The approach to Stone House Art Gallery (SHAG) is highly industrial in one direction — lumber, trucking, an emptied-out auto auction site — with the commercialized outcomes of suburbia in the other. SHAG’s location, just outside Coulwood West in northwest Charlotte, is best known as home to farm-focused restaurant Heirloom’s original location — before they announced a move to Belmont — and its close proximity to both Historic Latta Plantation and US National Whitewater Center. In other words, the emergence of this unsuspecting gallery comes out of a dire nowhere relative to Charlotte’s Uptown-centric art scene.
A 1940’s stone house with a brightly painted teal door sits just off Mount Holly Road’s industrial setting, the driveway lined with fresh mulch and colorful metal animal figures. Behind a black metal gate is Weezy, the all-bark Great Pyrenees, and a cat aptly named Speckles, who meet me at the gate as Kilee Price ushers me into the backyard of her childhood home, bought by her parents in 1986 from the original owner. There is an intimacy in the way she maneuvers in the space, a nonchalant apology for her barking dog, who is too muddy to go inside — an ease in navigating the space she’s known her entire life. Her familiarity is warm and comforting and I, too, feel at home.
We make our way to a small, stone building at the back edge of the driveway, where two glass-paned doors open into Spawning Point, a collaborative exhibit by Detroit-based artist Clare Gatto and Cleveland-based artist Kara Gut.
Up until a few years ago, this 11-by-19-foot building (the original owner’s garage) still resembled the machine shop where Price’s dad once worked to restore antique Fords. After building a larger garage in the adjacent lot where he now works toward his dreams of post-retirement restoration, the shop stood empty until its 2018 transformation into Price’s art studio.
Price had known this house as her home until attending Columbus College for Art & Design in Ohio, where she obtained a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts. She then attended Cranbook Academy of Art in Michigan, where she earned a master’s degree in print media. Entering the program as an oil painter, the academy’s push for artists to work outside their realm afforded Price the opportunity to study printing, “breaking it down to what it is at its core.”
This newfound medium paired with her background in painting evolved into work that involved an investigation into internet culture, about how much your surroundings dictate your life, especially on the internet. Price explores themes of capitalism and subliminal cues, how “likes” and “shares” become a non-monetary measurement of value and how that affects a person’s worth and identity.
Price plays on nostalgic references to her childhood, nostalgia itself being a concept which she says is not necessarily unique.
“It can be [unique] but what I’ve found is that people resonate with my work because it takes them to their childhood,” Price says.
She works in screen grabs and memes, mocking internet culture while knowing she herself has been molded by it and that now, her artist-run gallery is driven by it.
After becoming a Goodyear Arts resident in 2019 and taking advantage of the community of collective studio space (and forgoing the commute to her parents’ house from her NoDa apartment), Price looked for a way to best use the redesigned studio, which she says is a “perfectly photographical space.”
“The studio is a white cube, it’s blank. There are white walls with three windows, two doors. It’s the perfect vessel for showing work however you want. Because it’s so blank,” she says, “it can become more than a painting on a wall, transforming the space into an immersive experience.”
The decision for the studio’s gallery transformation stemmed from her grad school experience curating pop-up shows. Moving back to Charlotte in 2018, Price became an art instructor at both UNC Charlotte and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (RCCC), all the while ruminating on the idea of curation at her childhood home. It took an RCCC colleague bringing up this idea for Price to realize it was a plausible concept.
Though it was a slow-rolling start, this conversation pushed Price to begin brainstorming, to develop a mission statement and conceptualize the potential of her studio. Price began re-imagining this domestic space into a specially-curated art experience, centering on what this means for global art and DIY culture.
How could she take her education, experience and art and translate it into a new type of space that inspires other artists and curators to expand their curatorial vernacular? Her teaching experience started with instructing her students on the basics — color mixing, composition, things Price says you forget you know when you’ve been doing art a while.
“Art becomes intuitive when you have the tools put in front of you,” she continues, and part of the tools is knowing how to take your art into the world.
Price worked with her students (and, more recently, the students of her exhibit’s contributing artists Gut and Gatto) on how to compile a proposal and artist statement for a show. It was this teaching she applied when putting out an artist call in May 2020 via Instagram and her newly-launched website.
She reached out to art departments at the colleges and universities at which she’d attended and taught. She asked her artist friends to share the call, the goal being to pull in artists from outside the region.
Price had a good idea of what she was looking for: a detailed proposal of how an artist’s work would exist in the space, one-to-two person shows, artists who hadn’t yet made a name for themselves. The goal was to show 12 different artists throughout 2021 with each artist’s show on display for three weeks, with a week in between to transition to the next show.
In October, just before ramping up the 2021 season, Price put out a call for artists for a December show. Around this time, USPS funding had been threatened with massive budget cuts and Price was interested in showcasing mail-based art. She rented a post office box for a month and asked artists to send in work for SHAG’s inaugural exhibit, Pen Pal.
The concrete floor was filled with electric blue carpet sourced from an old warehouse, the white walls lined with delicate wooden shelving, meant to invoke the nostalgic feel of the post office. These shelves were then lined with the works of 36 artists, making SHAG into an immersive experience reminiscent of childhood trips to retrieve mail.
As the time came to display these shows, Price had conversations with her parents about the potential of strangers slogging around their property, viewing art just behind their house.
“My parents have always been supportive of anything I’ve wanted to do. They’ve always encouraged me to follow my passion and they’ve provided literal space for me to do that,” Price says.
As they discussed what art openings might look like, though, Price’s parents had a few logistical concerns. “They asked ‘What does it look like if Kilee invites a bunch of her friends to drink beer and talk about art in the yard? Where are they going to park or go to the bathroom? What about the dog?’”
The family collectively decided to show the art by appointment. As an artist and someone who follows galleries and artist-run spaces online, Price knew most of the interaction happened via Instagram and that would be the reality of her gallery.
Because the Charlotte art scene is relatively small and SHAG is out of the way for most art enthusiasts (though just 15 minutes from Uptown), the exhibits are designed to be internet-friendly so viewers can get the satisfaction of viewing an art show via online modalities. Still, Price says, “You get the best out of art by going.”
Price realizes this is just the way it is these days, especially in a pandemic.
“In my life, just as a millennial, there is a crossover between focusing on physical work and digital and internet-influenced working. Growing up in ‘internet time’, this is just how things naturally happened,” she says.
Spawning Point, the gallery’s fourth exhibit, photographs exceptionally well, making the transition to the digital world seamless. The gallery’s three small windows and overhead LED lights are covered with pink film, creating an Electric Ladyland feel, while collaborative rock sculptures litter the floor and two chiffon sheets printed with 3-D scans of Gatto’s skin meshed into amorphous textures are suspended in the center of the room. The work is meant to invoke the inquiry of perception versus reality, the juxtaposition of live waterfall footage beneath stock imagery creating the conundrum we face in this internet-centric world: What is real?
Price received over 30 applications for her show and narrowed it down to those who were the most specific and detailed in their proposals. January’s exhibit, Legacy, was created by the gallery’s only Charlotte-based artists, d’Angelo Dia and Julio Gonzalez. The exhibit examined what “makes heritage and how it’s applied to the present,” per the work’s description. As local artists, the two were able to install their exhibit, something the remaining artists will only help with from afar.
Price hopes to extend access to art from beyond Charlotte, giving residents an opportunity to explore nationwide art within their own city. For some, the decision to target out-of-town artists may strike a nerve — Charlotte is seeking to make a name for itself and expand its own scene, even fighting for funding to do that very thing. But for Price, the decision to focus on outside artists was an intentional one.
“I wanted to broaden Charlotte’s experience with art while giving little-known artists space to share their work,” Price says. Her Goodyear Arts residency and work at both the Mint and Bechtler museums have allowed her the opportunity to be involved with local artists and shows. She thus sees this approach as an enhancement to the community, not a hindrance.
While Gatto and Gut traveled to Charlotte to install their show, the remaining artists will ship their work to Price with detailed instructions on installation, giving her curation a hands-on quality. While many galleries are extending shows to account for the lag of attendance during a pandemic, Price is true to her timeline.
The quick turnaround of new artists is meant to generate curiosity while embodying the permanence of an exhibit’s digital existence.
“I think Charlotte can benefit from this being different than what the McColl Center or the Mint would pick up,” Price says. “I’m trying to give a voice to new artists who haven’t been seen in Charlotte before and that differ from what our artists are currently creating. I want to show Charlotte what’s out there. This is a way to bring something to the table that hasn’t existed before now.”
Price serves as not only curator and installer but guide as people set appointments to view the exhibits. As with me, Price leads guests through the gate, giving a history of both the quartz rock home in which she grew up and the garage-turned-gallery that now houses art from around the country.
She gives a brief description of the show and allows viewers space to explore the exhibit which generally makes the conversation unique to each experience, all from the comfort of home.
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