Inking, packing, folding, and stacking: "The Suitcase Show" is a trip

Mixed media drawing from "The Suitcase Show."
Mixed media drawing from "The Suitcase Show."

Greg Antrim Kelly’s wood-topped worktable stands in the middle of The Garage, the tiny parking-place-turned-gallery on First St. A typewriter, scissors, glue stick, ink, brush, and a few pages of blank paper occupy one end of the table. At the other, a black American Tourister suitcase sits mysteriously–the eponymous source of The Garage’s current exhibition, “The Suitcase Show.”

Why a suitcase? Taking a cue from the Winnipeg, Canada-based group, The Royal Art Lodge, local arts impresario Max Fenton began having drawing parties in 2005. The participants–regulars included Kelly, James Ford, Jeremy Taylor, Allyson Melberg-Taylor, and Patrick Costello, among others–would gather to work collaboratively on spontaneous drawings, passing pieces back and forth as individuals added bits and pieces. At the end of the party, again following the lead of The Royal Art Lodge, the artists would stash the evening’s output in a suitcase.

Kelly says when the suitcase began to feel “plump” last winter, he approached Kate Daughdrill about showing the work at The Garage since the gallery’s intimate, and informal space captures the friendly ambience of the parties. Because most of the pieces have no single maker, Kelly says it seemed only natural to make the current exhibition a benefit. All of the work on display is available as “pay what you want,” cash ââ?¬Ë?n’ carry, with proceeds going to the Westhaven Afterschool Program.

Mixed-media pieces of all sizes dangle from hooks affixed to two levels of plywood on the walls surrounding Kelly’s worktable. Some are straightforward drawings or ink washes, but most are collages involving stapling, folding, pasted-in images, and snippets of text. Some are striking–a small piece featuring a glued-on pencil sharpener and the words, “He hung on like an ant,” is compelling. Others are not. “Overall, I think a lot of the pieces are not that exceptional as drawings or collages,” Kelly says. “But there are some exceptional moments in them.”

As work sells, other drawings come out of the suitcase to replace them. Kelly apologizes as he undoes the case’s latches to reveal the rapidly diminishing stacks of artwork on either side of the interior green tartan divider. At the previous Friday night’s opening, the suitcase was so stuffed the drawings cascaded out onto the table. “Without a doubt, some of my favorites walked away on Friday,” Kelly says.

To replenish the supply and spread the creative energy, The Garage will host a public drawing party on August 26. Pack your pencils!

“The Suitcase Show: Selections from Drawing Parties (2005-2008)” is on view by appointment through August 31 at The Garage. The gallery will host a closing reception / drawing party / sale on August 26, 5-7pm. 250 N. First St. For more information, contact Greg Antrim Kelly at 434-242-0905.