Atlanta’s Future Dead Artists Come Alive With Group Exhibit

Omega Ruth, Keef Cross, EuGene Byrd and Shon Pittman make up the collective Future Dead Artists.
Omega Ruth, Keef Cross, EuGene Byrd and Shon Pittman make up the collective Future Dead Artists.
Credit Louis Perry

Who is your favorite visual artist? Are they still alive? Are they local? A collective of artists opening a group show tonight operates under the motto “Support artists that are alive and well.” They call themselves Future Dead Artists.

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The group is made up of four very much alive artists, working out of a studio in what used to be the offices of a lumber mill in Historic South Atlanta neighborhood. Keef Cross is a graphic novelist and art instructor in addition to having a 17-year-long career as a tattoo artist. Shon Pittman is a painter and curator and acts as apprentice to EuGene Byrd, who does screen printing and graphic design as Byrd Eye View. Byrd founded Future Dead Artists along with fellow SCAD classmate and photographer Omega Ruth.

The playful, provocative name for the group came from a pretty simple want for recognition.

“If you ask your average person who their favorite artist is, nine times out of 10 they’re going to name a dead artist,” Byrd says. “I’m like, ‘Well what about all the artists currently living and especially locally?’ So if you’re into dead artists, we’re future dead artists, we’re all going to be dead artists. So get it while you can afford it, you know!”

Byrd and Omega were inspired to form a group after studying notable dead artists Salvador Dali and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“There were cliques and groups,” Byrd explains. “And going back to Wu-Tang [Clan] and Boot Camp Clik, it was like, ‘Let’s promote this art thing like a band!’ We’d get together and motivate each other.”

“Everybody was good, everybody was exceptional artists,” Keef says. “The name is dope, how could you walk away from a name like that? Even if the crew wasn’t that good, I would consider it with that name. The name is just amazing.”

Pittman, the youngest of the group, says that being an artist and making work in a group setting is like power in numbers.

“It teaches you how to be around other people’s energy,” she says. “It’s cool to do it by yourself, but when you got people supporting you and having your back and teaching you along the way, it’s a good thing.”

The group dynamic of Future Dead Artists seems to be well-balanced. Pittman, for instance, comes from a science background, has a bachelors in biology and came to the Atlanta art world just a couple years ago. And each brings a different discipline to the table: Omega’s photography, Keef’s illustration – the work Byrd is preparing for the show even dabbles in carpentry. One piece features a wooden cutout of a woman lying with her hands folded on her chest like a funeral pose.

“I’m really dealing with something in my art that I’ve been avoiding for a long time,” Byrd explains, “losing my mother and my sister. Cause I seen both of them pass in front of my eyes.”

But Byrd says that having this group dynamic and presenting as four strong personalities is just as important as the quality of the work.

“To me it’s more about us, it’s about the people,” he says. “When I buy artwork from people, especially locally, I like that person. It’s not just a pretty picture, it’s a piece of that person.”

Keef also finds friendly competition in the group dynamic.

“You want to hold your own in the group,” he says, “but you still want the group to be competitive towards the art world outwardly.”

While Future Dead Artists has shown work together before, notably at the tattoo shop City of Ink’s recent anniversary party, they’re referring to this opening at the Paper Plane Gallery as their “coming out party.” They’ve been posting photos on Instagram of the four of them decked out in black and looking imposing.

Thinking back to Byrd comparing them to a band, you could also call this their first gig – one where they’re each subtly raising the stakes for each other. That includes being a little secretive about the work each is bringing to the show. During this visit, they revealed that none of the others actually knew what Omega Ruth was going to be showing.

“That goes with the competition part,” Pittman says, laughing. “We kind of give each other sneak peeks, but not too much, so ‘Ooh you don’t really know what I’m going to do so bring it!’”

It’s a rallying cry that could just as well be aimed at the art world of Atlanta and beyond. Future Dead Artists say “bring it.”

Future Dead Artists’ group show, “Past Present Future,” has its opening party Friday, March 10 at Paper Plane Gallery at 6 p.m. This is the final show at Paper Plane’s current location. The artists will give a talk there Saturday, March 18. From there the exhibit will move to Arches Brewing in Hapeville.