Mixing graffiti and DIY basement shows feels about as right as peanut butter and chocolate. But Daniel Yanez has been working tirelessly to reclaim the stigmas of both subcultures, celebrating the beauty behind street art and, now, hosting shows at The Basement Gallery in Oak Cliff.
After spending six years working on and selling his art, Yanez decided to turn his gallery dreams into a tangible reality by searching for a space. He spent about six months searching before he found his current location in Oak Cliff, in a basement that’s below the former largest Freemason’s Temple in Texas. In 2002, the Masons of the Oak Cliff Lodge packed up and moved to greener pastures, and the building was turned into a historic landmark in 2014, though a different chapter of freemasons still congregate on the top floor.
But when Yanez first saw the space, he held no illusions as to the work that was in front of him.
“The walls were yellowed and there were spiderwebs everywhere. It was just a storage basement,” he recalls, pointing to various spots in the space. “But I saw the potential, and I was ready to take that on.”
Through four years of development and the aide of Yanez’s friends and family, the present-day basement feels like it could’ve only ever been an art gallery. Freestanding art displays feature local art, and sprawling street art murals cover the walls. But the centerpiece, where your eye is slowly drawn to, is the wooden stage currently filled by a DJ booth.
The intersection between music and visual art was always on Yanez’s mind when he started bringing live performances to The Basement. It’s especially personal to him, since he found his own life’s calling by accident in an art gallery.
“I always wanted to bring in great art and music, because I think those communities should interact,” he says. "When I first realized what an art gallery could be, it ended up changing my life."
More important still, he wants to dispel the misconceptions of what an art gallery means. By creating events with live music or hosting their weekly “Drink and Draw,” people visit the gallery for entertainment and end up getting a new impression of what constitutes art. It’s not a space with stuffy aristocrats drinking wine and bloviating about post-post-postmodernism; it’s showcasing Dallas artists creating graffiti murals as accessible art, inciting emotions without requiring a surgical dissection of Chiaroscuro (not the sticks of meat).
To assist in this union of visual and performance art, Yanez works with fellow art curator Raymond Butler to book bands. Throughout Butler’s residency (Yanez says he’s practically a co-owner at this point), he’s booked funk, punk, metal and even a few DJs. But Butler says that hip-hop works especially well with the feel of The Basement.
“Since you’re surrounded by street art and graffiti styles, hip-hop always seems appropriate,” he says.
Depending on the event, however, Butler tries to curate the music to fit the vibe and audience. Yanez mentions that if they’re expecting an older crowd, they usually won’t book a hip-hop act and might find a local cellist to play for the night. Butler also ensures the music helps fill the gaps between art pieces to create a flowing experience for visitors.
“For example, I might use a band like Rebel Planet since they have a groovy funk sound, which keeps people moving around the gallery and accents the playfulness of the work,” he says.
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And while playfulness is absolutely a welcome descriptor for these events, Yanez stays vigilant to keep people from treating the gallery like a depraved club. He makes sure the art remains the wholesome focus for visitors, because he knows that artists need the acknowledgment just as much. Plus, as a father of six, he isn’t exactly looking to get his gallery razed.
In the end, Yanez wants to feature a pieces of art that capture an unsuspecting visitor’s eye, possibly enlightening them of their own potential.
“If I can reach that one kid who wasn’t expecting an art gallery to be like this, that’s what matters to me,” he says. “The bands and the workshops are all part of making that realization happen for someone, to know that they can do this, too.”