Outsider art is in at the new Shoe Bones gallery in Salem
Over the course of her career as an artist Frankie Symonds has delved into filmmaking, painting and mixed media. She’s also an avid collector, having amassed a decade’s worth of art. In her experience as an artist living in Boston, she found that the city lacks spaces for people to showcase weird, unconventional and boundary-pushing art.
To fill that void, she’s opening up a gallery of her own. Shoe Bones will open its doors at 28 Boston St. in Salem on Feb. 11 with the goal of providing a space for outsider, queer and nontraditional artists to showcase their paintings, sculptures and other art. The opening reception will feature pieces from 18 artists whose work, identities and experiences are underrepresented by cultural institutions and the art industry. “I strive to support outsider artists, and artists who are marginalized, not only in terms of their social identities, but also marginalized in terms of the type of art they're making,” Symonds said.
Outsider artists are artists who create work without having formal art training, or outside of conventional art practices. Journalist Roger Cardinal wrote a book titled “Outsider Art” in 1972, introducing the term to describe art that has an unfiltered, even unrefined quality.
While Symonds wouldn’t consider herself an outsider artist due to receiving an art education from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, she said she became disillusioned with academic art and high-end commercial art. Establishing Shoe Bones was a way for Symonds to cultivate a welcoming community that is the antithesis of the strictness of formal art galleries.
“The type of art I tend to make in my personal work is kind of just like scraping the most difficult confusing parts of myself. While I certainly think there's value in doing that, it proved to be extremely alienating, and not always great for my mental health,” she said. “I found that sort of curating, writing about art, talking to artists, focusing on what I consider my community is much more gratifying, and much more sustainable in terms of my mental health…I wanted to do something that was in opposition to typical commercial galleries that could be a place for artists who don't fit into established art scenes.”
Symonds has high ambitions for Shoe Bones. The gallery will be open four days a week, featuring monthly exhibits, vendor markets, workshops, film screenings and an online and in-person store that sells handmade goods from different artists. Symonds, who currently lives in Boston where she grew up, has also lived in Salem, and decided it was the right place to open up shop due to finding an opportune space. According to Symonds, having a space in Salem is advantageous because arts events are more spread out both in terms of cadence and location in the North Shore, hopefully leading to higher turnout for each event. “There's really no DIY gallery that focuses on queer people, that also focuses on the lower end of our price range.”
Jamieson Edson is one of the artists who will show work at the opening exhibit. Edson’s art focuses on queer gender and sexuality — for the exhibit, Edson will show an altered photograph they shot. The subject of the photo is one of Edson’s friends who has been locked in chastity. “I think queer people are claiming their bodies and they are sort of dictating what they’re experiencing and I think that’s really beautiful, a uniquely queer and trans experience.”
Edson said they welcome a space like Shoe Bones where they can unapologetically show provocative art. “I knew I was queer when I was 13 years old and I had a very hard time relating to my peers. And I think for me, growing up in a conservative culture taught me to be ashamed of my sexuality. I want that to be a focus of my work. I want there to be no shame,” Edson said. “Documenting queer sexuality is really important…Just radically existing in a culture that would really prefer if I didn’t exist or make stuff that is just beautiful without having content that is provocative.”
Jon Hen, a mixed media artist who will also have a solo show at Shoe Bones, will show his paintings at the opening exhibit. When Hen first started taking art seriously, his work was informed by translating his graffiti onto canvas. “All this work that I would usually do outside, I ended up collecting inside indoors and it would be kind of like, like old used stuff. It would be like an old baby mattress, or some old Walmart painting,” he said. “I had made my first collection off of that. It was pretty much like trash art.” Hen works primarily with acrylic paint, but has also used materials like oil paint, nail polish and toothpaste. “If it sticks to the canvas and it makes the image come out, then that's what we're working with…The visuals in my work are really, really abstract. There's really a playful humor you could say is cartoonish, but I don't consider it cartoons.” Hen said a gallery like Shoe Bones will play an important role in giving artists a platform.
Symonds will bring painters, textile artists, photographers, sculptors and sound artists to Shoe Bones. In addition to highlighting artists with exhibits, Symonds hopes to foster an environment where people feel comfortable being creative in nontraditional ways. “The people who I want to feel welcome are queer people and people who don't feel comfortable in a typical creative setting,” Symonds said. “I don't want it to be a space where people get smothered by intellectualism. I really believe that while being able to have an intellectual conversation is fine, your ability to do that never compares to life experience. And that's, to me, way more valuable.”