If you spend a half hour talking to Louis Watts, you’re guaranteed to learn something. For instance, there is such a thing as potato chip delivery trucks, and they make great galleries.
“I really like the bare bones of the truck,” Watts says. “I handled junk in New York City, so I spent a lot of time in trucks. I thought it would be a cool way to turn that space into something more and control the aesthetic of the exhibit space at the same time.”
The Little Rock native opened a mobile art gallery called Truck/Art Sept. 13 on the Bentonville town square. The artist says he was attracted to the Bentonville area due to the allure of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which he sees as a huge asset to the area.
“I work at the museum as a preparator, so I spend my days setting up and taking down exhibits,” he explains. “It’s a wonderful place to work. The museum is truly an art center. And I think the museum really builds the community in a way that is unique to Northwest Arkansas.”
Crystal Bridges may draw “lots of folks” to the area, but the museum does not offer patrons a way to purchase pieces in the galleries, he says. His truck gallery is different.
“The art is part of an elongated silent auction,” he says with a laugh. Bidding began in September on drawings produced by Watts currently on display in the Truck/Art gallery.
The artist explains that rather than patrons coming in to purchase a piece of art and having the piece removed from public view, the long auction allows more access to the art, which allows the community to become involved in the process of viewing, criticizing and owning contemporary art, he says.
Although only one person will walk away with the piece itself, all those who have viewed the work have participated in the larger discussion of art in context, he says.
“People come in and buy up a piece of art, and then it’s just gone,” he says. “Why not make it more available? And the truck allows for more mobility. I could pack up my gallery and head to Little Rock if I wanted to. I could go wherever I want to go.”
The artist is not new to travel. After graduating from Little Rock Central High School in 2002, Watts headed out west to Arizona State University in Tempe, and it was at this point in his life he says he became interested in installation work.
“I really loved the idea of site-specific work,” he says. “The university has a fantastic art program. I became really enamored with drawing, which led me to focus on the very basic, fundamentals of art making.” The artist graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in intermedia with an emphasis in mixed media in 2007 before returning to Northwest Arkansas.
The exhibit on display in the Truck/Art gallery looks “directly at the process of being an artist in today’s market,” he describes. “Each piece explores a different aspect of the work of making art in the present day.”
“Alphabets,” part of the # Series, extends an idea of wonder in everyday language, he says. Created from thousands of tiny hashtags, the work speaks to “value of conversation lost in the midst of small communications” such as tweets, status updates and texts, he says.
“I’m interested in what we do every day,” he says. “It may seem very basic, but you can find the subtle things that may transcend that. It’s making art in the present day.”
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