BUCKHANNON – Artist Tim Hibbs is a man of multiple mediums.
The 46-year-old Upshur County resident and his wife, writer Sasha Hibbs, recently opened The Blaxxmith Shop Studio/Gallery on East Main Street in Buckhannon. You may have seen the sign in the window, and if so, yes, you read the name right – Blaxxmith with no ‘c’ or ‘s’ and two ‘xx’s.
It’s an alternative spelling that describes just one of the myriad mediums in which Hibbs works – blacksmithing, i.e., fashioning wrought iron and steel into three-dimensional sculptures.
Just as the ‘two XX’ approach is an alternative spelling of the word blacksmith, Hibbs envisions the Blaxxmith Shop Studio/Gallery as an alternative, grassroots sort of place for West Virginia artists in the region to display their work.
The art you’ll find there showcases a variety of pieces by the recently formed Infamous Art Collective, a group of nine artist-friends from Upshur and surrounding counties, who want to spotlight homegrown, Appalachian artists like themselves, all while opening up opportunities for more creative people to have their artwork on display in downtown Buckhannon. And, of course, creating more chances for more passers-by and art enthusiasts to see that artwork.
Hibbs and his daughter, 12-year-old digital artist Ava Hibbs, are members of the Infamous Art Collective, which is hosting a grand opening for the “Flying Too Close to the Sun” fine art exhibit starting at 6 p.m. Friday, July 16 at the Blaxxmith Shop Studio/Gallery, located at 38 E. Main St.
“I want the whole community to show up for our next show,” Hibbs said. “It’s an Icarus-type theme, ‘Flying Too Close to the Sun,’ and we’ve got something extra-special planned for the community – we’ll call it a gift. We’re going to give the community something – something they can be proud of and something they can call their own.”
The exhibit, free to all, will showcase the work of an array of skilled artists – plus, it will feature free food, music, drinks and a welcoming atmosphere, Hibbs said. This is the fourth fine art exhibit Hibbs and the Infamous Art Collective have hosted in the East Main Street space, and until July 14, you can still check out the display that’s currently there, “The Gray Area.”
The exhibits work like this: A theme is decided upon, and members of the collective have some time to contemplate it.
“There are nine of us right now, and the way I’ve been doing it is, we’re throwing a theme out and then the artists basically have three weeks to digest the theme and produce work,” Hibbs said. “So, with this, we got the theme ‘The Gray Area’ three weeks ago and this is what was produced.”
A member of the Morgantown-based Artist Collective of West Virginia, Hibbs is a mostly self-taught artist who works in a slew of styles and mediums in his home studio in Queens – abstract expressionism; interactive sculpture; blacksmithing; and painting with acrylic, oil and spray paints. When he was a kid he would “draw on anything that was flat,” he said, and that gift came naturally: His father was a woodworker and a tin smith, while his mother did book-binding, paper-marbling and more.
The central mission of the Infamous Art Collective and Blaxxmith Shop Studio/Gallery – aside from creating and displaying art – is to spawn a sense of inclusivity, give local artists more exposure and try draw out new artists into the mix.
“I feel like I’ve just been trying to champion local artists,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of friends who make art as beautiful as you can see. I feel like a lot of money has been generated to put art in this town, and I think it’s nice that public art’s coming to town. I think it’s making downtown nice, but I don’t know if local artists are the ones who are benefitting from it.”
Hibbs says he wants to make sure they do by putting them center stage at the Blaxxmith Shop Studio/Gallery.
“I think West Virginia is a good starting point, but I would love to bring Upshur County artists out of the woodwork,” Hibbs said. “I don’t really think that a bunch of money needs to be generated to create that exposure – this has been a pretty grassroots thing here. It’s definitely all about local artists – I can’t stress that enough – and I want this [studio and gallery] to come off as a bit of an underground, alternative-looking place for art.”
The Blaxxmith Shop Studio/Gallery hosted its first gallery opening in April with the theme, “Making Sense of Chaos,” which was followed by the seasonally apropos “Strawberries Any Way Ya Slice ‘Em” and then “The Gray Area,” which is available for viewing for just a few more days.
The Infamous Art Collective itself formed organically, Hibbs said. Its other members include artists Rachal Mercado, Stacy McLaughlin, Heather Coleman, Danielle Coleman, Jennifer Walsh, Julia Bettis, Ava Hibbs, Holt Thomas, Ryan Spangenberg, Alice-Gervais and Jon Benjamin.
“We were all friends anyway, so we ended up being at the same places,” Hibbs explained. “I think it’s neat how the gallery shows kind of show this subconscious collective feel. I think the shows hang pretty well as a group.”
The collective’s name is a nod to an actual historical group of men, “the Infamous Nine,” that Hibbs learned about in a history book too thick to lug out of the library. He read that in 1858 in French Creek, a group of nine or 10 people bucked what was then the status quo by casting ballots in opposition to slavery.
“You couldn’t really do something like that without getting called out for it, so this group of guys got run through the mill in the local newspapers at the time,” Hibbs said, “so I kind of thought, ‘well, what we’re doing here is maybe different than what you might say the status quo is in Buckhannon as far as art goes, so that might make us a little infamous.’”
Another goal is to challenge the stigma that sometimes surrounds local music and local art.
“I once heard it said that every band you love was once a local band somewhere at first, and it’s the same with art,” Hibbs said. “There are artists – contemporary artists – making thought-provoking artwork and showing it every day in New York, Chicago and L.A., so why not here? The more stuff like this is happening, the more people realize, ‘hey, I could be a part of this.’”
For more information about how to get involved or if you’d like to make an appointment to see “The Gray Area,” message The Blaxxmith Shop on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.