When BASIC approached Johnny Tran almost 10 years ago about doing a weekly art event at the East Village bar and pizza joint, he was a little tentative. He admits that at the time, he didn't know a ton of local artists and most of his experience had been as a DJ. And while BASIC has since become a staple for pizza lovers and ballpark pre-gamers, Tran remembers things being very different when the place first opened.
"When we started, BASIC was the only place on the block. There wasn't much of anything else," Tran says. "There wasn't even a sidewalk. There was like a dirt patch outside."
Still, Tran agreed to coordinate a semi-weekly art show at the bar. Initially, he tapped some friends in the local graffiti scene to come out for the nights. For more than two years, he says he almost never took a night off and steadily saw an uptick in attendance. The event grew in both size and reputation (the addition of a sidewalk and Petco Park didn't hurt) and the event has been going strong for a decade. They've done everything from Ninja Turtle-themed art shows (complete with martial arts demonstrations) to Star Wars-style blowouts, all while showing off work from hundreds of local and regional artists. The bar has expanded the weekly art show format over the years and Tran says the event eventually led him to open Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla and TPG2 in Hillcrest.
"I pretty much started my entire career there," Tran says. "I think it's really important that the community supports these kinds of events. There aren't enough opportunities for artists to show despite the fact that the art scene has grown significantly."
Tran and Thumbprint, along with VISUAL Art Supply, will all be part of a free, all-day "Big Art Night" event on Tuesday, Feb. 23, from noon to midnight, that celebrates the 10th anniversary of the art nights. The event will include live art, workshops, music performances, drink specials and more. And even though Tran has since handed over BASIC curatorial duties to Thumbprint co-owner Paul Ecdao, he says he'll never forget his roots.
"I still go out to every one we do," says Tran. "I'm usually the one putting the art up."