Two galleries, two shows, one mission

Jun 03, 2021

Two galleries, two shows, one mission

Val Francis and her husband Ralph H. Grace III opened the doors to the Knowhere Gallery in the Oak Bluffs’ Arts District three years ago, with a mission to “offer others an opportunity and an avenue to explore the world through art as a means to find themselves and their path.” Last year the couple took over a second space on Circuit Ave., allowing them more flexibility to spotlight art and artists whose work helps inform, educate, and provoke thought, while always providing a pleasing and illuminating visual experience.

Due to the pandemic, the new location, Center of Knowhere, located next to the Cousen Rose Gallery on upper Circuit, hosted only one show last year. Francis featured work by New York City–based photographer Mohamed Yakub during the month of September. This summer, the gallery will offer a full schedule of shows by artists from both the Island and beyond. For the opening exhibit, Francis has chosen to showcase paintings by two Island artists who have spent the past year supporting, critiquing, and encouraging each other’s work. The Center of Knowhere will feature paintings by Wendy Weldon and Rob Hauck through June 27.

Meanwhile, over at the original Knowhere Gallery on Dukes County Ave., Francis is featuring the work of multiple artists in a show called “Collide & Scope.” The exhibit will feature painting, installation, sculpture, and mixed-media work from seven BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) artists from all over. The show was co-curated by Francis and Sadaf Padder, a South Asian American independent curator based in Brooklyn who Francis met last fall during a visit to the gallery.

Padder is the founder of Alpha Arts Alliance, which, according to a press release, is “a Brooklyn-based collective and agency amplifying artists of the global majority who demonstrate a dedication to community betterment.”

The exhibit will spotlight artists who Francis refers to as “not quite midcareer yet, but not technically emerging artists.” 

“They are all collected and heavily followed,” she says. “These are artists who have been shown in galleries in New York City and elsewhere.”

The work varies widely in style and media, but represents a common theme in a way. On the Knowhere website, Francis writes, “This show offers a tribute and restoration to a community processing collective traumas by presenting abstract, geometric, and surrealist work exploring themes of connectedness to community and the Earth in contrast to bodily dissociation and isolation during COVID.” A percentage of proceeds from the exhibit will fund the Grown in Haiti’s community center and artist residency.

Operating two galleries has allowed Francis quite a bit of flexibility in offering a variety of exhibit experiences throughout the summer (and beyond). The gallerist chose to kick off the Center of Knowhere season with work by two accomplished Island artists who are presenting work created during the past year.

Weldon has been represented by the Knowhere Gallery since last year. During a conversation with Francis over the winter, the artist mentioned fellow painter Rob Hauck, with whom she had been sharing ideas and inspiration during the pandemic. Francis suggested that the friends create work for a two-person show. The exhibit will illuminate the influence that the two seasoned artists have had on each other’s work over the past year, as they spent time swapping studio visits and critiquing each other’s work.

Those familiar with Weldon’s and Hauck’s work will find that each artist has diverged from their individual styles in a number of ways. Weldon creates work in both pure abstraction and largely abstracted figurative images. Her work tends to feature vibrant hues and unusual color combinations. Hauck, on the other hand, is best known for using blacks, grays, and subdued colors to create dreamlike, abstract landscapes from which glimpses of imagery emerge, as from a slight lifting of a translucent veil. One thing that the two artists have in common is that, according to Weldon, “We both like texture. We both use transparency and opacity in our work.”

For the past year, while going back and forth between each other’s studios and sharing images digitally, the mutual critiquing process has brought new elements to each artist’s work. Says Weldon: “Rob influenced me by showing me muted colors as acceptable colors. He also commented on the balance of my work, helping me to discover if the colors or values work. It was like having a crit group.”

For his part, Hauck found himself moving toward lavenders, pinks, and blues, and with even a bit more daring reds and mustard yellows in the large-scale paintings he has contributed to the exhibit. “I decided that I was going to do something I hadn’t done before,” he says. “My favorite colors are neutrals and black and white. Because of Wendy’s palette, I experimented with more intense colors.”

Hauck credits Weldon with helping him out of a pandemic slump. “During the heart of the pandemic, I found that as both a painter and a writer, I couldn’t do either anymore,” he says. “I tried to persist. It just wasn’t happening. Spending more time with Wendy really encouraged me to start painting again. As time went by, I got back into the routine. Once I started, I found I couldn’t stop.”

Francis’ goal of using her position as gallerist to help inspire artists is clearly working. And with her efforts to introduce new artists to the Island, she is demonstrating her commitment to supporting and fostering those who may not have enjoyed as wide-ranging an audience as they deserve.

The “Collide & Scope” show will be the first of the 2021 exhibits aimed at presenting new work to Island viewers. Of her collaboration with the co-curator of the opening show, she says, “We have similar interests in creating forums for artists who don’t have the same opportunities to have a presence in galleries. Most of the top galleries are looking for pedigree — a proven track record.”

This year Francis is pleased to be able to expand on her mission of inclusivity. “Doing mostly group shows has given me a platform to showcase more artists,” she says. “With each year I feel like I’m able to evolve toward executing more on my ideas.”

“Collide & Scope” group exhibition will hang from May 29 through June 27 at the Knowhere Gallery on Dukes County Ave. Simultaneously, a two-person show of work by Wendy Weldon and Rob Hauck will be on view at Center of Knowhere on Circuit Ave. during the same time period.

- by Gwyn McAllister, May 26, 2021