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A pair of blue light bulbs twinkling from a second-floor window beckoned the art crowd through last Saturday night’s storm into a squat brick building on a quiet stretch of Florida Avenue near Vermont Avenue NW. The folks braving the rough weather and leaving a sea of soaked umbrellas—black, of course—turned up for the inaugural show at Decatur Blue, a studio and gallery above a former auto body shop. And the five artists sharing the space—Jose Ruiz, Javier Cuellar, Ryan Hackett, Stoff Smulson, and Champ Taylor—made it worth their while: They offered a four-piece jazz band, plenty of good art, and impossibly long submarine sandwiches courtesy of Taylor’s mom.
The group’s members—all in their 20s, some transplants from places such as Colombia or Jacksonville, Fla.—assembled in January, when Ruiz stumbled upon the too-big-for-one space while shopping for a studio. Rather than pass on the atelier of his dreams, Ruiz called up his friends and went communal.
“We’ve got the same MO,” Taylor explains. “[We know] what’s valuable and what’s a waste of time.” That goes for their art, as well: Although four are painters working in mixed media on canvas or wood, and Smulson is a photographer, their works share a pared-down, citified vibe. When they hold informal critiques of each other’s work, Taylor likens it to “an ideal school or university situation.”
Saturday night’s inaugural show was all about them. For their next shows, the fivesome will open the space to local and even international work—if an exchange with an up-and-coming French gallery goes through.
Smulson hustled over to two circles of weathered bricks stationed in the middle of the gallery’s front room. Although they look like cast-off Blair Witch props, he explained that the bricks are from a town house across the street recently demolished by the city. A couple of nights earlier, Smulson, Ruiz, and Hackett had scurried to the site under cover of darkness, returning with armfuls of masonry. “The circles just happened,” Smulson says. The group calls the piece Regeneration because it’s about art’s restorative power. “We’re taking a lot of ideas from the neighborhood,” Ruiz says.
That includes the gallery’s name, which the guys borrowed from the African-American Civil War Memorial around the corner. When they were surveying the thousands of names etched onto the memorial, they fixated on Decatur Blue, a soldier who served in the 41st Infantry.—Jessica Dawson
Decatur Blue, 919 Florida Ave. NW, is open Saturdays noon to 5, and by appointment. Call (202) 518-8969 for details.