In early December 2011, Black Hunger Gallery stood glowing at 2606 Breneman St. It was 22 degrees, but despite the cold, Boise art lovers shuffled into the quiet North End space, leaving a line of cars and a pile of icy bike frames outside. This was the official opening of the new art gallery and studio collective founded by visual artists Eli Craven, Erin Cunningham, Maria Chavez, Eamonn Parke and Jon Sadler.
Inside Black Hunger Gallery's inaugural exhibit, Le Ramrod, there was the work of Tenspeed Hero, a group of cycling enthusiasts based in Chicago. Some elements of the show included a Le Ramrod bike and a Look 585 with custom decal work done by esteemed bike painter Joe Bell. The Tenspeed Hero newspaper was also on display.
Like its opening exhibition, Black Hunger is fresh. The walls are bright white, track lighting is mounted on the ceiling, large windows let in a flood of natural light and the concrete floors are coated gray.
Cunningham's work area is hidden behind a moveable wall in the front gallery, while the other artists' work-stations line the perimeter of a larger adjoining room.
According to the artists, the building has gone through a major transformation since its humble beginnings.
"It was rough," recalled Parke, who originally discovered the space on Craigslist, listed as a storage facility.
Craven went with Parke to view what the two hoped could be converted into studio spaces.
"It was a total disaster," Craven remembered. "But we knew there was a lot of potential."
Once the building was acquired, the artists immediately got to work.
"Everybody pitched in putting walls up, painting the floors and putting in track lighting," Parke said.
Though the gallery was not a part of the original plan for the art collective, according to artist Maria Chavez, the space developed organically.
"Ideas for this space were generated, and then this whole idea of using this front space as a gallery originally came about because we wanted a clean area to pin up our work," Chavez said.
The collective decided that if it was going to have a gallery, it might as well pool its resources to feature contemporary art from all over the country, not just Boise.
"We sort of agreed that to keep this community active within the whole sphere of art worldwide ... it was essential for us to point our eyes outside of just Boise and to try and bring some exciting things in that might inspire Boise artists," Cunningham said.
If Black Hunger wanted to stir up some excitement in the Boise art scene, their January exhibit certainly got people talking. The one-night-only installation on Jan. 7 featured a Jeff Koons sculpture that had been previously damaged in shipping. Koons' 1995 "red balloon dog" sat on a lonely pedestal in the center of the gallery. Its broken edges barely clung to patches of duct tape and the show's facetious title, "Broken Puppy," was strung in golden lettering on the wall.
Parke, the show's curator, explained that another artist and friend of his happened into the sculpture as a gift but it was damaged in the shipping process. Parke said the show was meant to "satirize contemporary art."
"We tend to 'celebritize' things, and this show is meant to poke fun at the idea that we sort of create this fame around a piece of artwork," said Parke.
The playfulness of the show continued into the artists' studios in the back room, where friends gathered around a cardboard fireplace drinking wine. Others sipped tequila and snacked on bite-sized creations from caterer Abigail Selene Thomas.
A similar scene was replicated at Black Hunger's February exhibition opening, which featured Elijah Jensen's Dying Letter Office--a collection of intricate mixed-media packages Jensen mailed out to friends over the past few years. The vibe was warm and inviting, the opposite of most stuffy art openings. Jensen has since been added as a member of the studio collective.
And the collective extends that welcoming vibe at frequent Breakfast at Black Hunger events, where the community is invited to break bread with the artists during their open studio time, which takes place various Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
"We have coffee, we have pastries and we'll post it on our Facebook page so that people can come in and see what we are doing," said Craven.
On one such morning, sleepy-eyed visitors trickled into the collective. Blueberry waffles and fresh whipped cream were served as Craven and Parke passed an old camera back and forth, judging its weight and making quiet jokes. Behind them, Sadler sat at his desk taking photos and discussing a new piece he plans to write about his Dutch rooster named Reuben. Cunningham rolled away the gallery wall to reveal a huge light table and easel with a new painting sitting next to it.
Chavez made bloody mariachis--bloody mary's with tequila instead of vodka--and poured them into Irish coffee mugs with stalks of celery. Craven brewed another pot of coffee.
Slowly, but surely, the collective was coming to life.