Ever since Michele "Nelly" Johnson moved to Manitou Springs nine months ago, she says something has happened to her in this mountain town. She's become a networking machine.
The once-shy floral designer and model met new friends right away, like artists Chris Davis and Miranda Davie and musicians including Pete Sisson of the Conjugal Visits. Her socializing started casually, but soon became a project. And as part of the many conversations she had, Johnson discovered that art-rock shows aren't as common here as they are in her native Minneapolis, so she decided to start her own with nine other artists and a gaggle of bands.
"I like going out to rock shows and seeing bands do their thing, and so combining the art and rock music was a way to make ... something fun that I'd like to go to," the 44-year-old says.
She dubbed the show We Are Not Rembrandt not as an insult to the famed Dutch master but to suggest a difference in style. The one-day show and sale will feature work by Davis and Davie as well as Dusty Powell, Hilary McCandless-Beard and Tokka, with live music by the Conjugal Visits, the Mostly Don'ts, Headhum and Good Morning Accordion Terrorist.
A DIY outlook
To attract those who typically wouldn't frequent an art gallery, the show will be held at the Triple Nickel Tavern; the art — including pottery, jewelry and custom guitars — is similarly tailored.
"A lot of the artists — the people that are doing the wall pieces, paintings — a lot of them are tattoo-influenced designs. A lot of skulls, just kind of fun stuff," Johnson says. She occasionally collaborates with Powell to paint the skulls on pottery and depicts them with bugs for eyes and flowers around their heads in her own heavily lined acrylic paintings, which have a strong Day of the Dead influence. "You wouldn't go to any of the traditional galleries and see what we're doing."
You likely wouldn't find equally budget-friendly price points, either. Prints and jewelry start at $10; originals start at $20.
While for Johnson the show is more about her paintings, she will also be selling some merchandise from Kow Kitty, her design line, such as $1 buttons, stickers and magnets.
"I sit down, and I hand-draw everything," she explains, "and everything just kind of comes out of my head."
Davis, a member of the local cooperative arts group Mothma and publications artist, also aims for a personal approach to his DIY magazines and art books.
"It's really oversimplifying it to say that a lot of good things have come out of technology," he says, "but I feel like one of those things that's kind of been left in the dirt is the idea of really personal expression."
'Face your demons'
Davis gained an appreciation for publications at Idaho's Northwest Nazarene University, where a medical hospital was renovated into the arts building in the 1950s. Much of its past was still intact when he, his friend, and an art professor explored the building's attic two summers ago.
"We found handwritten notes saying, 'I hope you enjoy this; sorry we can't be with you for Thanksgiving.' Like, really weird stuff. You find A, C and D, and you just kind of wonder what B is."
Davis arranged the notes into a scrapbook and has since created other handmade books full of found objects and memories from his own life. They will be shown alongside his zines, "Fear and Trepidation," which is full of photocopied art pieces, stories and found objects, and "Creepy Craigslist," a collection of bizarre posts, like people hawking two-foot-long locks of human hair and a basin full of urine.
"Art is all about dialogue," he says. "It's opening it up, it's talking about something that's difficult for the artist to understand or to comprehend."
For Johnson, that dialogue stems from personal experience. Her favorite thing that she's written for Kow Kitty is "Face your demons and bitch slap 'em."
"That's what I'm doing, and one of my fears was being destitute and not having steady income and leaving my home ... I never pictured myself leaving Minnesota, and here I am, and I left everybody," she says. "And I completely started over again with a blank slate, and I'm rewriting me, and I'm rewriting who I am."