Sunday, April 3, 2011

Not Afraid To Get DURTY

A conversation with Julia Gartrell,
founding member of DURTY DURHAM art collective
by Ruth Eckles and Sarah Cress

Scrap Exchange customers know store manager Julia Gartrell as the friendly face behind the cash register, quick with a laugh and a helpful suggestion for an art project. What they may not know is she is also an accomplished artist, a world traveler (recent trips include Guatemala and Hong Kong), and one of the founders of DURTY, a frolicsome Durham art collective with a D.I.Y. flavor.

DURTY evolved in Gartrell’s basement 3 years ago where she and her former high school buddies from Durham School of the Arts would often gather to make art projects and talk shop. All recent college graduates, the group was feeling adrift in the 9-to-5 grind. Needing a way to consistently create art in order to stay sane, they met once a week. Eventually, the group grew to include more people with more ideas and needed room to expand. They rented studio space on Chapel Hill Street and began to get more serious about the business of being a collective.

Collectives operate under the “two heads are better than one” adage. Sharing ideas, resources, perspectives, and skill sets often provides more opportunities and greater artistic reach than an artist can get alone. But for DURTY, it’s also a way to simply have more fun. Fueled by coltish energy, the youthful group (aged mostly from late high-school to early 20’s) thrives on planning zany community events. Pastimes include eclectic combinations such as a bike race/scavenger hunt, a dance and piñata party, regular movie nights, and of course no art exhibition would be complete without marshmallow roasting and S’mores.

The current Scrap Exchange show (“A Durty Room”) takes the Green Gallery space and transforms it into a curious skid-row-meets-Etsy playhouse. Using a surprising array of Scrap Exchange materials, DURTY re-imagines clear CD cases and laminated architect blueprints into lamps, discarded VHS tapes become a coffee table, burlap coffee bean sacks transform themselves into couches and chairs. The tour de force of the show hangs from the center of the room: a beautiful glowing chandelier made out of dozens of tiny glass bottles that dangle from fishing line. In true DURTY spirit, the space encourages participation and play and gives a wonderful sense of the possibilities of creative reuse.  We hope you’ll come see it.

"A Durty Room" is on exhibit in the Green Gallery through April 9.  The DURTY artists participating in this exhibit include Chris Martz, Max Dorsey, Lisa Keaton, Patrick Phelps-McKeown, Curtis Cushman, Allie Mullin, Amy Campbell, Nicole Hogan, Julia Gartrell, Thomas Kellum, Daniel Kamiya, Cade Carlson, Bryan Crabtree, and Vicky Mazzia.

Last week, I was able to meet with Gartrell in her home and we discussed DURTY over macaroni and cheese. What follows is a bit of our conversation. To learn more about DURTY, you can go to their website at

What made you want to start an art collective? A lot of the core founders of DURTY went to high school together at Durham School of the Arts. We all went our separate ways and did different things in college. A lot of us came back from college and realized we didn’t really have a plan, and didn’t have a supportive art group that we needed and that we’d always had during high school and college. So we would get together and make art in my basement for fun. Then we decided it might be good to formalize things a little more so we could do things on a bigger scale.
Has it gone like you expected, or have there been some surprises? I think in some ways we’ve really surpassed what I expected us to do. I think in the beginning it was more like a social club and a reason to hang out. But it definitely evolved into something more professional than we’d expected. We started out as a peer art collective and we’ve really moved away from that. We do much less art now than we used to, and more event planning, music, and scene making. We’ve had some growing pains with figuring out how to make our events feasible and how to turn it more into a business.
Tell me a little bit about the core members and what sorts of things they bring to the table? We have a pretty diverse group in terms of interests and talent. There’s somewhere between 8 and 10 people who come regularly to the meetings. Almost everyone has a background in art of some sort. We have a classical musician, a motions graphic designer, several fine artists, a photographer. We all share an interest in art, but we all come at it from different angles. Even within the members who do fine art, the skill sets vary—painters, sculptors, photographers.
What’s the most fun thing about being part of a collective? The fun part is having a group where you can say “I have this idea…I really want to throw this crazy party with a bunch of piñatas”, and having a medium to make that happen. The collaborative aspect of working with a group is really cool. I wouldn’t be doing some of the things I’ve done if it hadn’t been for the support, and the sharing of ideas that comes with working with a group. It gives you a way to think on a bigger scale.
If DURTY had a personality, what would it be like? Oh my God…(laughs)…schizophrenic? Actually, the individual members are pretty laid back, and I think as a group we’re pretty laid back as well. We’re a pretty multi-faceted organization. It’s a lot of creative people, a lot of forces of will. I think we probably generally just come off as young, creative people.

No comments: