Religion, Zines, Enterprise, Ethics, and Faking It
The artists and shows featured at Beep Beep gallery have frequently accrued critical interest from established and grassroots local media sources. Today, this fan had the chance to chat with owners Mark Basehore and James McConnell––and with, I might add, a 1984 Pontiac Fiero perched precariously in the center of the gallery space as part of their most recent show “The Ends,” which met great reviews in Creative Loafing and Burnaway. Read on to learn more about the past, present, and future of one of Atlanta’s best loved art spots and the guys running the show.
FANZINE: So how did you two meet?
JAMES: We both worked at Aurora.
MARK: We had a Friday night shift. At first we started trading music, then we started playing chess, then we started a zine together. With the zine, I think we realized we had a fun, creative project that was also slightly business-minded. We just set out to not lose money on it. And I think we didn’t lose money.
FANZINE: And that gradually led to the idea of “Let’s open a gallery?”
JAMES: Sort of. I lived in a house with three other guys, one of whom started the gallery with Mark and I: Steve Rauber. We had this rad, ‘50s-style house, where the living room kind of bled into the dining room via this portal. It was kind of a natural gallery space. So put some lights up and had a house party and an art show.
Mark [Basehore] was one of the early artists. Mike Germon, who just had a show here last month, was another.
MARK: Steve Rauber showed there too.
JAMES: Steve was a friend of mine from high school. We did a few shows and just tried to treat it like a real space. We were going off some things we heard from Young Blood. They had started off doing house shows before they got their first space at Grant Park. We thought that was a good idea and if they could do it, we could do it too.
At the time, our friend Joy had this space. It was called Laveneau. It was a mix between a gallery, an antique store, and a hair salon.
FANZINE: Where Beep Beep is now?
JAMES: Yeah. When our lease was up at our house in Oakcrest it happened to coincide with the time that Joy was getting ready to leave. He suggested we take it over and we decided to give it a shot. That’s when we started––officially––Beep Beep. It was called that when we did the shows at the house. But we signed the lease in 2006.
FANZINE: What, initially, would you say your interest was in art? Like, say, when you started the zine did you primarily consider yourselves as artists or were you more interested in promoting other artists?
MARK: I was making more art then than now, but not a ton. We were both going to a lot of shows––local artists, not necessarily high-end art. There were a lot more small galleries then featuring students, and local artists, and people just having a good time. I began noticing a lot of work that I liked and adding my own stuff to it. But this [Beep Beep] just kind of happened more than that.
JAMES: I’ve always had an interest in art, but never really practiced it. Over the years I’ve done some stuff, but only because the opportunity happened to present itself. When we first started doing the zine, though, I was really interested in writing.
Mark was doing a lot of weird Phototshop stuff. That was the first time I had even encountered that program. So it just made sense to do the zine, which was a mix of images and writing.
We both had a religion background. I studied religion in college and so did Mark. So a lot of the stuff in the zine is based on weird aspects of religions. It’s called “Metatronic,” which is a play on the name of the archangel “Metatron.” There’s a lot of Kaballic references and references to New Age stuff.
It’s really influenced our way of doing things and informed the kind of DIY work ethic we have.
FANZINE: How do you typically find artists? Do a lot of people come to you?
JAMES: It’s a mix. When we first started, we were pretty actively seeking people out. But since then it’s mostly people who have approached us or just relationships we’ve built over time.
FANZINE: So, for you, Mark, over the last seven or so years, do you feel like you’ve built up a pretty comprehensive knowledge of Atlanta’s art scene and the people involved?
MARK: A specific knowledge, for sure. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know. A lot of the history I don’t know: the people who have had a lasting impact but aren’t here anymore.
JAMES: We’ve both worked for artists too. After we started the gallery we both got jobs in the arts. Mark worked at a fine art photography gallery. That taught him a different side of it: like shipping and how clients are dealt with.
MARK: Boring stuff.
FANZINE: How long did that last?
MARK: About a year and a half.
JAMES: Then I worked at Art Papers. I still work there. A lot of the history that Mark is talking about––Art Papers and The Contemporary are kind of the basis of underground art from around the ‘70s to the late ‘90s. Now it’s a little more institutionalized…
FANZINE: Tell me more about Art Papers.
JAMES: It was originally the Atlanta Arts Worker’s Coalition––some real Marxist shit––then it became Atlanta Art Papers, then just Art Papers. So it went from being Atlanta-based, to the Southeast, and now it’s an international publication.
Through them I got to know a lot of people who were active in the art scene. I think that experience brought our focus up a little higher: it gave us an understanding of what we could do and drew our attention to where we’re going and where we need to make connections in order to keep it going.
FANZINE: Tell me about the reading series Solar Anus. How did they end up doing their readings at Beep Beep?
MARK: It’s run by Jamie Iredell, Amy McDaniel, and Blake Butler. They came to us and we talked briefly to them about it––about what their idea was behind it––and we liked them and it sounded like it was in line with what we do. The same goes with Invent Room Pop.
FANZINE: Tell me about that.
MARK: Robby Kee from Eyedrum organizes it. Once a month they get four to six musicians, who have never played with each other, to come out and bring whichever instruments they want to play. They draw names out of a hat and have a few sets with two or three people in each set to play for however long.
So it’s improv, but it’s not improv. It’s not like anybody can show up to play. And the range of musicians includes people from the symphony and young, suburban kids in a garage band. It reflects the way we do our shows in that we pick the people and whatever happens, happens. That’s how they treat the music and it’s kind of the way we treat the art.
FANZINE: Are there any other projects you’re working on that we should know about?
JAMES: We’re trying to get a public art thing going, but…
MARK: Four Coats?
JAMES: We got some funding from the city last year to do a project with three other galleries, where we each sponsor an artist to do a mural. We sponsored Lucha Rodriguez. She did a mural down the street here in Midtown. We had planned to move forward with it this year, but it just didn’t work out.
But it’s a good thing. There’s so much going on and there’s always stuff like that coming up.
FANZINE: People come to you with ideas for things––
JAMES: And we pretty much ignore them. [Laughs.]
You get really comfortable doing this kind of stuff and you get really good at doing it… Like the gallery: we’ve been doing it for five years now. It’s at a good place. So it’s like, “Alright. We’ll take on something else.” So we started Artlantis. And now that’s in a good place…
MARK: But they still require your attention.
JAMES: Lydia Sharlow, who we worked with on Atlantis last year, is amazing. She could eventually run it on her own. At least this year, she still needs input from us. But next year she’ll just hopefully be the Queen of Artlantis and that will be amazing.
Mark and I have a good relationship. We’ve been able to do this stuff for a long time; it’s hard to get someone who’s on our level, or lack of level, or wherever we’re at.
FANZINE: It must be difficult to trust someone with your brainchild too.
MARK: Totally. And it’s hard for the participants as well. We’ve been working with these artists for five years now. All of a sudden there’s a new person and you’re supposed to write them a check, or ask them a question, and trust that they’re going to have your interests in mind.
I think we’ve made it clear that we always have the artists’ interest in mind. I mean, we take less of a cut than most galleries. And that’s a big thing, I think, that doesn’t always get out there: It’s not a big deal. It doesn’t matter.
JAMES: We work with artists to get awards and to do things that don’t come back to us financially at all. Four Coats was a prime example. There was no money for us, but it was a lot of work to make that happen.
FANZINE: Do you see Beep Beep becoming a full time gig? Is promoting artists something you can see yourselves living off of?
MARK: I see a lot of different futures and that’s one of them. I think there’s a lot of potential for that. It’s challenging to think about because of the model we are currently using.
We don’t represent artists unless they ask for it. And even then it’s about the relationship that we have with them. Typically, if a fine art gallery represents an artist, the gallery gets a cut on whatever the artist sells. Our artists are represented at other galleries.
We don’t have anything to do with that.
Which is cool. I think it’s a model that’s very beneficial for artists. If we can’t promote them, or bring them to a fair, or whatever, they can do it. But it works both ways. That may limit our ability to grow in some ways.
It’s a distant future. I think we’ll just continue to do what we do and hope that people will respect and understand where we’re coming from.
Maybe a few of the artists we represent will get picked up by major collectors or get a lot of recognition and continue to work with us. That would be the natural progression. And everything we’ve done here has been sort of natural. Not forced. I could see that. I would like for that to happen.
FANZINE: Who wouldn’t like to make money doing what they love?
MARK: Right? And the way we’re doing it, I probably wouldn’t even have to wear a suit.
FANZINE: I’ve seen you wear suits here before.
MARK: That’s true. You’re right. [Laughs.] But who knows what will happen?
JAMES: I love it. But I don’t see this as something I’ll do exclusively in the future. There is always more to do. I think that’s just part of it: you always want to have a new challenge and to see how much more you can do. I think we both have that personality where, everything is interesting.
I think we’ve proven that you can make it work if you’re willing to work your ass off. But it may not be something that is always financially viable. The best galleries in the city have been closing recently and they’re way more on top of their shit than we are.
It’s a tough business. Even hustling all the time, it’s still going to be tough. Especially in Atlanta. I feel like it can function on it’s own and there’s a lot more work we can put into it, which is exciting. But, in terms of just doing this… There are a lot of options. There are a lot of things we’re working on right now that will hopefully let us able to do whatever it is we want to do.
FANZINE: Things like?
MARK: It’s top secret.
MARK: We can do another interview on that in about five months.
FANZINE: Sounds great.
Invent Room Pop meets at Beep Beep on the third Friday of each month. Search for Solar Anus on Facebook for updates on their readings. Mark Basehore and James McConnell can be reached via their website: www.beepbeepgallery.com. Or stop by the shop to meet them in person at 696 Charles Allen Drive. Laura Theobald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.