With a hearty greeting, FDA founder EuGene Byrd opens the side door into the garage space, now occupied by silk screening equipment, then goes through a lobby area with a couch and a turntable into the gallery.
“This used to be the base’s fire house,” Byrd explains. “It was always a dream of mine to have an art studio in a fire engine, like a city one. I’ve always been attracted to ‘em. So I was already in here a week or so before I even figured out it was a fire station. I was like, ‘What?! I got an art studio in a fire station?’ That’s always been a goal of mine that I never really thought would happen.”
Future Dead Artists is a collective of painters, photographers and graphic designers. They had their first show in March, and with this move, they are opening their own gallery for the first time. And they’re doing it with a group show called “Thankful.”
Byrd says the theme was chosen very deliberately.
“I had this theme called ‘Destroy and Rebuild,’” he says. “I guess that’s how I was feeling. But I didn’t want the start of something new to come from a negative vibe. A lot of stuff happened in 2017 that was necessarily not all positive. But I was still thankful for all those moments and for everything that I have been blessed with. So I was like, ‘Perfect, let’s just call it Thankful.’”
Eleven other artists are joining Byrd in giving thanks.
“I think my response was pretty simple. I just said, ‘Hell yeah,’” says Dahlonega-based artist Grant Searcey. “I mean, we all have a lot to be thankful for, I think. I mean, we’re sitting here, we’re alive and smiling.”
Photographer Melissa Alexander, who works under the name Phyllis Iller, was also eager to be a part of “Thankful.” She took part in a previous Future Dead Artists group show and said that the welcome reception of both the viewers and the collaboration of the artists brought her back. She likens it to cross-pollination.
“We’re all these bees, and we can only get more done … I mean we can pollinate flowers ourselves, but we’re not gonna make that honey unless we’re working together,” she says. “So far be it from me to say that I can do this all by myself. Like why? Why would you want to? It’s about connecting. That’s what our art is for, to connect.”
And in the case of some of the artists involved, the theme of the show has served to connect them not just to each other, but to themselves in ways they may not have expected. Artist C Flux Sing has an expressive, almost comic-book style. But he gets introspective in describing his approach to the show.
“I come from a place where my parents were genuinely good people,” he says, “and I kinda got some of that through the DNA. But I was more mischievous. And it took a long time to re-embrace myself and understand what it is that I offer because I enjoy my friends and I support them. I’ll do whatever they want quickly, but for my own self, I be like, ‘Ehh, I’ll get to it.’”
Flux explains that he’s thankful that he’s starting to realize his own power. He feels that he’s bringing a greater amount of vulnerability in his new work.
Vulnerability is on display throughout the gallery. From Iller’s photo “We All We Got,” of a young boy carrying his younger brother in a muddy field, to Searcey’s painting, “Happy Heart.” In it, a pair of hands release a bird. Inside the bluebird’s chest, we see a mechanical heart surrounded by gears.
“I was a heart transplant recipient,” Searcey explains. “I’m 13 years out now. I don’t know anything about my donor; I don’t know race. I don’t know religion. I know he was 30, and I was 28.”
With that experience on his shoulders, Searcey describes being approached by Byrd to contribute to the show with a mix of joy and relief.
“Yeah,” he remembers telling Byrd, “I’ve got something I wanna do for this one.”
The openness and community-building on display in “Thankful” stems from Byrd’s own openness.
He says he wants artists to be able to come to the studio to work alongside him. With that in mind, he recently put out a call on Future Dead Artists’ Instagram, saying, “We believe all artists are Future Dead Artists,” and inviting anyone to claim the title, embody the spirit and potentially become part of the group. The artists involved in this group show are part of the family.
Artist Darlene DeLoris sees the group’s mission as challenging the idea that artists must starve in order to practice their craft.
“We’re all here to say that that’s not a thing,” DeLoris laughs, “and it shouldn’t be a thing. You should definitely give the accolades and the respect while we are here.”
“You’re going to pay your plumber, you’re going to pay your mechanic, you’re going to pay for your groceries when you go in the store,” she explains. “I have a friend of mine who once told me, ‘Always keep in mind that what I create with my hand is a message from God.’”
“So with that being said, why would you let that slip away right in front of you?” DeLoris asks. “While it’s here, give it respect.”
That call for respect goes both ways, with viewers, patrons and Future Dead Artists alike giving thanks for the gift of art.