When Bridgette Baldo and Tony Parker think of the arts scene in Atlanta, one word comes to mind.
“Boundless,” says Baldo, director of UTA Artist Space Atlanta, a highly anticipated gallery set to open with a reception from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. March 23 on the first floor of the global talent agency’s new offices in Midtown. “The scene is still growing and evolving, but there are infinite possibilities.”
The Eyes Were Always On Us, an exhibit of new paintings by mixed-media artist Lonnie Holley, will be the gallery’s first.
Holley, a self taught artist, is the South personified. It drips from his drawl and explodes onto his many artworks – paintings, sculptures, photography, music, film, sandstone carvings – with his ability to turn scraps into sacredness. It’s a power that abides in the psyche of generations of Black folks in America. His work will be on display through April 29.
The new gallery replaces UTA’s temporary space at Pullman Yards, where the organization presented four exhibits over the past 12 months. More public access differentiates the new space from that venue and from UTA’s first artist space in Los Angeles, which opened in 2016.
“Our philosophy is slightly different than Los Angeles because of the ecosystem here,” says Parker, sales director. Alongside him and Baldo will be UTA partner and creative director of fine arts Arthur Lewis, a Morehouse man and prominent collector.
When a torn ligament pushed Parker from his basketball career into depression, art saved his life, he says. He now represents young artists and helps clients, mostly athletes and musicians, develop their collections.
“I’m forever a kid from East Atlanta,” he says. “I’m excited to give kids who look like me an opportunity to see fine art at a high level. It’s important that art reaches the people.”
About a third of the artists shown will be Atlanta-based, from the Southeast, or originally from Atlanta and now based elsewhere. The gallery will also host outside artists so local art lovers can experience them without having to travel.
UTA hopes to see the city’s fine art landscape grow to rival New York City or Miami as it deepens connectivity with the existing strengths of Atlanta’s art world.
“We want to embrace what Atlanta has already built and not negatively disrupt the system,” Parker said. “I think we’re elevating (it) and returning the light to the talent here.”
With its aim to host “forward thinking exhibitions . . . by artists who seek to make a cultural impact,” Baldo says many of UTA Atlanta’s shows will connect to the cultural fabric of Atlanta or the South.
Holley, Alabama born and raised, made Atlanta his home in 2010. One of 27 children, he was an early recycler out of necessity. At 73, he has spent more than 40 years finding glory in the things others throw away.
“When a person throw away somethin’, I imagine my mother inside of me asking me to look it over to make sure it’s not no longer no good,” he says in Thumbs Up for Mother Universe, a deeply intimate documentary spanning 25 years of Holley’s life by Atlanta-based filmmaker George King. “But when is something no good? When is a object or piece of material no more good to the mind of man?”
Holley was known to have mounds of found materials in his yards: barbed wire, chains, metal, wood, old furniture, dead electronics. When he puts them together, they somehow make sense. They survive in ways that they, and he, were never meant to.
“A lot of people say, ‘What is that mess? Why you make a mess out of everything?’” he says in the film. “I don’t really be makin’ a mess, I be takin’ the mess that is, and tryin’ to reveal this is the mess that humans have made.”
Holley’s eyes are telling. They are eager yet weary, piercing yet distant, and pensive yet ablaze with the memories of all they’ve witnessed. The father of 15 has lived a life so complex that perhaps only such artwork could explain it. In all that he does, he calls out to his ancestors, making his work a tool of remembrance and remedy.
His paintings for this exhibit are composed of spray paint, oil sticks, gesso and acrylic on canvas, paper and quilt, an homage to his mother, a quilter. Like them, Holley’s assemblages and music reflect his journey through dark nights that carried him to these days in the sun.
And he’s everywhere right now. Film festivals. A gripping podcast about childhood abuses he and many others suffered at the hands of Alabama. Sharing his latest album on stages here and abroad.
“It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to show an artist with such a significant place in history,” Parker says. “Lonnie Holley is a Black history icon. His legacy will never end.”
As UTA finds its place in the burgeoning local arts scene, Baldo and Parker said they will focus on non-traditional shows that can be experienced and accessible.
“We want to show artists we think Atlanta would appreciate and push the narrative of art as a focal point in the city,” Parker says. “(We’re) trying to show that fine art is important here and that the support for it is here.”
Angela Oliver is a proud native of old Atlanta who grew up in the West End. A Western Kentucky University journalism and Black studies grad, daily news survivor and member of Delta Sigma Theta, she works in the grassroots nonprofit world while daydreaming about seeing her scripts come alive on the big screen.