'I want us to soar': Gallery 10 opens to give underseen Savannah artists more exposure

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Alix Baptiste and Calvin Woodum are two names that art lovers in Savannah will likely recognize.

Baptiste, a self-described painter of “happy memories,” was one of the first artists to entrench himself in City Market almost 35 years ago, and has done artwork for large corporate clients such as Disney and United Airlines.

Woodum, also a painter, but one who specializes in abstract "drip" compositions, has his work in non-traditional venues like coffee shops and cafes all over town, and is the current president of the popular Friends of African American Arts (FAAA) with Telfair Museums, having helped them grow to new heights in terms of membership and visibility during his tenure.

As individuals, the two artists have thrived in the Hostess City of the South. Now, the pair are teaming up to elevate a new generation of artists with their new artist collective Gallery 10, just upstairs from Baptiste’s own City Market space.

“I used to be a student artist, so someone had to give me a way for me to get to where I am today,” explained Baptiste in his characteristic Haitian accent. “When this place became empty…I said, 'Hey Calvin, I know you know everybody. I’m going to rent the space, you get the people.’ He said, ‘Okay, I know plenty of artists.’”

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Woodum certainly does know plenty of artists, but for Gallery 10, he specifically wanted to bring in folks who haven’t had as many opportunities to show. Moreover, he wanted to showcase work that isn’t the kind of standard fare of fountains and Spanish moss, instead bringing in artists who are exploring themes that aren’t necessarily what one thinks of when envisioning the city of Savannah.

“It’s really about helping other people who are incredible local artists,” Woodum said. “I’m a fan of their work, and I want their work to be shown here. I love the eclectic mix."

With their combined creative prestige, Baptiste and Woodum had little trouble finding willing participants who fit the bill.

“I was really excited, because I make jewelry, to be in a space where art is wearable,” said Annissa Roland, aka Aj Stone Jewelry, who met Woodum through her membership in FAAA. “This is the first year where I’ve really considered [what I create] artwork. I want my jewelry to be seen differently.”

Nancy Acosta, an abstract painter, and JoAnn Grafton, who specializes in “bespoke art,” a type of commission that is highly influenced by the client commissioning the work, had a similar experience.

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

“[Woodum] called me about this opportunity,” Acosta recalled. “And he said, ‘Nancy, we’re opening a brand new gallery, and I know you have a lot of art to show, and I’m interested in showing it.”

She came down to the gallery the next day and immediately signed on.

Grafton actually missed Woodum’s phone call, but was so determined to join the collective that she went straight to Baptiste. “The next day I was like, ‘Alix…’” She laughed.

There are a lot of good collective art spaces in Savannah: Kobo Gallery, for example, has been exhibiting interesting work by folks like Morgan Adler and Antoine de Villiers just off of Ellis Square since 2007, and Signature Gallery has been in business for over 30 years. But Gallery 10 feels different, in that it caters to showing high quality work by lesser known voices in the local art community.

“The thing that was most enticing to me about the space…was the lack of gatekeeping,” noted collage artist Ashley Rainge-Shields. She actually didn’t get into art-making until 2020 as a therapeutic process, having previously studied history.

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

“And so to begin just doing something to make myself feel better, has now blossomed into being able to display my art on a wall, and being a part this wonderful group of people, with this amazing experience, who have been all over the world showing their pieces,” she said. “I feel really honored to be a part of this.”

Fellow Gallery 10 artist Julia Roland hadn’t shown much previously either, but for a different reason: She’s still a student at SCAD.

“Initially, when I heard about this space, I was kind of nervous to enter a gallery,” she related. “But I saw how supportive [Woodum] was of me, and how much he believed in me, so that kind of inspired me to just trust myself and enter [the gallery].”

Chinese-born painter Ellen Xiang, also a newcomer to the gallery scene, noted that where she grew up, not only were there no galleries, but very few opportunities to even make art.

“I’ve loved art since I was a little kid, but when you grow up in a very [rural area] you don’t have all the supplies,” she said. “Really it was in my mind. When I moved to the United States, there was so much color. I was just playing with the paint.”

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

“When [Woodum] offered me a wall I was like, ‘I’ll take it now,’” she added.

Angela Roe, a mixed media artist, is also somewhat of an unknown in Savannah, but she’s coming to our city after stops in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta, with each place playing a role in defining her artistic style. She was encouraged to speak with Baptiste about joining the collective by fellow member Jonathan Keller, a surrealistic painter with nearly fifty-thousand likes on Facebook.

“Jonathan was like, ‘You gotta come down,’” Roe said. “You gotta meet Alix and share your work.’"

Gallery 10 will hold it’s official grand opening celebration Saturday from 5-8pm. But the space has actually been open since the beginning of December, and its members are already realizing the benefits.

“It’s only been two months…but every conversation has been great,” said painter Bobby Bagley. “Getting to know each other, thinking about art from a different perspective, seeing people work, being able to look over the shoulder of different artists. For me, art has been pretty solitary, but now I’m out meeting people, and it’s great.”

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Expressionist Tony Artemisia agreed, adding that he’s also been learning a lot about how people see his work from the folks who come walking through the doors, as well as from his fellow Gallery 10 artists.

“What I’m looking forward to seeing is what kinds of people are interested in my work, and everybody else’s work,” he explained. “Every time somebody comes in here, they’re from a different part of the country or the world, so it’s always an interesting conversation.”

The future of Gallery 10 is wide open, but with Savanah stalwarts Alix Baptiste and Calvin Woodum at its head, it’s certain to be a place worth visiting in the months and years to come.

“I want us local artists to thrive, I want us to soar,” Woodum said. “What we have here in Savannah, we should be proud.”

Gallery 10 is located upstairs in the Art Center at City Market at 307 West Saint Julian Street.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: 'I want us to soar': Gallery 10 opens to give underseen Savannah artists more exposure