Detail of a self-portrait by John Brooks

On Friday, when Portland gallery Quappi Projects opens its next exhibition, “Don’t Turn Around, Don’t Look Down,” it will showcase the work of the loose collective of artists who’ve been working in the building where the gallery is located, a warehouse space at 1520 Lytle St.

The roster has changed over the last several years, but the current lineup includes Letitia Quesenberry, Chris Radtke, Denise Furnish, Dominic Guarnaschelli, Rosalie Rosenthal, Jacob Heustis and John Brooks.

Brooks opened the gallery last August, taking the name from a little-known figure from art history.

“The name comes from the nickname of the wife of Max Beckman, who was a German Expressionist painter. I’m interested in that time period, I’m interested in Beckman … I think a lot of those experiences and lessons are relevant to some things that are going on today,” said Brooks.

“Motionless and Hot to Move” by John Brooks

He thinks the feeling, the “spirit of the times,” in Weimar is echoed here and now in America.

“The focus of the gallery is to show work reflective of the zeitgeist, so I wanted to touch on that period and honor the spirit of what so many of those artists went through,” he explained.

The Frankfort, Ky., native first moved to Louisville in 2002 with his partner, Erik Eaker. They couple didn’t stay long, relocating to London in 2005 for several years, then returning to the states to live in Louisville again, then Chicago, then back to Louisville.

Brooks worked as an artist the whole time and settled down to create in a shared studio in the Lytle Street building shortly after his most recent move to Louisville.

“I think of myself primarily as a painter,” he said. “I work in oils, but I work with a variety of other media including collage and gouache. I’ve been in the warehouse space for just over two years.”

He also writes poetry, considers photography an everyday part of his life, and has been toying with sculpture in recent years.

When Brooks’ studio mate moved out of the building, he decided to take the extra spot and create a space for artists to show their work.

“Running a gallery is something I have wanted to do for a long time, but it seemed like a really frightening process, and it became evident to me that this was the opportunity to do that,” he said. “The space is really conducive for what I want to do.”

Local artist Letitia Quesenberry will have her work in the show. | Courtesy

He ended up with 500 square feet for personal use, which left him a little over 900 square feet for the gallery — plenty of space considering how small some of Louisville’s other new galleries are.

“It’s not tiny. It’s not huge. But it’s a really good space,” said Brooks.

Since it opened last August, Quappi has held four exhibitions, splitting the shows half and half between Louisville artists and out-of-towners.

“It’s important to highlight artists living and working here, but also bring in other artists, both to share their work with the artist community here, and then they can go back to New York or Chicago and kind of spread the word about things that are going on in Louisville,” he said.

References to Weimar Republic aside, and without mentioning the zeitgeist, politics or anything else more conceptual, Brooks’ intentions are straightforward.  

“Incubator” by Rosalie Rosenthal

“I want to give artists I believe in a space to show their work,” he added. “It shouldn’t be about me.”

The list of artists he believes in includes his building mates on Lytle Street, so when a hole opened in the gallery’s exhibition schedule, he decided to fill the gap with their work. He ended up putting a couple of his pieces into the show as well.

“Don’t Turn Around, Don’t Look Down” isn’t based around a tight theme, but rather is a window into the work being created in Portland.

“We’ve had a conversation about finding work that does have some evidence of a conversation between the artists, but it’s also just about showing what’s happening now, what are we thinking, what are we working on,” he said.

What Brooks is working on right now is an attempt to meld his poetry into his visual art.

“I’ve been trying to find a way to incorporate all of my artistic practices — which include painting and photography and poetry. It’s a complicated mixture, but I think I’ve figured out kind of a new technique and a new way of working. So I’m excited,” he said.

You can see what Brooks and his compatriots are up to at the opening for “Don’t Turn Around, Don’t Look Down” on Friday, May 18, from 5-9 p.m., at 1520 B Lytle St. on the second floor. The show will hang through June 30. 

Eli Keel is “pretty much” a Louisville native. You may have seen him around town reading poetry, short stories, dancing or acting. He’s a passionate locavore, so you may have also seen him stuffing his face at one of Louisville’s amazing restaurants. When he isn’t too busy writing short stories, he blogs at amanwalksintoablog.wordpress.com.


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