If you're neither a sheepish shoegazer nor a latte-lapping lingerer, it's likely you haven't noticed Gallery Alexa Rose, the new subterranean space opening First Thursday in the Idaho Building.
The gallery is only identifiable at street level by a singular row of scuffed skylights running down Bannock Street. Though if you had happened to stroll by said warmly glowing skylights on the evening of Monday, Dec. 1, dodging dots of blackened chewing gum and errant Thomas Hammer coffee cozies through the thickly hanging fog, you would've felt a tangible hum, something close to the rustle of bats awoken by a spelunker. Deep inside this cavernous space, accessible from the Superb Sushi courtyard, a handful of young, local artists were busily installing work for their upcoming group show, "Young or Talented."
Gallery Alexa Rose, the namesake of founder and prolific watercolorist Alexa Rose Howell, can be most accurately described as an artist's collective. Less formally, though, it feels like a tight-knit group of creative friends. Howell, the gallery's soft-spoken, yet charmingly magnetic matriarchal figure, is married to the owner of the company that manages the Idaho building and was therefore able to procure the gallery for a very reasonable price.
"This space is very sentimental for me because I helped my teacher Kathy Wren get this space about 15 years ago," says Howell. "It was her first art studio and she was really influential in my life."
After securing the gallery, Howell approached local mixed-media artist Jenny Rice a short two months ago and asked her if she'd like to curate the first show.
"I just think it's amazing that the space is even available, we got such a generous offer," says Rice. "And that's the hardest part about showing, is having the space."
Rice and Howell put out the word among their friends and soon a collective of 11 visual, video, sound and performance artists were holding regular meetings to plan an exhibit. The group, which calls themselves Apples and Oranges, is comprised of Howell, Rice, Jason Willford, Loren Reed, Shay Plummer, Lisa Arnold, Lance Brown, Heather Plummer, Bill Hofstra, Johanna Kirk and Krista Muir.
"The people involved are really wonderful. It's been a great joy for me to work with them," notes Howell.
Other than the sprinkling of coffee shops and restaurants that cloak their walls with local art, Boise has a dearth of locations that promote work by more cutting-edge, contemporary artists—largely due to the fact that unestablished artists' work is hard to sell. Fortunately, Alexa Rose's situation has eased the rigid pressure a similarly situated new space might feel to heed the art world's capitalist call. Instead, Howell has encouraged this group of young artists to consider the gallery their own and let it inspire their creativity.
"It's so hard to figure out the system that I decided to create a system that was approachable for young people," says Howell. "We're being respectful of the art gallery world and want to do things appropriately and hang the pictures appropriately and go along with the formalities, but also to give young people a chance."
One of the more unusual aspects of this newly formed collective, comprised mainly of day-job-holding artists, is how participatory and encouraging its members have been. With a limited budget, they've all pitched in by meeting at odd hours and offering expertise in areas varying from poster printing to picture mounting.
"This has been interesting, too, because everyone is really pulling their end. It's not a 'hey, drop off your work on this day' kind of thing," explains Rice. "Everyone has basically been a part of making it happen."
Watching the artists shuffle back and forth from their cars helping others cart in piles of canvases before leaning them gently against the walls, that cooperative spirit becomes more than apparent. Though the show was yet to be hung, there seemed to be an energetic progression winding its way through the gallery's various rooms. In the main entryway, sleek yet homey furniture greets viewers and complements Howell's bright, flowery watercolors. Near the front door is a small room with a large window where Arnold stood meticulously looping hundreds of sheets of white printer paper before attaching them to the wall, ceiling and a muted floor lamp.
"The feeling that we wanted to have is that you walk in and it's a really traditional interior and then it gets wild," explains Howell. "We have some idea of how wild it's going to be, but not really."
Progressing through the main space, Hofstra and Brown's numerous paintings dot the floor, seeming to make up the meat of the exhibition. Artists buzz in and out of the gallery's other rooms, talking fervently and smiling. Though there have been whispers of an edible cupcake installation, it has still yet to materialize.
Another "wild" twist in store for the gallery's First Thursday opening comes from the group's only dance/performance artist, BW contributor Johanna Kirk. Her piece will premiere opening night at 5 and 6:30 p.m., though she's quick to note that she considers it more of an installation than a performance.
"My approach to performance art is a lot closer to my approach to visual art than it is to my approach to choreography or what I would teach in a class," explains Kirk.
Backed by a trio of local musicians, Kirk, daughter of local jazz pianist Kevin Kirk, will explore the various personalities of a lounge singer. Growing up around jazz performers and musicians, Kirk notes, "I've always been super intrigued by when 'the act' starts."
As Rice flutters through the gallery, arranging a pop-art painting here and a popsicle-stick sculpture there, an apparent continuity of thought or prevailing zeitgeist emerges. And whether that speaks to the artists' youth, or their talent, or a serendipitous combination of the two, Gallery Alexa Rose is positioned to become Boise's next big thing. That is, only if people can find it.
Opens First Thursday, Dec. 4 from 5-10 p.m. Continues Friday, Dec. 5, 5-10 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 7, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 280 N. Eighth St., Ste. 118.