Unless you're one of the lucky or intrepid few who have managed to make a full-time job out of your creative pursuits, you can probably relate to life getting in the way of your art. It's not easy for everyone to set aside the time to focus on their craft, but a local group of friends has managed to become an impressively prolific — and popular — gang of artists, while juggling careers, families, and school.
For more than two years, the nearly 20 artists involved in the Dudes Night Out group have made it a point to keep art in their lives simply by hanging out, by always keeping another show on the horizon, and by encouraging one another through down-to-earth camaraderie instead of competition. In anticipation of this week's DNO takeover of 1975 Gallery, City spoke with two of the original Dudes about the group's origins, their accomplishments, and their future.
The social art group was the brainchild of artist Aaron Humby, who asked a group of friends to participate in a "Heroes vs. Villains" themed art show he was planning to hold at Record Archive in 2013. "He had all of these artist friends who worked in all different media, from different backgrounds, and he wanted to put a show on to pull them all together," says "painter of awkward situations," Joe Guy Allard.
A combination of the theme's draw and the group's pooled audience made the event a hit. And the artists had so much fun that the group's shows became a recurrent thing — a new DNO show opened almost every month. The original group of 16 people came to call themselves "Dudes Night Out."
Over the past two years, some people have dropped out, and the group has picked up others. "It's like one of those long-running TV shows, where by the time a couple of seasons have rolled around, it's a whole different cast," Allard says.
"But there are still a few of the key characters," says John Magnus Champlin, the friendly, red-bearded fella well known to Rochesterians simply as Magnus. "About half of the original artists are still involved."
Today, the core group includes 18 people, and the group's age range spans almost 20 years, from the youngest, who is in her mid-20's, to the oldest, who is in his early-40's.
Along with Humby, Allard, and Magnus, the current DNO roster includes Katherine Arisumi, Gia Conti, Eugene Commodore, Randy Duncan, Michael Hanlon, Nate Hodge, Jes Karakashian, Mary Moore, Ben Moriconi, John Perry, Steve Resig, Matt Roberts, John Schlia, Matthew Vimislik, and Colleen Virdi.
Yes, you read some women's names in that roll call. Though the name sounds like a bros-only outing, female artists are entirely welcome to join the group.
DNO is one part productivity-insurance for these busy artists, and one part social club. The bubbling enthusiasm of just two Dudes is infectious; a room full of them is a seriously buoyant gathering.
Smaller groups get together frequently — Matt Roberts hosts a weekly game night, which might or might not turn into a meeting night to discuss upcoming shows. Allard says the group has a great sense of humor, and that goofing tangents are inevitable. "But we'll get these spurts of productivity," he says. "We'll get very excited about a topic, and then everyone's brain kicks in with the ideas flowing."
Before shows, the group convenes at the host venue to discuss ideas about how to fill or transform the space. "Our shows are pretty much an experience in themselves, not just a collection of art," Magnus says. Past themes have included Cryptozoology, Kaiju (timed for the opening of "Godzilla"), and the group's 2nd anniversary show was Rochester-themed: "We Art Roc."
The Dudes are fairly leaderless, or rather, have a system of shifting leadership. Different members suggest themes that interest them, "Then that person will kind of run lead on that show, and find the venue," Allard says. "And then there will be a smaller group that will band together with that person to get it all together. Then all of the other artists will contribute work."
The small breakout group dynamic works well, and the entire group usually gets together only for the receptions.
DNO has about 20 shows under its belt, not counting shows organized by other people in which DNO team members have participated. "Seven or eight Dudes are usually in the 'Boys vs. Girls' show" hosted annually, simultaneously, by 1975 Gallery and The Yards, Magnus says. "We're scattered everywhere. We're slowly immersing ourselves and taking over the world."
The receptions for DNO shows are proven social events with wide appeal. "My favorite moment was at the end of the first year, at the anniversary show, I was trying to get pictures of the crowd," Allard says, but he couldn't get far enough back to get everyone in the shot. "So I took this huge video. It was wall-to-wall people.
That event, hosted by Roc Brewing, was so packed that the venue couldn't hold everyone — the sidewalk was almost as packed as the interior. The food truck booked for the opening sold out of its goodies, and the beer brewed specifically for the occasion — that was meant to remain on sale for a few weeks — sold out in four hours.
"We have some really awesome fans — we have people who go to every show," Magnus says.
The appeal comes down to a really simple formula. "Our themes are awesome, and there's some nostalgia that kicks in hardcore," Magnus says. And the receptions are "not like a typical art opening, but a down-to-earth party" with approachable, fun people.
The dudes are social media masters, with an active Instagram account and two Facebook groups: an internal group, which is more for planning purposes, and the public group, which has a very humble open-studio sort of vibe. "It's all process pics, like, 'Here's something half-done, here's some mistakes I've made, here's what I've wasted time on, here I am passed out ... you can see the whole process, everybody's so open," Allard says. "So once you come to the show, it's seeing the culmination of the progression you've been seeing."
Needless to say, with 18 people working in different styles and media, the artwork is very diverse. "There's sculptors, photographers, painters, graphic designers ... and then sometimes the painters sculpt ... everybody has a different background," Allard says. "Katherine is a medical illustrator, so her stuff is very technical, and then my stuff is just big green round bulbs for heads. It doesn't make any sense — they'd never be combined otherwise."
Roc Brewing Co. is a sort of home base to the Dudes -- the owners have asked DNO to be their house artists, but the dudes spread the love to AMOR (Art Museum of Rochester, on Monroe Avenue), The Rochester Brainery, and Gallery Salon.
"Now we have our first honest-to-goodness gallery show," Magnus says of the upcoming DNO takeover of 1975 Gallery's white walls. For this show, 1975 founder Erich Lehman has given over control entirely to the Dudes.
"We're going to celebrate. This is not going to be a stand-back-and-look-at-it" kind of show, Magnus says. "A lot of the stuff is interactive, please touch ... don't lick, but please touch."
After the dust settles from this ambitious, quickie endeavor, you might think the Dudes have earned themselves a break. Nah. They'll immediately refocus on completing plans and artworks for the Cult Classics show, to be held a bit later in June at Roc Brewing. And Magnus has alluded to a "Back to the Future" themed show in the works for this fall.
The group has no firm goals for the future, but say they are taking their successful experiment more seriously, and would like to keep this momentum going. The late summer and early fall will bring solo shows meant to highlight specific members, beginning with shows for Colleen Virdi and Jes Karakashian.
Their built-in shared audience and mutual promotional efforts nearly guarantees the success of the individuals. Magnus says for each these "super solo shows," "we're taking all of the energy of everyone working on individual pieces, and helping raise each one of us up."