Whoever coined the phrase “two's company, three's a crowd” never met the nomadic Southern California art collective Sanctuary 143. The equilateral triangle of artist founders—married couple Sean and Stacy Kelley and Jeff Faeth—have turned that old notion squarely on its head.
You wouldn't know it from looking at them. The Kelleys are fetchingly fresh-scrubbed, optimism twinkling in their bright young eyes. Faeth, almost two decades their elder, is an eccentric veteran of the punk-rock era. But despite their superficial differences, these three share a desire to shape a different kind of art scene in San Diego and beyond: one where the art takes front stage amid all the frippery.
On Sept. 27, Sanctuary 143 will host the San Diego edition of “Reinventing the Wheel” (the show made its Orange County debut back in February). Held at The Logan, a 7,000-square-foot industrial warehouse space donated for the event by design and marketing firm Miriello Grafico, which owns the building, the show focuses on the wheel in its many forms. It will feature restored vintage bikes and hand-built motor and pedal bikes, along with works by 10 additional artists.
Reinventing the wheel, it turns out, isn't always such a literal concept. For Faeth, it's been an ongoing process that began on June 15, 1985.
“I started in the music industry,” he explains. “I knew from the time I was a kid that I wanted to be an artist. I would do murals in exchange for studio time. So on that day, I decided that I was going to paint on canvases and be responsible for this stuff and put it on walls. Whenever I wrote a song, it really had to mean something. My art had to mean something, too.”
Faeth, whose paintings have a strong graphic influence, cites the Dadaists as inspiration and even goes so far as to call himself a modern-day descendent.
“They were political,” he explains enthusiastically. “Their art meant something. I really like that they'd set up in storefronts. Their art couldn't get into galleries because it wasn't accepted.”
“A really good example of Jeff being a modern-day Dadaist is this reinventing-the-wheel thing,” Sean Kelley adds.
“We sprung the concept on him, and a couple of weeks later he had this concept that he was working on. We thought, ‘How is this related?' So I asked him, and Jeff—an old-school craftsman and not an avid computer user—explained that he plugged ‘reinventing the wheel' into Google and took the first thing that came up. And what was it? Some old university page about quantum theory. It was serendipitous.”
The Kelleys, from North County, witty and whip-smart themselves, speak of Faeth, who lives in Orange County, in an almost reverent tone. It's like he's their art-world mentor. Truthfully, it's hard not to get riled up about art when Faeth launches into a long discourse with unbridled passion.
“I want to inspire people,” Faeth says. “What do I hear people complain about at art shows? Number one, they can't find the artist. And if they do, the artist won't explain the work. So I do the opposite of that. If you're just sitting in the room, I'm gonna go up to you and ask if I can explain my work. If you're a painter and you ask me how I did something, I'm gonna tell you exactly how.”
“We want to reinvent the art show,” says Stacy Kelley. “We don't want it to be a typical gallery opening. We want each person to have a unique experience.”
A unique experience, she adds, is a bump in the road that can spin a life in a new direction. To push the metaphor, Kelley reinvented her wheel during an education-abroad program. Though she'd studied business in college, a semester of art and architecture classes in Austria encouraged her to find a career that merged her newfound passion with her established (and more marketable) skills.
She, like her co-founders, “daylights” to get by but burns the well-past-midnight oil collaborating with Sanctuary 143. “This is what it's all about,” she says. “This is what we work for. When the three of us started doing shows together, I got so inspired. We're modern-day storytellers, bringing our ideas about literature, politics and life into our art.”
Her work primarily involves textiles (follow the red thread to see her “Reinventing” installation), while her husband, who studied ceramic sculpture in college, says he is drawn to building things with his hands.
“I've never been totally inspired by anything two-dimensional,” Sean Kelley explains. “I've always made my work three-dimensional even if it at first seems like I'm building a flat surface.”
For “Reinventing,” he's working with paper fast-food wrappers. “My pieces are all about industrialized food and what we're doing with the wheel—as in using the car as a dining room.”
He says he and his wife have been reading Michael Pollan, the author of the brilliant Omnivore's Dilemma, and getting really into the slow-food movement and growing organic produce at home. Their interest in sustainability seeps into every aspect of their lives, including the show at The Logan. The massive “stages” that showcase the bikes, for example, are art-shipping crates previously headed for the landfill.
“What ‘Reinventing the Wheel' is really about,'” Sean Kelley says, “is thinking about different ways of dealing with your life on a daily basis.”
Reinventing the Wheel will be on view from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, at The Logan, 1660 Logan Ave. in Barrio Logan. www.sanctuary143.com.