Deep background

Dallas artist Arthur James is obsessed. Artman, as he prefers to be known, loves the blues, its history, its legends, and its connections to his hometown. His interest exploded when he moved into the Boyd Hotel building on Elm Street. Almost as though possessed, James began researching the blues history of Deep Ellum and the hotel itself. Originally called The Tally Hotel, it housed a speakeasy called Ma's Place, along with such guests as Bonnie and Clyde, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Leadbelly. Traveling blues musicians performed on the concrete floor, two stories below James' loft. When the Ma's Place space became available, it was rented by Those 3 Reps -- a firm that manages professional graphic designers, commercial illustrators, and photographers, including James -- for a gallery to showcase the personal artwork of these professional artists. They named the Boyd Gallery after the hotel, and likewise became interested in the building's history.

The result is Art and Soul, The Mythology of the Blues, James' first exhibition and the gallery's third since it opened in July. The exhibition shows that James' love for the blues has grown beyond the streets of Deep Ellum, encompassing everything from blues' roots in spirituals and work songs to modern blues musicians such as Keb' Mo'. The centerpiece of the show is a throne that combines painted line drawings of blues musicians with found objects such as wood, beads, a guitar, a harmonica, and candles. Writings on the throne tell the history of the blues, and above the throne, in a large black frame, hangs a picture of Blind Lemon Jefferson. Ya know, the only photograph of him. James does a take on it too with a poster-sized bright acrylic painting. There are several of those large works, plus smaller ink-wash paintings and tiny line-art pictures.

There are plenty of references to Deep Ellum too -- paintings of a guitarist outside of Ma's Place, "The Three Kings of Deep Ellum," and Elm Street. And so far, the exhibition is going well for James and the gallery. More than half of the works sold on opening night, and the House of Blues is interested in the throne and a mural about the myth of Robert Johnson. Maybe obsession isn't always a bad thing.

Shannon Sutlief

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Shannon Sutlief

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