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May 8, 2011

Artist In Train-ing

This creative thrives on and off the rails

By Felicia Feaster

  • Photos by ErinAshford.com

Meet train-hopping, post-hipster, punk musician, artist and gallerist Lloyd Benjamin of Get This!

Benjamin'strain silk screen Benjamin'strain silk screen

In his signature red Vans, black t-shirt and mussed hair, towering, tattooed man-boy Lloyd Benjamin, 32, is the Peter Pan of the Atlanta art scene-- straddling a never-grow-up line between establishment and indie.  He's built a mini-art empire on the booming Westside at Get This! Gallery (named for his favorite expression "get this.."), which opened in Castleberry Hill in 2005.  With his stable of plugged-in, counterculture-surfing artists-- hip hop fabulist Fahamu Pecou, heralded Korean-American SCAD-grad Gyun Hur, ironic minimalist Ben Roosevelt, and graffiti artists Paper Twins, Get This! bridges the energy and wit of the street and popular culture and the aesthetics of the white cube. Benjamin's gallery walks a line between established spaces like Solomon Projects (where Benjamin also shows his own train-centric artwork) or Marcia Wood Gallery and alterna upstarts like Beep Beep and Mint Gallery.

Part of the appeal of Get This! is Benjamin's laid back vibe and his infectious interest in the artists he represents. He also conveys the sense that, with the proper combination of interest and enthusiasm, a former punk rocker and train jumper such as himself can, in the wide-open adventure land of Atlanta, have a smart, contemporary art gallery. Appropriately enough, Benjamin’s gallery is housed in a Westside space that once hosted seminal Atlanta punk rock club BLT’s.

Lloyd Benjamin Lloyd Benjamin

"A lot of my friends saw their first punk show ever there," says Benjamin digging into a plate of fish and chips while fielding Get This! business calls on his cell at White Provision gastro pub Ormsby's. Benjamin describes himself as a man very much in the middle.

"I've coined a new term: I'm a hapster," says Benjamin. "I maybe was hip at some point, but I've happened," he laughs.

Part of the distinctive niche Get This! Gallery occupies is an outgrowth of Benjamin's personal history. Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, the child of two academics with a love of art, Benjamin started playing in punk bands at 15. He later tapped into the music circuit and a crash-pad-in-every-city M.O. ("you'd have a new best friend every night") by jumping trains--a skill his 18-year-old girlfriend taught him when Benjamin was 19. In fact, he's met some of his artists riding trains, like photographer Mike Brodie (who has since gone uber-big time with representation by Los Angeles' M + B Gallery and articles in The New Yorker).

And Benjamin has tapped into a fertile image bank of industrial splendor in his own silkscreens of railroad yards and freight trains exhibited at Solomon Projects last October.

Benjamin'strain silk screen Benjamin'strain silk screen

Though all of that gritty backstory helped Benjamin form a very different way of seeing the world (one that has informed his life as a gallerist), Benjamin admits that his parents "thought I was lost for most of my twenties." A competitive swimmer in college, Benjamin opted out of college even though he'd been accepted to the University of Georgia and the College of Charleston. "I went to a month of college and dropped out," he shrugs. It wasn't for him.

Benjamin moved to Georgia in 2002, where his parents and sister Saskia (also in the art scene as the director of institutional advancement at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center) had resettled. After getting the lay of the land and the city's burgeoning art scene with a crash course courtesy of artist (and brother-in-law) Scott Ingram, Benjamin opened his first incarnation of Get This! on the ground floor of his Castleberry Hill condo. He moved to the Westside in 2008, settling in next to Brian Holcombe's equally iconoclastic Saltworks Gallery and, perhaps not coincidentally, a hop and a skip from the railroad tracks.

Benjamin'strain-hopping journal Benjamin'strain-hopping journal

Instead of the traditional route of college and art school,

 life experience has been Benjamin's sentimental education and informed his present whirl as the shape-shifting James Franco of the Atlanta art world: DJ, street artist, framer, artist, train jumper, musician, gallery owner.

Being a businessman has cut into Benjamin's Peter Pan time, the joys of "being a pleasant, chaotic mess out way too late." Benjamin still jumps trains--he's been hanging out on Marietta Street with former gallery artist Nate Moore casing their routes and planning a trip to L.A. He's still into music too, though after playing bass for years with All Night Drug Prowling Wolves, he's currently flying solo. And he's established a profitable side-business framing art for Atlanta venues like the Contemporary, Poem 88, and Whitespace Gallery.

This summer Get This!  again asserted its zeitgeist-tea leaf reading cred with a show of works by the suddenly exploding pair of female street artists, Paper Twins.

Their exquisitely detailed, one-of-a-kind wheat-pasted images and gender-bending status in the boy-centric graf world make them a two-fold rarity on the Atlanta street art scene. In conjunction with Atlanta Celebrates Photography in October, Benjamin is plotting a return performance from photographer Michael Koehler, whose gritty, haunting images of post-Katrina New Orleans made an appearance in a recent exhibition at Get This! guest-curated by New York emerging art star Santiago Mostyn.

Benjamin has even bigger plans for Get This!, including more ambitious installations, and he'd like to bring bands to the space, inspired by his gallery's former incarnation as a punk club.

"I think that's what's put a lot of galleries under in the past, is their inability to change," says Benjamin. But he's always been different that way, a chameleon dipping his toe into any number of rivers and oceans.

"I want to see the gallery in a different light."

Get This! Gallery: 662 11th Street; Wed.-Sat. 12PM-5PM and by appointment; 678.596.4451 or www.getthisgallery.com

Lloyd Benjamin on the tracks Lloyd Benjamin on the tracks

On Lloyd's Radar

THE BLOG: Scouting NY http://www.scoutingny.com "This is just a really cool and well-done blog. I'm into old hidden treasure and exploring kinds of things."

THE READ:  Esopus Magazine http://www.esopusmag.com  "I love this magazine, each issue (only two a year!) is a work of art, beautifully done."

THE PHOTOGRAPHER:  Michael Koehler  "He was one of four photographers in the show, Free People of Color (and other pictures) that Santiago Mostyn curated at Get This! His photos are totally the style of photography that I get into--journalistic/documentary-style work. Photos that tell a story."

THE CITY: Los Angeles, California " I've been there once last year and had an amazing time. It's a city I want to explore and check out way more."

 THE DOWNLOAD:  Ty Segall " He's a San Francisco garage-punker. Melted is an awesome record."

 

CLICK HERE FOR A GALLERY SLIDESHOW OF LLOYD'S ARTISTS AND MORE PORTRAITS OF LLOYD ON THE TRAIN TRACKS