On Dec. 7, Emmi Sprayberry and Ron Chane will try to bring something new to their old haunt at Swell-O-Phonic retail store in Fondren: pop art. The new collaboration between Sprayberry and Chane is a product of an old acquaintance: The two met when Sprayberry frequented the store as a high school student. "It was just a place to go, hang out and look at some clothes," she said.
After attending art school at the Savannah College of Art and Design, the University of Southern Mississippi and Belhaven College, Sprayberry has returned to Swell-O-Phonic with a purpose: "We want to give unconventional artists a chance. Pop culture and urban is the style that we really like to do; we'd like to offer something different than traditional artwork."
Featured artists will be encouraged to price their work affordably. Sprayberry explained that this makes art accessible to a wider clientele, so that one's appreciation of a piece, rather than one's wallet size, will determine who can own what. Prices, she says, will range from $20 to $300.
Inside the space now, the skate and clothing store is combined with the gallery—T-shirts on one wall, paintings on the other and a shelf of jeans in the middle. So why not also have concerts and parties?
Sprayberry led me through the back of the gallery, where I stepped out into the concert area. Gleaming in the afternoon sun, flanked by a concrete wall and a parking lot, was a grassy swell of earth and a cement square. Two teenage boys shambled about with skateboards like ambassadors from the land of under-21, bearing an unspoken message, "We'd like to hang out here more." It was then that Chane introduced himself.
Although his business ventures are swelling into maturity, Chane is entirely youthful in demeanor. He apologized for his paint-splattered hands and hushed his rambunctious dog, Zero, a blue heeler who Chane suspects of being "one-third jackass." Although momentarily quelled by Chane's rebuke, Zero continued to bark, growl and gambol throughout the interview. A self-described "lifestyle designer" with his products sold in New York and on eBay, Chane seemed genuinely surprised by his own success. "This whole company was fueled by mistakes," he said. "I guess you could say we look at ignorance as a resource."
In practice, that translates into an enthusiasm for experimentation and a willingness to dream big. Sprayberry and Chane have a lot of dreams crammed into their cement-and-grass backyard: concerts, murals, skate competitions, DJs, movies, parties and just hanging out. All of it is an attempt to make the space appealing to a broader clientele, to evade categorization as a "skate store."
But these partners are levelheaded entrepreneurs. They know that selling a multi-purpose space as a social venue will be difficult. "It's gonna take a while for people to respect what we're doing here because it's small, and it's connected to the retail store," Chane admitted. "But it's all about personal vision, and you have to follow it." There are other drawbacks to this cohabitation of art and everyday consumerism—for example, no nudity on canvas. "The only thing I couldn't pull off in here is nudes," Chane noted. "With moms coming in buying skateboards, I guarantee there would be an issue."
Even with such restrictions, Sprayberry found six exciting artists for the opening show. They include Daniel and Megan of Deep End Photography, Scott Allen, Kate Freeman, Justin DeLatte, William Goodman and Ginger Williams. Opening night will also feature a concert by the band Wooden Finger, which Sprayberry described as "folk-indie." Also expect catering by Cups, along with cider and wine.
After perusing Chane's own paintings (composed of paint, pencil, soy sauce, text and Windex), which he wryly described as "The Dealing With It" series, I decided to head home. When I was almost out the door, the still-energetic Zero began to bark at a woman who had just entered the store. "Zero!" Chane admonished, "That's bad pimpin' right there. Real bad."
The Icon Gallery grand opening begins at 7 p.m. during Art Mix on Dec. 7. You can preview the show online on the Icon Gallery website.