Mark Basehore and James McConnell are charming. So charming in fact, that these co-owners of Beep Beep Gallery, who have been known to draw a person in with their wit and incredible enthusiasm for the Atlanta art scene, managed to strand us on the roof of their Midtown gallery. Basehore and McConnell have been champions of the emerging arts community in Atlanta for several years and continue to pummel the creative scene with on-point exhibits and community inspiring projects. We climbed a rusty ladder to the roof with Basehore and McConnell to explore their creative ambitions in Atlanta (including the Artlantis art and music festival on Saturday, June 4, 2011), and to talk about a lunar moth named Starcrunch.
BURNAWAY: How long have you guys been in Atlanta?
James McConnell: I was born and raised here; I grew up in the Virginia Highlands.
Basehore: I moved here in 2001 for grad school. I went to Mercer University and moved to the Highlands in 2004. I was living in Massachusetts; but am originally from Connecticut.
BA: How’d you get involved in the art scene?
B: I started going to shows. When I was in Chamblee I would come down once in awhile for an exhibition. I would open up the Creative Loafing, look down the list, circle shows that I thought looked cool, and would check them out. Moving down here was different because it became a particular person that had a show and not just [a random person I read about in the paper]. It was about going to a show because you knew somebody or worked with somebody.
Mc: Initially, Mark and I started making zines, which is how we met Kelly and Maggie at Young Blood. They got started doing house shows and we figured if they were going to do it, then we were going to do it too. The [Beep Beep] sign was how you knew it was a show and not just a house. We did that for awhile and then our friend Joy Phrasavath had this space called L’Avenue. He was ready to split and we were moving out of the house, so it worked out.
BA: What did the name Beep Beep come from?
Mc: It’s bullshit. It was just throwing out words. I thought repetition was really cool for a while. All my pets were named Cat Cat. Jerry Cullum wrote this thing after we opened speculating on the name of Beep Beep, explaining how the first broadcast of Sputnik was this grand innovation in human kind at the end of which it’s just this sound “beep beep beep.” I was just like, “Yeah, Jerry, that’s exactly what it was.” It was actually just us being stoned and throwing out stupid names.
BA: Beep Beep seems a lot more focused lately.
Mc: Initially, we hosted late night art parties: People would show up at 12:30 to go to our events. We have been transitioning from that.The vision of the gallery isn’t as sprawling as it once was. It’s definitely more focused. Initially it was whoever we knew, compiled into huge group shows.
B: We’re trying to be conscious about who we want to claim that we are and not who people say we are. Personally, I was upset about moving away from having parties. I love to party, but after awhile, you’re putting all this work into a show, the artist, and their work, only to read a review about how people were just there partying. We are an art gallery and we want people to take it and us seriously.
Mc: The same goes for any organization just starting out: You start with your friends and what you know. For us it was starting in a house, drinking beer, and looking at art. I feel like everyone goes through a few changes like that.
BA: The partnerships and programming you have developed over the last couple of years speak well to the gallery’s new maturity.
B: Artlantis is a good example of trying to pull together artists.
Mc: Artlantis was something Mark came up with: He wanted to do a festival [at Druid Hills Baptist Church]. We did the first one in about a month and threw together what we could. It’s rad because a) it’s right down the street and in a good place for a festival, b) we get to show artists we like that don’t normally do festivals, and c) we get to have bands play on those huge Roman steps. It’s also the same day as Summerfest, which we both despise. Summerfest is horrible.
B: Summerfest started out kinda cool, though. R. Land has been on point with us the whole time because he used to have a booth at Summerfest next to Howard Finster way back in the day.
Mc: They started as a local festival and expanded it to bring more people in, but Virginia Highland is just too small, so now it’s just a cluster fuck and the locals don’t want to go because it’s horrible. It’s just a cookie-cutter festival.
B: And the art sucks. That’s the most important thing. It’s the circuit people doing the same thing. Artlantis this year is going to be awesome. Because we had so many submissions, we were able to go through the works and curate the festival a little more.
BA: So, Mark, you went to Mercer, did you go to seminary?
B: That’s right. I will be ‘priesting’ soon. James is gonna ‘priest’ as well at Flux this year.
Mc: We got a grant to do street preaching, but we’ll take out the text and put in our own religious babble.
B: It’s all based on the old zine we used to do, Metatronic, which happened before Beep Beep. We are finally getting back to it after all these years. This will be my first preaching since grad school. I worked in a church for three years but church is very different down here compared to where I’m from. But, it’s not just that; it’s been a personal journey.
BA: How has it been to revisit the zine?
Mc: We haven’t revisited it yet. We just sent Flux an old zine about eating babies and Louis Corrigan seemed to like it.
BA: You are also involved in Four Coats Neighborhood Mural Project. Street art has become such a popular thing in Atlanta and getting the galleries’ perspective is an interesting concept, especially in contrast to something like Living Walls which specifically featured street artists. You are taking your gallery artists and placing them in what is, for them, a non-traditional setting in the gallery neighborhoods.
Mc: Right, Sunday Southern Art Revival is doing some kind of vinyl installation at Marcia Wood Gallery. Tommy Taylor is doing a mural on Elizabeth Street for Whitespace. Lucha Rodriguez is doing our wall, which we are still hunting for. Andy Moon Wilson has done the wall for Get This! The plan is to do more in the future. This is all facilitated by the City of Atlanta.
BA: How has Ponce Crush been going?
Mc: Crushin’ it.
B: For Beep Beep, it’s still settling. I know it’s been really great for the other two [Kibbee galleries]. It’s been great for us too, but the last two years for our gallery has been a process of transition.
Mc: It’s really fascinating for me because the Westside Arts District is really bizarre. It’s certainly an Atlanta thing. You can create a stroll that exists over a mile or two, even though it’s completely unrealistic. Something like Castleberry, where you have galleries over a block or two, that makes sense. We created the same idea where [the walking portion] doesn’t matter because it’s Atlanta and you drive everywhere anyway. But, it’s different because this area has already been radicalized and no one wants to drive here. So, now we need rickshaws. We need people to take you through the wasteland between Fellini’s and Taco Bell.
B: The artists in the show are going to run people around. Can you see Alex Kvares pulling a rickshaw: “Wait till you get there! Maybe you’ll buy something!”
BA: What are your spirit animals?
B: I was visited by mine this weekend. It’s a lunar moth named Starcrunch. James’ mother has a cabin outside of Ellijay and he invites a few friends up once a year. The first year I was outside and this lunar moth came: It could have been all the drugs and alcohol we consumed or it could have been magic. A bond was formed. The next time I went up I wondered if the lunar moth would come back, and I talked about it a bunch. It came back again and we bonded. Someone named it that night. When we went up this year I wondered again if he’d be back. The power went off [at the cabin] and at one in the morning I went on a long walk. When I came back, Starcrunch was there and the power was on. He does love me. This time it was confirmed.
Mc: I really like those sugar gliders. They are illegal in the states.
B: You can get them on Craigslist. I thought about getting one for Aurora as a mascot and naming it Splenda. Robbie the Robot is the gallery sprit animal.
Mc: I was gonna say the archangel Metatron. God created robots.
B: A robot is the highest form a human can achieve.
Mc: How else can you achieve eternity other than to program your consciousness?
Atlanta Art Crush is an interview series brought to you by Susannah Darrow, Laura Hennighausen, and photographer Sandy Hooper. Look for profiles of our latest heartthrobs on the last Friday of each month.