We Dive into ‘The Den of Ingenuity’ at 1708 Gallery and Get the Lowdown from Silly Genius

by | Jun 7, 2024 | ART, DESIGN & ILLUSTRATION, DOWNTOWN RVA, MUSEUM & GALLERY NEWS, NIGHTLIFE, PHOTOGRAPHY, POP CULTURE, STREET ART, STREETWEAR & SNEAKERS

First Friday is upon us once again and maybe, just maybe, the weather won’t be horrible. 1708 Gallery has a lot in store this month and I hope we all get to make there. 1708’s exhibition, The Den of Ingenuity, puts five of Richmond’s most potent and recognizable artists on the gallery scene. The curation reflects a consistent push from the talent that keeps the street/pop art movements moving forward. 

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Chris Visions, photo courtesy of Silly Genius

First, there’s Chris Visions, a Richmond-based comic book artist with credits that include Marvel’s Scarlet Witch, Spider Gwen, Star-Lord, Power Man & Iron Fist, as well as creating original artwork for the Obama Foundation and many national publications. His work in this field is considered amongst the best in the world. 

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Terrell Artis, photo courtesy of Silly Genius

Then there’s Terrell Artis, whose candid photography excels at capturing unguarded moments with a range of emotions and impeccable composition. The relationship of photographer and subject is brought to bear when he captures a smile, a knowing look, or simply a soul at rest. He has a talent for finding just that moment where the veil drops and true humanity is in focus.

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Nadd Harvin, photo courtesy of Silly Genius

Nadd Harvin is a known muralist, but a straight up ninja with a ballpoint pen. Her sketch style is very familiar to anyone walking the city but you need to see her penwork, her portraits and scenes full of motion and expression, in a gallery setting. The blue pen on white backgrounds conjures images of fine china juxtaposed with the street, urban imagery that speaks to our roots, experience, and future. 

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Nick LaPrade with Chris Visions, photo courtesy of Silly Genius

Nick LaPrade is also a fine illustrator but will be showcasing his expert model building/painting skills at this show. Gundam robots and anime-derived figural sculptures go like chocolate to peanut butter in the street art world. The Japanese animation style, biomechanical figures, and techno-fantasy world-building has fascinated generations for decades but has taken an unshakable hold on the imaginations of street artists worldwide. 

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The mural work of Silly Genius, photo courtesy of the artist

Last and certainly not least is Silly Genius, a graffiti artist and muralist of the highest order. His current show features repurposed street signs re-contextualized into individual statements marrying messages of order and caution but garishly adorned in chaos and energy. I walked over to the Broad Street gallery space to shoot the shit with him while he hung his latest pieces. Of course, we don’t stay anywhere near on topic, but the conversation was a really good one. Check it out:

Silly Genius: This show has been a “long time coming” type of thing. This might be only the second time I’ve been in an actual gallery show. I moved to Richmond in 2004 and I’ve been making art the entire time. I’m just now getting some real reaction to my work. The urban contemporary art world is supported by a vast culture documented in places like High Fructose or Juxtapoz. It’s a popular signifier of coolness. It speaks to the density of culture around us. Richmond has been featured prominently in these magazines over the years. We get a lot of love out of town. We travel and we get to know all of these artists from so many other cities. We’re going to other cities and paint their high-energy and well attended festivals, the whole nine – and then we come home and it’s like radio silence. Crickets. 

Christian Detres: Richmond has a weird way of showing its love sometimes. It can be cranky AF. You think you can get some momentum going here for this scene?

SG: The show we did last year was probably the first step. We did a show called Storming the Gates at Art 180 around the corner. We put out an open call to all the artists that we knew. ‘We call them “the bedroom artists” or “the garage artists”. These are the talents that aren’t chasing shows, not attention-seekers. Some of these people are amazing. We tell ‘em “come through, bring your best stuff, and we’re just gonna like, make it make sense.” That show in 2023 was, in other people’s words, one of the biggest shows the city had seen in the last 10 years. 500 people showed up for that. Then it was radio silence again for another year. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the city’s slow embrace of this art scene. 

I have been in Richmond for 20 years. Do I really want to leave? I have to start over somewhere else? I’m just another fish in the ocean in New York or whatever. Here I can steer the boat of what we want the scene to be, but we’re also having to fight an uphill battle. 

CD: I’m gonna tell you something as someone who’s done exactly that a few times. I’ve left Richmond repeatedly in search of some elbow room. To achieve something bigger than the boundaries we’re given in RVA. The thing about being a big fish in a small pond is it feels great. It’s nice. It’s fun. People know your name. They walk up to you and want to buy your drinks, have you show up to their event etc. They want to introduce their friend to you because they think you’re interesting. Hearing someone impressed by you deliver your (usually exaggerated) credits to a stranger is affirming in a way that can become addictive. 

But I’m telling you, if you really got your knuckles on, if you jump headfirst into the waves, nothing feels better than being anonymous again. It’s refreshing. It’s centering. It’s also when you realize you never start from the bottom again. You bring with you so much experience and knowledge that navigating a new place is far less challenging than you might think. It’s a small thing, but if you “come correct” in any situation – by leaving the ego at the door, being helpful, curious, respectful, without being a “mark”? There’s a cool there that travels with you and will attract all the collaborators and crews that will get your back forever. 

It’s a challenge to live outside your box for a bit but it keeps you young. The thing about Richmond is you can always go back. It ain’t going anywhere, and more than likely it’s going to be somehow even better when you get back. Ugh, I believe it is physically impossible for me to stay on topic. Let’s talk about the show. Tell me tell me where is the connective thematic tissue between what the artists are doing?

SG: A couple of different things. So there’s the conversation between the gallery and like, what the artists themselves are doing out in the streets, away from this fine art established sort of space. So, I paint a lot of murals and everything I do is graffiti influenced. Chris Visions comes from the comic book world. And I mean, he’s a proper name in the comic book industry. Marvel? He has done it all.

CD: Oh, he’s great.

SG: Terrell is one of the best street photographers in the city. Nadd is another muralist coming from like, sort of like studio practice. Just like pen to paper, can just draw you right now with a Bic pen and it would look just like you. Nick is another artist who’s sort of jumping to the toy space with Gundam model painting. All these things are very pop culture. There’s a graffiti influence everywhere. Spider Man is the biggest thing in the world. Everybody loves a good candid photo. People love all those things, but like, the gallery scene here is almost sort of like it’s behind the glass. You can’t get to it. Chris Visions should be the most sought after artist in the city. It confuses me. 

CD: it surprises me. It surprised me that he still lived here. No, honestly, he’s amazing. One of the biggest reasons why I was excited about covering this event was the names on the bill. I was like, oh shit, I’ve seen this guy work! I know and have admired your work for a long time. But then I saw Chris on the bill and it was a done deal. I can’t wait to see him. I haven’t seen him in years. Back in 2012 he designed the media kit/deck for the RVA Music Fest. Unfortunately it got scuttled by a terrible Entertainment Lawyer we hired to help us. A disaster, actually. It would have been such a great show. We had Roky Erickson, Killer Mike and El-P (pre Run the Jewels), Tenacious D, Band of Horses – an all star lineup for the time. We asked Chris to design the posters and such. I don’t know what I expected him to come back with, but he overshot the goal by like 100 yards. His design was double-take-inducing incredible. It was in the style of American currency but deconstructed to unravel the fine linework on a dollar bill and exploded that whole aesthetic into chaos and visual brilliance. It was so intricate and satisfying to look at. But he’s that good. He’s that fucking good. And I’m telling you, one of the biggest regrets I had in that festival not happening was that no one got to see his genius in that context. 

SG: I mean, that’s my friend. Sometimes I consider who I’m talking to when I see him and I’m like, yeah, “I shouldn’t have access to you.” Like, what are you doing hanging out with ME? I love it. 

CD: It’s interesting. Historically, Richmond’s had a lot of its artists that become part of the backdrop of our zoo by just being up everywhere. Like Ed Trask. A great artist yes, but also part of the fabric of what we all love about being here. He’s an institution just for his art. His being in AVAIL just cements the thing. He’s Mr. Richmond in a lot of ways. I’ve seen so many great artists leave here, some for very practical reasons, some because their ambitions go beyond just the walls of the city. For whatever reasons, they leave. Being able to have a top tier talent actually stay here is a testament to the beauty of what RVA has to offer. One of the things that it’s going to push further the ascendancy of Richmond as a cultural destination is retaining our talent here. I hope that continues to happen but you know, everybody follows their dream where it goes.

SG: That’s the first reason and then the second reason is the concept of revitalizing the “Third Space.” You’ve been here forever. You know every spot that we held dear is gone or dying.

CD: Unfortunately, that’s everywhere. But yes, we can be extra hurt about it when it’s our home. Yeah, I get it. One of the things about this type of art, though, is again, traditionally, historically, is that there’s a certain outlaw renegade aspect to it. That doesn’t have to be the center point for everybody though. I think half the fun of graffiti and warehouse parties, crazy events under the bridge, on Belle Isle, is that there’s no permissions given, only taken. There has always been the heist aspect of proposing unused or unloved spaces for our debaucherous ceremonies of community and culture. Clearly I think as we grow up, we’re like, “I would much rather not spend the night in jail for painting a wall. My wife is gonna be real mad at me if I do that.” At a certain point it becomes not just about that, but this scene has been embraced in pop culture. It is a cornerstone of modern expressionism. Street art and graffiti can claim several of the biggest artists of our time. 

SG: Exactly, exactly. You’ve got Shepard Fairey, KAWS, Banksy. It’s not just a thing that your delinquent neighbor’s kid does. 

CD: I always thought of this type of art as being a city kid’s white noise. Our outside is frenetic, chaotic, garish compared to the suburbs or rural towns. This representation of art has an energy to it that is indicative of an environment. The city is a vibe and it lives inside you. From someone  who grew up bombing walls, how does it feel sitting here in this beautiful gallery in the middle of the day, putting up a collective show with one of your heroes and good friends. What does that mean to you?

SG: I feel seen? Before the internet, if you saw a kid reading The Fader or something, you’d know, oh, he’s one of us. There was always a sort of underground extra credit involved in being informed about the culture. You had to go somewhere to find that magazine, or pay to subscribe to it, to really soak in that world. Now everybody has access to everything so it kind of flattens everything. Anyone with a passing interest has access to all the tea. So you have to scratch the surface even harder to find those like minded people and not just a casual bystander collecting cool points like Super Mario coins. 

CD: I never thought of it that way. That’s true. 

SG: Yeah. Because everybody you know is walking on the street wearing a Thrasher T, but how many of them are really in this game? 

CD: Everything’s been boiled down to an aesthetic and completely separated from its source. You know what I mean? I’ve been hearing that forever though. Even my father would reminisce and call out his contemporaries in the 60s for being poseur hippies. He’d tell me “There are some real ones in there, but most of that’s fashion. Most of these people put on a costume in the morning, not tribal gear.”  The fringes get pulled to the center and you start all over again. 

I’m not even saying it’s something that should go away. If you didn’t have that commodification machine harvesting insurgent cultures right behind the people planting it, you wouldn’t have an edge of anything to be on. It’s gotta keep moving, recycling, creating. The normies and followers are as much part of the ecosystem of change as the people running away from their mindsets. 

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The work of Nick LaPrade, photo courtesy of the artist

Oh my God, how did we get on that topic? Tell me about the painted Gundam models in the show. I spent a lot of time in the Lower East Side of Manhattan as a kid. I would go to the neighboring Chinatown, where I would notice a massive cross-pollination of Black/Caribbean-Hispanic and Chinese/Japanese pop cultures. It has been fascinating to see that intersection mature into a full-blown macrocosm of aesthetics. Gundams and similarly derived pop-sculpture show up at graffiti shows all the time. 

SG: Anime is on a very influential run right now for sure. I wanted to return to the idea of the Third Space though. It’s very important to me and very central to the idea of making this show happen. We don’t have that passive mixing of culture you just described in real time anymore because everybody’s got their apps and headphones in. They’re not sharing visceral experiences. At least not in the way we did. 

We have to repair that bridge. Space, real spaces – rooms, halls, theaters – are the connectors. Everybody’s all siloed off, so we’re using the Third Space to bring everybody back to the huddle. Yeah. Pop culture is a common denominator across so many cultures now that it has been flattened to a monoculture. We can use that fact to bring in the most diverse crowds. Getting them in the room is the hard part. Creating a space they can all feel welcomed in is our job. Curating a vibe that fits their need for community is the mission. I love my adult nature, but also I know who Young Nudy is. Using those common threads to bring them together in this space, and reforge that connection, is crucial. 

CD: The compartmentalization that we do to ourselves is obvious. You could say though, that social media is the bandaid that’s trying to effectively replace our salons, clubs, bootleg spots etc. I would consider social media its own Third Space, but it shows imperfections. Where we would argue or discuss the politics or trends of the day in person, with the onus of not being a douche for fear of getting socked in the mouth, is replaced by the equivalent of the ding dong ditch. People sling shit and run away, hiding behind their Insta handle. It does nothing to promote growth in understanding. Only pontificating and retreat. Lame. Physical spaces bind cultures together. 

What do you think are the ontologically pure aspects of an effective and welcoming Third Space that brings people together?

SG: My approach has always been sight, sound and taste. The visual stimulation incited by the artwork is primarily important of course. Music creates the vibes that guide your journey through the visual world created in the gallery. Having them complement each other creates a harmony that amplifies the artwork. Taste, via sharing sustenance, is the most communal, primal, and satisfying of human experience. 

CD: Nothing releases as much dopamine as sharing a meal. I learned that at the Bodies exhibit at the Science Museum, haha. 

I’m sure you’ve been to a million art shows where you walk in and browse some paintings for like 30 seconds and then you walk out. That moment where you feel like you want to leave but it seems way too soon? You feel a little guilty for not lingering?  It’s so often transitory. Maybe they’ll keep you there longer with a plastic cup of some cheap white wine or something. And you sit there and sit and pretend to look at the same painting that you just already looked at enough. The experience has become almost transactional in a curtsy and salute type of way. There’s no connection being made. I mean, kudos for showing up but the lack of engagement is frankly boring. 

One of the things I love about outdoor art, whether murals or graffiti, is that it forces you to go to the gallery without having to go to the gallery. The city is the gallery. It’s nice when you see that street style indoors. It validates and elevates the artform but also recontextualizes it into something bound by a pageantry of invitation to an experience. Like the piece you are working on right now. It’s a road work ahead sign. Everyone’s seen that sign outside. Seen that sign on a highway or in their neighborhood. But for what you have here, the layering is different than it normally would be. The text is in front of the artwork, seemingly embedding the “graffiti” into the visual language that cities employ to tell people to slow tf down. Oftentimes, its hard to remember that there is a very distinct and intentional municipal aesthetic because it is so ubiquitous. We take it for granted. But that exact aesthetic informs our relationship to street art so much, when it is right front and center, it becomes obvious. 

SG: And now I’m expanding that concept to space. When you walk into a gallery, you are used to seeing everything at eye level, single file down the wall. Yeah. You kind of walk in, do a lap, and yeah, drink a cheap white wine. But if all your friends are there, and the music is good, and there’s something to eat, you’re gonna hang out for a while. What’s best, is that the experience is now cemented into your mind.You build a memory, not just doing the rounds. 

CD: Yeah, I think that comes to intentionality. I haven’t seen too much attention to building scenes around a space in the art world in Richmond so much outside of Gallery 5, who excel at that. Granted, they have a lot of space to play with, but their engagement with the culture is very intentional. It shows. Maybe once you have enough people that consider this their adopted Third Space, the crowd you draw can set the tone a little bit more. But until that point, you’re the host. Feed your guests. 

Well, I know we all go off on tangents like this, but is there anything about the show that you would like people to know that I haven’t covered ? 

SG: Just come with an open mind and prepare to have fun? This is not your usual sort of like, soft whisper in the corner art gallery art show. I’m here to hang out and trade ideas. This show is the community. There are only five artists on the show, but these five artists are out in the world. These are people you can bump into at 7/11 grabbing a Big Bite. 

CD: I always considered graffiti artists and muralists the resident artists of Richmond. You’re the people that make the outdoors personal. Richmond is a weird four dimensional thing. It’s somehow much bigger and much smaller than it seems at the same time. It does the small city in an oversized coat really well. We should really take advantage of that. We’re growing pretty fast. This might be the last time we really get to draw the huddle in really tight. Get to know and support each other before our cultures get so distant that we can’t find a rallying middle. A Third Space that we all recognize as truly truly us. Because we’re all wonderfully beautiful, fun, psychopaths, we will get down. It’s in our DNA. 

SG: I wish it was weird again,. I miss Slaughterama. I hope people come to this show. I hope they find that spark here. And I hope they go out into the city and just multiply like Gremlins, man.

CD: What other advice do you have for people?

SG: I would be more active with our leaders in the city. Call your city council members. All these things that are happening to refine Richmond in our image, do so at our insistence. Insistence being the key word. You have to lean on the levers that work. Cool things don’t get done magically. All the support could help.

CD: Whatever you may think of politicians, these people are nerds, all of them. And I say that lovingly. These are people that spend time thinking about things that would probably bore you to tears. They work. I’m not saying they’re right all the time, or they may not have some other motive that maybe pulls them away from the light sometimes. But call to talk about some pothole you want filled or with an idea for a cool pop-up art space. Try to get permission for beautifying an eyesore with art. Close a street down for a cultural festival. It is far easier than you might think.  

I guarantee you they feel it is in their best interest to listen to you. If you’re the type of person that’s calling their congressperson, they also know that you’re the type of person that’s going to talk to all your friends about them. They listen to the engaged. Not that many people vote in local elections. They don’t want to alienate anybody determined enough to take the initiative to reach out.  

SG: That’s the only note I have. You know, that dilapidated building that you’re complaining about could be an art space. But you gotta let somebody know you care about it. 

CD: Absolutely. RVA Magazine has a long history of coordinating with the city on outlandish projects. We’ve worked with Venture Richmond for, God, forever. And so I mean, those people exist. 

The politicians like art too. They’re fans. Who knows? They’re not aliens. They’re not robots. They’re a little nerdy about their fixations, but how many of us kick ourselves in the back of the head every once in a while for not doing enough? I mean, whatever you think of these people, they are actually doing the thing that you keep telling yourself, dude, if I only had enough time… They’re actually doing it. Engage with them. 

But anyway, listen man, I gotta thank you. I can’t wait to see the full show. 

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Screenshot

More information on the show can be found HERE

Main photo is Silly Genius

Christian Detres

Christian Detres

Christian Detres has spent his career bouncing back and forth between Richmond VA and his hometown Brooklyn, NY. He came up making punk ‘zines in high school and soon parlayed that into writing music reviews for alt weeklies. He moved on to comedic commentary and fast lifestyle pieces for Chew on This and RVA magazines. He hit the gas when becoming VICE magazine’s travel Publisher and kept up his globetrotting at Nowhere magazine, Bushwick Notebook, BUST magazine and Gungho Guides. He’s been published in Teen Vogue, Harpers, and New York magazine to name drop casually - no biggie. He maintains a prime directive of making an audience laugh at high-concept hijinks while pondering our silly existence. He can be reached at christianaarondetres@gmail.com




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