From ink on skin to paint on canvas in Glenwood

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Micah James and Kaley Farmer pivoted away from tattooing to open a grassroots gallery, Code, in Glenwood. (photo by Lauren Barber)

A few doors down from Glenwood Community Bookshop, before crossing Glenwood Avenue to the Grove Street Market parking lot, a matte black door that led to heaps of rubble less than a year ago now opens into the Code Gallery. The name is painted in white and red Gothic script, fitting for the two tattoo artists-turned-gallery curators: Kaley Farmer and Micah James.

The duo, artists themselves, opened the Code Gallery on Feb. 9 with local artist and musician Gary Heidt’s new exhibit, Skull Form, on display through the second week of April. Farmer and James met through a tattooing shop in Archdale more than seven years ago but, upon reconnecting, Famer began an ongoing apprenticeship with James at Blue Luna Tattoo in Asheboro. They discovered a mutual interest other than tattooing: Both dreamed of owning an art gallery. Ever since securing the property six months ago, they dedicated their time outside of Blue Luna to renovating the space, including more than three months of scraping carpet, with a little help from their friends.

“It’s been a zero-budget kind of thing,” James said. “I’ve been in here for six months just plugging away. Every chance we get, we just scraped and scraped.”

The Code Gallery doesn’t have a board of directors, high ceilings or nonprofit funding; when James ran out of removal chemicals and couldn’t afford more, he used Windex. Now, the floors are painted black and the walls are neutral beiges and sage, a sharp turn from a (reportedly) ungodly combination of salmon, yellow and dark mauve.

Beyond a front room where a miscellany of antiques, crafts and artwork are for sale, visitors pass a recording studio (where a previous landlord used to sleep) on the way to the main gallery space.

“I think it’s amazing how he’s transformed the space and manifested his vision,” Heidt said. “I’m really honored to be the first show here.”

Heidt’s Skull Form series is comprised of five poems in the shape of a human skull, impressed with black ink onto 14” x 17” pieces of paper.

“The form is based on an image of a skull and I abstract it down to a certain number of cells,” Heidt said. “Each cell that has part of the image in it has to have a letter, so the form determines the language in a specific way, but you still have choice within that form.”

His poems lay within 23-by-29 letter grids, the single-word titles at the summit of the crown and the body of the text descending into the shadowy caverns of eye sockets toward the closed mandible, following whatever path the beholder’s eyes take. The experience is a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure story.

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“Crown” by Gary Heidt

“It’s a visual poetic rather than a sound-based poetic,” Heidt said. “In most of poetry, like the sonnet, it’s based on the sound of the syllables and this is based purely on the letters of the words.”

The remarkable precision of finer-lined letters is juxtaposed with bold, somewhat frenzied lettering where shadows fall. What is striking about Heidt’s skull-based series is this tension between systems and anarchy; he devises a scrupulously ordered chaos the viewer instinctively seeks to make meaning of — this, through a form simultaneously universal and individual. 

Find the Code Gallery on Facebook and visit at 1202 Grove Street (GSO).

Though Heidt moved to Greensboro just over two years ago, James, a Glenwood resident of six years, called him a “propeller of art in the community” and he is well known in the city’s music scene for his experimental, avant-garde style. To anyone familiar with him, Heidt couldn’t have been a more suitable choice for the Code Gallery’s inaugural exhibit, but it’s clear that Farmer and James aim to create an environment welcoming to everyone.

“It’s really important that we’re rooted in the community,” James said. “I’ve been selling my woodcarvings, paintings and some plants at the Grove Street Market since it started back up and I try to have stuff that’s affordable so everyone in the neighborhood can buy it. We’re always going to put more in [the gallery] than we’re taking. We want to be self-sufficient, but we want to help the community, too.”

Farmer is offering her first community art workshop on the Feb. 24 and promises more mixed-media, painting and drawing classes for all ages in the future. Other than hosting two-month long exhibitions, the duo is looking for art and craft vendors for the front room and musicians interested in improv music and open mic nights.

Most of all, Farmer and James want community input and participation to guide their nascent, low-budget venture. Because the Code Gallery is for all of us, and we’re welcome to come as we are.

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