The luster of Tampa’s art scene dimmed briefly last year when alternative space Tempus Projects took a six-month hiatus so that creative director Tracy Midulla Reller and her board could find a new space — one without the headaches (crappy A/C, flooding during rainstorms, a dubious restroom) of the previous venue. Last month, Tempus reopened on Florida Avenue in a bright, airy storefront that solves all of the gallery’s old problems and brings an unexpected bonus: a 650-square-foot annex that will serve as a separate artist-run exhibition space, QUAID, and home base for the Tampa
Drawers Sketch Gang.The 10-month-old gang began as the brainchild of Anthony Record, a 30-year-old painter who teaches at HCC-Ybor. Conceived as a loose knit club open to anyone who wants to practice drawing, the group met several times at the former Tempus location then bar hopped around Seminole Heights until Reller and Record hit upon a space sharing plan. Eight core gang members — Record, Neil Bender, Tim McMillan, Ville Mehtonen, Lauren Moradi, Justin Nelson, Monica Perez and Ericka Richardson — ponied up cash to create QUAID, which will organize its own exhibitions.
Through Feb. 15 the group, mostly 20-somethings with newly minted bachelor’s degrees in art from USF (Record and Bender, who teaches at USF, are the elder statesmen), is the focus of an exhibition spread across both Tempus and QUAID. Titled The QUIAD Project, the show includes paintings and sculptures as well as drawings by the group members; don’t miss Moradi’s hand-drawn replicas of OTC pill packs or her delicate rice paper curtain decorated with Scooby Doo illustrations. A series of R- to X-rated wall drawings made during sketch gang meetings — picture Pebbles Flintstone performing fellatio on a dinosaur or a chicken having what may be a stick of dynamite stuck up its ass — also adorns the walls.
Last week I sat down with the group, sans Bender, who is at an art residency in Vermont this month, to talk QUAID.
CL: So why a gang?
Anthony Record: My friends in Houston have a sketch club that’s really good. I was there for a show, and I got to sit in on it. I thought it was really fun and there should be one in Tampa. It’s sketch gang because their drawing group is called the sketch club. ... And it’s more intense.
What happens at a typical gang meeting?
Ville Mehtonen: Paper telephone.
Tim McMillan: We hang out and we draw first, and then
we do the paper telephone.
What’s a paper telephone?
McMillan: It starts with an idea or a phrase, then you pass it to the next person and they draw what they think that phrase should look like. Then you fold over the phrase so the next person only sees the drawing, and they write a description of that drawing, and it just continues.
Record: It forms a weird, f’ed-up comic strip eventually. All of the wall paintings are from paper telephone drawings that
Ericka Richardson: Each person has their drawing. Anthony did this one [points to man defecating on flowers].
Record: I’m the one with the turd.
Is this the only one with a turd? Because I thought they were generally kind of scatological.
[laughter] Monica Perez: There’s buttholes. But that’s the only completion of ... something.
There are a lot of buttholes here. How did that emerge?
Record: Well, because we were trying to gross out everybody.
Mehtonen: It’s part of the telephone process. We’re all very immature.
Perez: There was one time where we made a rule of no penises at all, so it was relatively G-rated.
Richardson: And it was really boring. We were like, I can’t even think of anything.
Record: It’s great, though, because the weirdest, most incomprehensible things result, but in a way you’re not responsible for it because it’s somebody else’s weird idea. That’s why I feel they’re really great. And they’re out of context too [on the wall] because you don’t see the phrase or the drawing before, so they’re extra incomprehensible and gross.
A lot of you do other [art] things, like painting. Why draw together versus painting together?
Richardson: Drawing is fundamental. I don’t know anyone who really doesn’t draw at all. Sometimes you invite someone to sketch gang, and they’re like, “Oh, I can’t come, I don’t draw.” But it’s like, have you seen these [gestures at wall drawings]? Um, you can come.
McMillan: You can’t make sculptures together. I don’t know why, but you can’t.
Justin Nelson: Not in a small room with a few beers and pens and paper.
Record: Before Tempus, we were meeting in bars, so we couldn’t exactly bring our easels.
Richardson: They would have gotten a lot more annoyed at us.
What’s a QUAID?
Mehtonen: I don’t know if we want to give that information away.
Lauren Moradi: It’s QUAID.
Mehtonen: I came up with the name, but I won’t say specifically where it came from. I will say that it can be either good or bad. ...
I’ve seen some tweets that employ it in mysterious ways.
Mehtonen: QUAID light, QUAID heat.
So it’s like the blank tile in Scrabble. You just put it in there, and it means whatever you want it
[laughter] McMillan: That’s a great analogy.
So you’re not telling me ...
Record: It’s just on how you say it. Like, this show is really QUAID. Or this show is really QUAID.
Mehtonen: We were trying to come up with a word that could be either/or.
Were Randy and Dennis Quaid of any inspiration?
Record: No ... actually, Dr. Quaid from Westworld. I’m just kidding. And Schwartzenegger’s character’s name is Quaid.
Mehtonen: That’s right — Total Recall.
This probably sounds cheesy, but we are in a therapy circle, so can I ask each of you to say what you get out of the sketch gang? What does the sketch gang mean to you?
Perez: It’s a nice way to be forced to draw. I’m actually not much of a sketcher, so it puts me in that zone and gets me to goof around and draw stuff I would never normally publish.
Record: It’s nice when everybody gets in the zone. Usually there’s a point in sketch gang when everybody is just silent. There’s a really great picture that Justin took a couple months ago at the Independent, and everybody is in almost the exact same posture. I never realized everybody does this posture — one hand on the sketchbook and they’re drawing. Also, it’s really nice to get that sense of community that’s so important when you’re in school. And it led directly to this kind of legit scenario [points to gallery].
Nelson: I was going to say the same thing, that community is a big part of it. I didn’t really know a lot of local artists
before doing this. It was really important for me to meet people locally and try to get more involved.
McMillan: I can definitely agree that the sense of community is important, but also as a time to brainstorm for future works.
Usually I just go into the studio and start working, and there’s not a separate activity that’s just for pre-studio time.
Richardson: I’m still in school, so this has provided me with a little bit of a plan. What are you going to do after you graduate? Well, I have this. A place where you can go and have a couple of beers, draw and laugh at turds. [laughter] It was just fun, and it still is fun.
Moradi: It’s good after you get out of school to have something that still pushes you to work. It keeps it in your mind because you’re around people who are working.
Mehtonen: I pretty much agree with everything that’s been said. After four years of art school, it’s definitely good to have
something to come out to. Especially in Tampa, because I feel like Tampa... It does have an underground culture, but you have to look for it.