In the city of Usak, Turkish painter Evrim Özeskici and sculptor Sirin Koçak stood around a table in their garden, surrounded by art supplies.
Özeskici with oil paint, Koçak with clay. The two waited patiently for their minute to begin.
Over two thousand miles away on a jetty in the River Soar of Central England, UK artist Chris Wright was waiting, too. As the murky brown waters sloshed underneath the surface, he poised his camera anticipating the perfect shot.
Room for creativity
“The Art Den,” otherwise known as the tAd gallery, is a one-room wonder.
Secluded in the corner of The Bowllery restaurant off Avenue C, the tAd art gallery displays unique works by both local and global artists. It is an artist-driven, non-profit space, with those qualities as the core of its foundation since it was launched.
“It started in the spring of 2013 when I was offered the space at The Bowllery,” tAd gallery curator Araya Vivorakij said. “I then collaborated with several artist friends to bounce off ideas on what direction and objective we would like the gallery to undertake.”
Özeskici, Koçak and Wright were some of the 23 artists featured in its first exhibition, “Parallel Moments: Local + Global.” Artists across time zones were given a single minute to produce a work of art simultaneously. A piece of their soul in a microscopic blip in time.
In an effort to connect diversity with time and space, the tAd gallery’s exhibit set the tone for many collections to come. Not only would it be a space for local artistry but international ones, as well.
“We welcome submissions from any artist who would like to exhibit their work,” Vivorakij said. “From time to time, we also initiate projects and invite artists to participate.”
Since its launch, the tAd gallery has touched on issues of gender identity, societal norms, cultural representation and other complex subject matter. These issues, interpreted through photographs, paintings or even short films, are an unlikely feature to customers who frequent The Bowllery.
In a sense, that is the point.
“It’s unusual because it’s tucked away in a restaurant but because it’s on the way to the bathrooms, it gets people to look at art who maybe wouldn’t step over there to see it,” Denton artist Tesa Morin said. “It invites a lot of age groups and just a wider variety [of people]. I like to start the conversation, talk to people about the work and get people to think about [the art] in a more profound way.”
Because of its small size, tAd gallery has a limited amount of artwork displayed compared to other establishments, however, it has the ability to pick and choose its artwork with more freedom. What bigger art galleries find too risqué or explicit, the tAd gallery has harnessed into a strength.
“Galleries like tAd are important platforms for exhibiting work that’s conceptual and experimental,” Canadian artist Nancy Cole said. “The small size is an advantage to presenting work that is more intimate and approachable.”
Even without massive walls to display the artwork in, tAd gallery’s secluded style is what makes it hold true to its principles. It allows for artists to express their art without fear of complete censorship.
“Small, independent galleries, telling from my Czech experience, are more flexible, which makes them unique,” Czech Republic artist Marie Meixnerová said. “It enables them to present programs bigger galleries might find problematic or too challenging. When getting bigger, the gallery might lose some important freedom that it has or space for improvisation.”
Artist to artist
For the past four years, the tAd gallery has displayed works of a range of artists. Some include the “Other Visions” exhibit, which includes 10 short films from the Czech Republic’s Festival of Film Animation. Others include “Edible Matters,” in which the artists tackled issues like the food industry, division of labor and capitalism.
“It’s a great opportunity for the artist to explore new domains in the craft, not only to show our own work but to create a bigger project, collaborative ones, focused on the local and global matters,” Brazilian artist Juan Diego Peréz La Cruz said. “Not just another empty space with some artwork on the walls.”
Although Vivorakij is the main curator, the process can be a collaborative effort. This is especially seen in their art projects, which focus heavily on themes of diversity.
In 2015, tAd launched their Outskirts project, an exhibition spotlighting “women artists from all walks of life, diverse cultural backgrounds, and different identities of race, sexuality, or age.”
“They’re constantly putting more artwork from women not only in the U.S. but also women internationally in a small space and especially in Texas,” Austin artist Ana Trevino said. “They really have a knack for bringing interesting and compelling work into the space.”
Because Vivorakij is also an artist, she has found a way to relate with fellow creatives by welcoming them into such projects that strike a chord.
“The purposes of our exhibitions is to showcase contemporary art,” Vivorakij said. “We also hope that through the work of art we can generate some meaningful dialogue.”
As tAd continues to stretch and change, the mission of delivering art through creativity and collaboration to Denton remains.
“There’s a good support system in [the gallery],” Morin said. “It’s artists helping artists. Artists appreciate the time it takes to make the art and that just increases the value of the exhibition and the appreciation it takes to getting everything to put it all together.”
Featured Image: Yukari Nakamichi’s sculpture “Mom’s Skirt” hangs in front of Leslie Robison’s oil and graphite on canvas “Moth” in the tAd Gallery. Sarah Bradbury