New Midtown gallery’s latest show pairs two talented local artists

"E. Lynn Harris," by Demetri Burke is featured in the two-artist exhibition “Expanding Narratives” at the new Midtown gallery NicholsAtlanta.
(Courtesy of NicholsAtlanta)

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"E. Lynn Harris," by Demetri Burke is featured in the two-artist exhibition “Expanding Narratives” at the new Midtown gallery NicholsAtlanta. (Courtesy of NicholsAtlanta)

NicholsAtlanta teams up Demetri Burke and José Ibarra Rizo who both take a more complicated look at masculinity.

On the seventh floor of a residential high-rise in the center of Midtown’s crane-flecked skyline, is the new contemporary art space NicholsAtlanta. The by-appointment gallery occupies a compact 550 square feet but boasts enough windows to offer a front row seat to the neighborhood’s development boom.

Across 12th Street the Rockefeller Group’s 61-story mixed-use skyscraper in the former USPS Midtown branch will throw shade on the view but also bring more action to this already buzzing intersection of West Peachtree and 12th streets which is suddenly looking a lot like the New York City the gallery’s eponymous owner Derek G. Nichols left behind.

The contemporary art space is the vision of Nichols, who lives in the building. After a career in health administration in New York he decided to parlay a severance package into following a lifelong passion for the arts and open his first gallery. A definitive moment for Nichols, he says, that set him on his path, was viewing the formative Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition at New York’s Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1985 and even watching the two artists taking promotional photos in the space. “I was blown away. I was like ‘this is what I want to do.’”

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"Santos" by Jose Ibarra Rizo. (Courtesy of NicholsAtlanta)

Credit: Handout

"Santos" by Jose Ibarra Rizo.
(Courtesy of NicholsAtlanta)

Credit: Handout

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"Santos" by Jose Ibarra Rizo. (Courtesy of NicholsAtlanta)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“I couldn’t do it in New York because I’m not a millionaire” Nichols laughs.

So instead Nichols brought his dream to Atlanta when he moved to the city this past September. Though he’s only had three shows at NicholsAtlanta, he’s already planning to expand his existing gallery from its present jewel-box size. But he says staying in Midtown is critical, especially with the High Museum of Art just down the road. New York’s Paula Cooper gallery director Steve Henry is an advisor and has helped Nichols navigate the gallery world.

With a focus on emerging and mid-career artists and hopes of bringing in the occasional blue chip name (Nichols is a big fan of Cy Twombly’s work), NicholsAtlanta’s mission is to attract an untapped market of younger collectors.

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"Langston Hughes" by Demetri Burke. (Courtesy of NicholsAtlanta)

Credit: Handout

"Langston Hughes" by Demetri Burke.
(Courtesy of NicholsAtlanta)

Credit: Handout

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"Langston Hughes" by Demetri Burke. (Courtesy of NicholsAtlanta)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

NicholsAtlanta’s third show, “Expanding Narratives” through Aug. 27, features Georgia State University BFA grad Demetri Burke and José Ibarra Rizo, two friends and Atlanta-based artists with a shared interest in expanding a vision of masculinity and of portraiture subjects. In Burke’s mixed-media works combining painting, drawing and collage, the artist addresses the legacy of Black creatives like filmmaker Marlon Riggs, writers E. Lynn Harris and Langston Hughes and activist and writer Joseph Beam, ornamenting portraits of these men with golden, star-flecked skies or swaths of inky black to suggest eternity. Burke creates dreamy tapestries and memorials to these men. His delicate, romantic memorializing works where tulips and other flowers are overlaid on portraits of his subjects suggest a different vision of what it means to be a Black man in America.

“I think they complement one another” says Nichols. “Both of them are dealing with community, one in the realm of paint and the other in the realm of photography.” And both artists, says Nichols “are talking about vulnerability.”

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"Somewhere In Between" by Jose Ibarra Rizo (Courtesy of NicholsAtlanta)

Credit: Handout

"Somewhere In Between" by Jose Ibarra Rizo
(Courtesy of NicholsAtlanta)

Credit: Handout

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"Somewhere In Between" by Jose Ibarra Rizo (Courtesy of NicholsAtlanta)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

By the same token, José Ibarra Rizo, who received his B.A. from Georgia College & State University defies any easy categorization of Latino men in his thoughtful photographic portraits of the migrants and children of migrants in his hometown of Gainesville.

In both artist’s work, men are set against nature which softens and alters our perceptions of the expected masculine iconography. Rizo’s “Rose Grower” features an older man posed against a bank of vibrant blooming flowers and in Burke’s “E. Lynn Harris” a childhood portrait of the artist himself peeks out from behind a grove of abstracted white flowers, giving a softness and sweetness to Burke’s vision of boyhood devoid of the usual signifiers.

Next up at NicholsAtlanta is Adana Tillman, a contemporary fiber artist who uses textiles and found fabrics to create portraits centered on Black subjects opening Sept. 15.


ART REVIEW

“Expanding Narratives: Demetri Burke and José Ibarra Rizo”

Through Aug. 27. By appointment only. Free. NicholsAtlanta, 1080 W. Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta. 404-458-6131, nicholsatlanta.com.

Bottom line: A tiny show dedicated to an alternative vision of Black and Latino men from two talented young Atlanta artists.