Every month ArtsATL spotlights one of the many, many galleries in metro Atlanta. Look for this column the last week of every month — even as COVID-19 keeps us apart. Suggestions for future columns welcome.
If serendipity were a person, it could certainly be Shawn Vinson, the owner/partner of Different Trains Gallery in Decatur. Maybe it was the Polaroid he got for his eighth birthday, and still has. Maybe it was the art wholesaler he met in a Florida karate class who gave him a job, or maybe it was the challenge fueled by a landlord’s reprimand, “Why should artists be treated any different?” And just maybe it was marrying painter Ruth Franklin some 26 years ago. For Vinson, 50, the message is always the same, “Art is essential.”
Also part of Vinson’s vision: Why have one space when you can have three? Vinson opened Different Trains Gallery in 2017 with business partner Sarah Garvin. Its main space is in Decatur’s Old Depot District. DTG2 opened in 2018 inside Decatur’s Cornerstone Bank, showcasing Georgia–based artist groups as well as student and teacher work.
Just before the Covid–19 shelter-in-place mandate came down, Vinson was ready to open a gallery and performance space called The Waadi ATL in Inman Park. The 2,600–square–foot space features 14–foot ceilings and a 14,000–square–foot courtyard with two shipping containers, one of which is now a bar. It’ll host “big and daring art,” Vinson says, including performance, protest and experimental art, plus music, spoken word and jazz nights.
SPECIALTY: Fine art by local and international midcareer and established painters, printmakers and sculptural artists. Think genteel with a twist. The gallery represents such artists as Atlanta’s Luzene Hill, an Eastern Band of Cherokee multimedia artist; Nashville’s Harry Underwood, a self-taught outsider artist who does narrative texts and writings; U.K. printmaking rock star Chris Pig; and Kosmo Vinyl, a New York-based Londoner (and former manager of the Clash), whose Cisco Kid vs. Donald Trump exhibition began as Instagram art in 2016.
LOCATIONS, ETC.: The main gallery is at 432 E. Howard Ave. in Decatur. The Cornerstone Bank satellite is at 100 Clairemont Ave. by the Decatur Square. The Waadi is at 26 Waddell St. N.E. in Atlanta’s Inman Park neighborhood, two blocks from the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, the Krog Street Market and Whitespace Gallery. Follow Different Trains and The Waddi on Instagram, as well.
WHAT’S BEHIND THE NAMES? Franklin often listens to the music of American composer Steve Reich when she’s painting or drawing, including the song “Different Trains,” a three-movement piece for string quartet (Vinson likes the Kronos Quartet’s version better, but it wasn’t a deal breaker). Train tracks and trains roll by the gallery, and the name also refers to “different trains of thought.” The Waddi (“valley” in Arabic) was named by the building’s owner, mixed–media artist Scot “Eben” Dunn. In a past life, it was a studio for Dunn and Fahamu Pecou. Outside, on a wall near the doors, are acrylic paint thumb prints by so–called inner–circle guests. (Vinson’s print is just below Killer Mike’s.)
MORE ON VINSON: He was a high–school rock–band photographer/designer/stage–lighting guy who couldn’t afford to study photography in college. He did real estate and eventually became an art sales rep traveling throughout the Southeast. He opened Decatur’s first contemporary gallery, Vinson Gallery (1998–2008), which was known for its British prints. Vinson also rents and licenses artwork to the film industry, including the TV movie Mean Girls 2. His life, he says, is good, with family, food, music, cat Sugar Ray . . . and Dalai, the best gallery dog in history who hangs out at the Waddi.
NEXT: Vinson is planning an exhibition and spoken–word performance by artist, activist and ambassador Halim Flowers at The Waadi in September. It will include work by documentary photographer Jim Alexander and paintings by the late Purvis Young. Different Trains plans to return in 2021 with a solo show by British musician and painter Wreckless Eric.
QUOTE: “Right behind family/friends, food, clothing and shelter, there’s art. There’s always a great art scene behind great neighborhoods, and artists can help make communities better. Just look at the great murals going up protesting through art. No one gets hurt.”
In times like these, when Covid–19 separates us by necessity, ArtsATL is needed more than ever. Please consider a donation so we can continue to highlight Atlanta’s creative community.