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Jef Lessard painting for “Outside In.” Kelly Sennott photo.




See “Outside In: Graffiti Art in the Gallery”

Where: Studio 550 Art Center, 550 Elm St., Manchester
When: On view June 3 through June 29
Reception: Friday, June 3, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Contact: 550arts.com, 232-5597




Graffiti art in the gallery
Studio 550 partners with Top Shelf Tattoo Gallery

06/02/16
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



 Not everyone considers street graffiti and tattoo work art, which is one of the reasons Top Shelf Tattoo Gallery owner Jef Lessard was interested in partnering with Studio 550 owner Monica Leap for the art center’s latest show, “Outside In: Graffiti Art in the Gallery,” on view June 3 through June 29.

Lessard, who is in the midst of proposing mural artwork for the skate park in town, said there are a lot of misconceptions about graffiti art. The tattoo shop has murals all over its walls, indoors and outside, and has collaborated and painted murals for other businesses. Once, a group of onlookers called the cops when he was painting on the shop’s wall late in the afternoon.
“They automatically assumed it was done in a vandalist manner,” he said during an interview at the gallery. “But done right, [outdoor art] makes a place much nicer to be in, nicer to look at.”
Leap said she’s always looking for opportunities to showcase community artwork and partner with local organizations and businesses. She particularly favors shows and pieces not often seen in traditional galleries.
“We thought it would be interesting and non-traditional to put street art and graffiti on the gallery walls. Graffiti gets a bad name because there are so many awful taggers around,” Leap said in an email. 
But most people, she said, can appreciate a well-made piece of street art that’s not vandalistic, that is splashed on a wall with permission and art in mind. She anticipates the pieces made by Top Shelf Tattoo Gallery artists will look right at home on  Studio 550’s exposed brick gallery walls.
Leap and Lessard met shortly after he started Top Shelf Tattoo in 2013, when he stopped in the studio to meet his neighbor. They talked and learned that, in a way, they had similar missions, despite that hers was focused mostly on ceramics, his on tattoo art. Both aimed to bring together a community of artists within their respective businesses, she through gallery shows, classes and events, and he through mixed media art in the shop and music shows on weekends.
The Top Shelf Tattoo Gallery was incredibly colorful during a recent visit. The first-floor entrance featured mural artwork and skateboards with bright, primary color designs. Framed pieces lined the crimson walls, and a shelf of pop culture figurines greeted customers at the entrance.
Lessard and fellow tattoo artist Kat Seluk had few spray painted pieces hanging in the back room. One illustrated a spraying fire hydrant against a violet cityscape. It was painted on a collection of square canvases secured together. Another smaller piece had the beginnings of an Elm Street sign, and another had the outlines of a mailbox. 
The other thing about graffiti art, he said, is that people are less inclined to tag it than blank walls.
“It’s the same thing with my building. Whenever my piece goes up, nobody tags it,” he said. 





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