work in progress, and hear her speak about her artistic process. This is what I’d come to Open Studios for – to hear from the artists themselves, to learn about their vision, their process, and their inspiration. Or perhaps I’m just a big snoop, and want to see where other artists live and work!

Rond shares stories of a recent trip to Cuba, on an artist exchange, and the work that has emerged from this experience. She’s collaborated with fellow artists who were on the trip, and their work will exhibit in Cuba, while the work of Cuban artists is brought to the United States.

One of Rond’s models is on site for the day, to meet art patrons, and share her experience collaborating with the artist. She is a preteen who became comfortable in front of Rond’s camera, while the artist waited for her to settle in. Rond aims to capture the natural body language of her subjects, which allows their personality, individuality and confidence (and sometimes insecurities) to reveal themselves in her art.

She creates over 100 images on the camera, searching for the perfect one that fits her artistic vision, the message she wants to communicate to her audience. If it doesn’t come together, Rond is willing to try again, until it does.

Step-by-step, Rond walks us through her layered technique, and shares how the steps come together into the final piece. Shades of blue meet dark shadows and are accented with scattered highlights . . .

I’m interested, but I’m distracted by her long, pink hair, another signature of the artist, and I’m even more distracted by soaking in her environment. The slanted roof has the unexpected effect of pulling her audience in closer, so they stand in proximity to the artist, her work, and each other. It’s an intimate setting, and the artist welcomes it. We’re here largest audience of the day, and more visitors are squeezing into the attic, as we are exiting.

The connection between Rond and her young model is evident, in their interaction during the event and in the impact of the artist’s work around Columbus. I look forward to seeing more of her work, and more of the artist herself.

I know that the next time I drive past her garage I’ll imagine her in this space. I’ll speculate about whether she’s just starting a new project, brainstorming new ideas, or putting the final touches on a finished piece. I’ll be inspired to write, to photograph, to create, just knowing there is another artist just across the alley.

~ Kat

Related Links:

Columbus Open Studio and Stage:https://www.columbusopenstudioandstage.com/

Artist Statement – Stephanie Rond: https://www.columbusopenstudioandstage.com/2018-artists/stephanie-rond/

Stephanie Rond:https://www.stephanierond.com/

Ted Talk (Stephanie Rond):https://www.stephanierond.com/about/

Cultural Arts Center: https://www.culturalartscenteronline.org/

  1. Dot Gallery: https://www.stephanierond.com/about-sdot-gallery/

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