THE IDAHO STATESMAN, DECEMBER 3, 2009

Perry Allen leaves the Basement Gallery in Downtown Boise
The final First Thursday of a man who launched many Boise art careers over the past decade will be bittersweet.

BY DANA OLAND - doland@idahostatesman.com
Published: 12/03/09

 

The works of art on the Basement Gallery's walls this month represent a full circle, says Perry Allen, who hand-picked it all for his last show.

Eclectic in both media and genre are John Padlo's flying saucer landscapes and Kelly Knopp's dark and slightly demented skeleton characters.

They speak to what this gallery has always been about: showcasing new Boise artists who are a little - or a lot - out of the mainstream.

"I wanted to end with new people, which has always been the idea behind the gallery: Putting something on the walls that's a little different," Allen said. "I wanted to go out fresh like I came in."

A mild-mannered nice guy who says things like "gee whiz" and "shucks," Allen always has a smile at the ready and chooses art for its integrity, he said.

He's leaving the gallery business so he can return to making art and - wait for it - move to Hawaii, if all goes well, and build a life with his girlfriend Laurie Ridle.

MAKING THE DEAL

Allen had the gallery on the market for a while with an agent, but it was serendipity that led to its sale to Jane Brumfield, who walked in one afternoon a few months ago.

"It was during a Bill Carman exhibit," Allen said. "She fell in love with his work and bought a few pieces."

She wandered around and bought a few more, and then a few others.

"I went up to her and said, 'Geez, lady, why don't you buy the whole gallery?' "

Without blinking, she asked if it was for sale and they started negotiating a price.

"The beauty of it is, it's not as much as I would be getting in better times, but it wasn't about making a big profit. It never was. It was about passing it on to some other owners who would keep it going," he said.

OFF THE MAINSTREAM

Since Basement Gallery opened in 1998, it has been a home to some of Boise's edgier, funkier artists.

"I was one of those artists, too. We couldn't go to Brown's or one of the others at that time that did what I call 'safe art,' you know, landscapes and stuff. So, this was going to be a house for 'unsafe art,' " Allen said.

It started as an artists co-op and was meant to be a stepping stone to bigger things, but he ended up with many established artists, such as John Killmaster, Tarmo Watia and Carman.

He understood where artists were coming from. He didn't ask for exclusive contracts, so artists could get their work out there. He taught young artists the ropes and nurtured their careers the best he could, said painter and cartoonist Mike Flinn.

"I think Perry really likes artists. He enjoys talking to us," Flinn said. "He's my best friend in the art world. I'm going to miss him terribly. I'm not sure I'm going to fit with anyone else."

GRASS-ROOTS GALLERY

In 1980, Allen moved to Boise from Nampa to study art at Boise State. Then, the Idanha was a happening hotel and night spot with a fine-dining restaurant and a swinging bar, where an underage Allen could slip in and listen to jazz great Gene Harris play piano.

"A buddy of mine used to be the chauffeur/bell boy. He had a skeleton key and took me on a tour of the building. I couldn't believe how neat it was, and I just fell in love," Allen said. "I thought back then that this would be a great place for a gallery. Of course, it was a total pipe dream then."

It was almost 20 years before local artist Rick Friesen learned about an open space in the basement and called Allen.

Maharishi, the leader of the transcendental meditation movement, had purchased the Idanha and planned to turn it into a study center and refurbished health-retreat hotel.

But he wanted to cut a new entrance on the east side of the building to align with his beliefs. Because the hotel is a historic landmark, that was impossible. In the meantime, the renovations stalled - and that became a boon to Boise's artists.

Rooms that were too far gone to book were given to artists as studio space.

"We called it the Idanha shuffle," Allen said.

The deal was, the artist would fix a room up and then move into another dilapidated room and start all over.

All Allen and Friesen had to do was carry art in from upstairs.

When the gallery showed Mark Bangerter's Hopper-esque portraits, Bangerter had lived in the Idanha for almost 20 years.

GETTING SERIOUS

In 2000, developer Ken Howell bought the Idanha to convert it to apartments. That forced the gallery to grow up, Allen said.

"It changed the whole formula. First, it displaced about 20 artists, so it wasn't just about working on a shoestring and putting whatever art we could find on the walls. It became more serious for me," he said.

But not for Friesen, who bowed out of the deal.

Allen found himself running the gallery solo and began building a stable of solid artists who have stayed loyal to Allen's vision.

Carman, an award-winning illustrator and Boise State art professor, has been with him since he came to Boise in 1999.

"One of the first things I did when I got here was go around to all the galleries, and I liked Perry's space. It seemed to fit my work really well," Carman said.

What kept Carman in the Basement were Allen's ethics and integrity, he said.

"His concern is for the artist and the art, rather than the money. The business has never been his concern," Carman said. "He's never afraid to show work he knew wasn't going to be popular, because it interested him."

Carman, known for imaginative, story-driven and surreal illustrations, shows his work in Los Angeles and New York. He will have an exhibit in Brumfield's gallery in England in September.

The gallery will go on as the Basement Gallery. The new owners will keep the name, but it won't be the same.

"The gallery will evolve slowly and not change overnight," said Brumfield, who lives part time in Boise. "I'm very open to meeting all the artists who currently show with Perry. Although my approach might be different, I do not think our tastes are that dissimilar, so I expect to be interested in these artists. I'm going to wait and see what happens."

Dana Oland: 377-6442

 

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