Bryan Finch is a prolific artist, but until the opening of his first exhibit at the gallery inside the Contemporary Arts Exchange, his passion was something of a secret. Throughout the night of the opening on June 1, many of Finch’s friends were among the crowd.
“Nobody knew this man was an artist,” explained Craig Burkhalter. “People come in who have known him for years and have no idea.”
Burkhalter is the de facto leader of the Contemporary Arts Exchange, a hodgepodge artist collective housed in two stories of downtown loft space. There is a gallery, but the doors are only open the public on First Fridays and by appointment. It’s a raw space with no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the hot Georgia summers. Artists pay a small fee to have a studio, and they must produce work to keep it. The waiting list is long.
As often as possible, the gallery features work by artists from the area. Usually arranged informally, it’s a place for artists to have their work seen by other artists and by a handful of serious collectors.
“Bryan asked me out of the blue to come and look at his artwork,” explained Burkhalter. “I really didn’t want to go do it, because I look at bad art all the time… but I went anyway.”
During this first visit, Burkhalter poured through stacks and stacks of work and became so excited that he went out and brought back a local collector the same day. The house was filled with hundreds of drawings, paintings and sculptures.
“It was the most exciting stuff I’ve seen in years,” exclaimed Burkhalter. “Pure art. Pure expression.”
The artist was reluctant to sell anything, but Burkhalter was able eventually to convince him to hold an exhibit. Early in the night of the opening, he had already sold more than a half-dozen drawings and paintings.
When Finch took a few moments to walk through the exhibit and talk about his art, it was clear his work was a personal journal. He pointed to a drawing featuring a group around a dinner table. A figure representing his mother sits at one end of the table. One representing his father sits at the other end. He is seated in the middle. It’s not only a representation of the awkwardness of dealing with divorce, but a stylized depiction of an actual dinner he shared with his parents. His artwork blends real experiences with visceral emotions into surreal compositions.
He doesn’t own a car, so his main form of transportation is a bicycle, and several of the images contain figures riding bikes, often upside down or outside the main action of a scene. One can infer that he depicts the journey to and from major events in his life with the same intensity and importance as the events themselves. Other works are technique-focused, such as blending two portraits, one from the front and one from the side, into a single image. Sometimes he simply begins a new idea on top of parts of a piece that don’t work. He calls those images “messes” because they are, in effect, multiple works on a single canvas.
Contemporary Arts Exchange: 590 Mulberry St., Macon, 478-301-2507