“Last year was one of the best and worst years of my life,” says John Wesley (or Jewel Wesley as he is known in artistic circles), founder of the Seattle BIPOC Organic Food Bank. We last caught up with the self-described “creative nomad” in July after the pandemic derailed the opening of his gallery community space in spring 2020.
The solution? Wesley turned to create a (still thriving) board that would benefit his community last year. He and his business partner were delighted to welcome the public to their brand new premises last April; then the world came to a standstill. As the city got through the pandemic, the venue in south Seattle (located between the Central District and Beacon Hill) became something of a private gallery, with one or two people walking through at the same time, perhaps to buy art. Public events were obviously not an option.
This is set to change this Thursday with the opening reception for the “Share The Love” Gallery & Pop-Up by Tokyo artist BAKENEKO in the City of Light Gallery. Guests are asked to report in advance so the team can pay attention to the numbers to make sure everyone is comfortable with the spacing.
Wesley states that the City of Light “will focus on presenting a diverse range of voices in Seattle and around the world, particularly POC.” As someone who has friends from all walks of life, he doesn’t want to limit himself to certain groups: “Art comes first,” he emphasizes.
However, it is a reality that there aren’t many spaces where color artists can have their work centered. “I want to promote the greatest artists in the world.” Wesley makes it clear that he not only rates “the greatest” in terms of talent, but also refers to those who engage in their community and work to deliver uplifting and empowering messages WHO these artists are – in addition to what they create.
He is incredibly excited about the first show with artist-designer Bakeneko, which he met “by chance and by chance” on the Internet and which he was able to meet when he came to the States shortly before the end of the world. Wesley has a great respect for Japanese culture, which he believes leads the world in design and art.
As a creator and gallery owner, Wesley interprets Bakeneko’s exhibition as one that carries an important message. “At a time of isolation,” he says, “humanity has collapsed. People have forgotten how to interact because so much has been done digitally. Also, a lot of energy has been put into protesting hate. It’s important to hate criticize. You have to generate the energy you want. We have to share more love. “
He praises the artist’s “funny characters” and loves that Bakeneko uses every medium an audience can reach – be it murals, sculptures, fashion, art on skate decks, cubes and so on. “I love his energy and this message,” says Wesley.
Bakenako also has a charming history as he met his girlfriend (a fashion designer / artist and now a brand manager) Aviana DiPasquale in Hong Kong during the shutdown. After just being introduced, the couple decided to return to Tokyo together. in a year they created this brand.
“I love elevating and empowering young artists … those with skills and messages of hope,” says Wesley.
In discussing the gallery name, Wesley reflects on some of the lessons that have come more into focus over the past year. He admits he felt “pretty depressed for a minute” after the art gallery common room stalled last April. Then he started the non-profit organization and was finally happy when his father died.
“It was a very difficult year, but it was also a year in which I met great, beautiful people.” He sees the importance of this balance and the inevitable duality and also believes that – as cliché as it sounds – someone must choose to change the world. “I can’t control the blackout in life. But I can contribute as much light as possible. “
“In a way, it felt like we weren’t living in cities anymore,” says Wesley of the past year of the pandemic. “We were on the Internet” Nevertheless, he is impressed by how like-minded people around the world find each other again and again – “People who are drawn to your energy”.
In essence, the gallery’s name pays homage to people who want to design and create. “That sounds like utopia,” he admits. It’s a nod to people who haven’t given up on the world. “If you believe that and live by it, you are a citizen.”
Wesley looks forward to seeing if, as things reopen and distractions re-emerge, people will remain as dedicated to mutual aid and aid to their neighbors as they did last year. For him, it’s not something that he can simply overlook.
“Until we have created the utopia in question,” he admits, “I can’t part with my art gallery, my clothing line or whatever I create from it… I can’t stop thinking about people I know or not know, go out to eat. “
Wesley reports that the Tafel and its strong community of volunteers are constantly evolving and operating successfully. In his opinion, the next phase is to turn this into a long-term, sustainable organization with full-time employees (around six people) that is not dependent on Wesley’s commitment. “I want to find out how it would work without me.”
As a creative nomad, Wesley’s mission is to create things – perhaps around the world – that he can start and then move on once he’s gone. “That is the proof that an idea is bigger than you.”
Life will always be “hot and cold,” says Wesley. And although he knows there will be despair, pain and pain, he also strives to bring as much “hope and magic and love” to the world as possible.
We’ll watch with awe, eager to see what he does next.