By ROBIN CAUDELL Press-Republican
---- — KEESEVILLE — The Kingsland Block has witnessed foot traffic along Front Street’s mercantile shops since Keeseville’s 19th century heyday.
There’s a 21st century renaissance-in-progress restoring the brick facades accented with Italianate elements.
The newest enterprise, the 1719 Block Gallery, was established by gallerist/artist Clark Davidson in June.
Passersby may do a double take after noticing the gallery’s signage more apropos to New York City than Keeseville.
Davidson’s daring vision honors the historic legacy of his setting, the former Turner’s Drugstore, while exhibiting artists such as William Colquhoun, whose ceramics grace the gallery’s storefront.
During art school, Davidson regularly visited friends in New York City.
“I would go down there on little escapades and find myself at these little boutique galleries,” said Davidson, a 2007 AuSable Valley Central School graduate and 2011 Art Institute of Boston alum.
“They were nice. They were intimate. There were emerging artists. They were new, fun, but yet had a sense of tradition where art came from and where art is going and have that understanding. And that is kind of what I want to do with this gallery. I wanted to have a feel of sophistication, but yet young and fun.”
His main mission is to identify and exhibit contemporary artists, local and fine.
“That I feel can break out of upstate New York markets and find themselves down in Boston, find themselves down in New York City. I want to be that venue where it’s a waypoint to get there,” Davidson said.
Crossing the gallery’s threshold, one enters a fragmented time warp, where smooth Douglas-fir flooring is framed by 1850s brick walls juxtaposed with a modern faux-tin ceiling and illumination.
“There used to be this floor-to-ceiling cabinetry along the outside perimeter, but when we acquired the building, they were already cut up and displaced and sold off. (They) left this kind of interesting, kind of round mark around it. What I wanted to do was revel in that history of (where) there were things before,” he said.
“I left the circa-1970s floor, but I filled in the outside and painted it black. So, it provides a natural barrier but says something about the history, that there was once something here before. It worked out quite nicely in that aspect. It creates tension in the room, whereas other people will focus on the floor itself and the aisle marks where the most traffic was. Right here is my favorite spot, where the register was. You can see the prints of where they used to stand. I wanted to keep history like that. Everything comes from something.”
His artistic beginnings stem from doodles.
“I was intrigued with image making, really, and how the greats captured certain moments in time. It kind of resonated with me for the fact that I wanted to do it. I wanted to learn how they could perceive space and time so vividly and tell a story,” Davidson said.
Early on, he was a huge fan of Salvador Dali and of the Surrealist Movement, in general.
“It was that true narrative. It was letting the mind and the imagination run wild. The history of it is kind of what the subconscious conjures up and what can come out from a dreamlike state,” he said.
His interest in art was spurred by his high-school art teacher, Rebecca Conklin.
“She kind of helped me to focus on that and really got me into what art was.”
In Boston, he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in painting and printmaking. In the latter discipline, he learned intaglio, dry point and monotype. He started color paintings post-college.
His next exhibition, “Absent Landscapes,” opens Friday, Sept. 13, and features a series of oil paintings, brooding, evocative and mystical.
The most valuable thing he learned in art school was patience. Professor Peter Hoss was his main influence.
“He was all about mark making. The abstraction, he just distilled it. How complex and how rich it could be. He always said never to erase any of your lines, any of your kind of measurement lines to map out a piece. So, the more marks meant the more information, the better you would understand,” he said.
Davidson is in the process of designing and building his own printing press.
“I hope to have it up and running late winter,” he said. “It will be downstairs in the basement, and I want to open up the facility to other artists that are interested in printmaking and have that space available to them as well.”
The gallery embodies his ethos, celebrating what was and what is.
“What I wanted to do with the styling of it, I almost want to call it mid-century modern to a certain degree,” Davidson said. “It has the Victorian-decorative trim and molding with the fake tin up on the ceiling, but yet it pulls everything together. It’s supposed to be dark, but yet the walls are warm. It produces a nice viewing where the ceiling almost turns into the night sky, and you’re just looking up into blackness. It pushes the walls up. It pushes everything up. This is the Kingsland Block. Being the corner storefront, it is kind of the pinnacle. It is the start.”
The 1719 Block Gallery’s location-location-location on Front Street allows him to mine Keeseville’s glory days and attract visitors to his geographically centered hometown, a potential destination spot, in his estimation.
“I want to play off that with my work being contemporary, but yet everything in here has the sense of the past,” Davidson said.
Email Robin Caudell:email@example.comIF YOU GO WHAT: "Absent Landscapes," oil paintings by Clark Davidson WHEN: Opening reception 6-9 p.m. Sept. 13 WHERE: 1719 Block Gallery, 1719 Front St., Keeseville GALLERY HOURS: Noon-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday WEB SITE: www.clarkdavidson.com PHONE: 569-0001 E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org