A red cape tied around her neck and a cowgirl hat tilted atop her head, Ame Parsley holds up a small stack of Lucha Libre masks-colorful, comic-hero-like masks used in staged wrestling matches in Mexico.
"Lucha mask, Lucha mask, who needs a Lucha mask?" Parsley asks while walking through the line of about two dozen bikers ready to start the "Award Winning Architectural Lucha Libre Bar Bike Tour" she helped put together.
The takers slip on the masks and the tour begins. A quick stop at a wedge building on Adams Avenue is immediately followed by a pit stop at Cheers down the street. The beer and liquor pumps through the bikers' veins and things start getting fun. A man dressed in a Girl Scout uniform, introducing himself as Big Phil, points at Parsley and asks, "So what kind of dirt do you want to know? I've got all kinds." He laughs and talks about a previous "bar and bike tour" he went on with Parsley and friends in New Orleans, "We paraded through the French Quarter with a jazz band and a police escort and ended up at Ame and Lloyd's wedding."
After several more stops at uptown bars, a few glances at pedestrian bridges and buildings in Hillcrest, a chaotic ride round and round the roundabout in Balboa Park and an impromptu Lucha Libre wresting match on a patch of grass near Sixth and Laurel, this particular tour didn't end in a wedding. Instead, bike wheels stopped spinning at 2421 India St. in Little Italy for a housewarming party in the home of Parsley and her husband, Lloyd Russell, an award-winning architect who designed and built the place. The beautifully bold, three-story, mixed-use structure houses the couple's loft on the top floors and Parsley's small studio space and new art gallery, R3 Gallery, on the bottom.
When Parsley's not having a blast dressed as a luchadora leading bike tours, she takes on the pretty serious role of chief preparator at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and, as of May, runs R3 Gallery with the help of her coworker and business partner, Dustin Gilmore. The space, a smallish, triangular room with high ceilings and concrete and brick covering almost every inch, wasn't originally intended to be an art gallery, but after the building was finished, Parsley couldn't see it as anything but.
"It's actually perfect," she says. "That was the most exciting thing for me, standing in here going, "We can't make a bike shop out of this. We can't make a floral shop out of this.' It was just so great and engaging as an art gallery; and it's surprising, too, because typically you're dealing with white walls."
The bare, multicolored brick and concrete walls of R3 are unusual for a gallery, but they do seem to emphasize and complement the artwork. Parsley, an artist herself who grew up in San Diego and graduated with a degree in visual arts from UCSD, has a knack for picking artists whose work fits the space. The first show, New Old West, a solo exhibition of cowboy and horse paintings by artist J.W. Caldwell, looked right at home galloping across the rustic concrete background. And in a different manner, the third show, Stratiform, an exhibition of lustrous paintings in resin by local artist Aren Skalman, played up the gallery's sleek, modern design.
The current show, Sticky, by Los Angeles artist Joe Girandola, looks nice and cozy tucked into the awkward angles of R3, as well. The exhibition of duct-tape-on-canvas works and what the artists calls "reconstructed found fabrications"-guns made from old broken glasses and a gun with a barrel that turns into a horse hoof sculpted from cigarette filters-looks as if it was made for the gallery. The tape looks smooth and seamless against the rough textured walls.
Parsley deals with the aesthetics of the work she shows at R3, but she's just as concerned with the conceptual side of the art, or simply the story behind a particular piece. She pointed toward Girandola's "I Drop Bombs" hanging on the wall beside her.
"It's a C-130 military plane," Parsley explains, "and the food products they're parachuting were loaves of bread. What they didn't realize is that when you drop bread from that altitude it freezes as it falls. This food source, this thing that was supposed to help people, actually ended up killing them. It's insane."
She nodded toward another piece, Girandola's "Hot Air!," a duct-tape-on-paper work that's part of his First in Flight series. "Instead of testing the hot air balloon with humans on board, they sent chickens up," Parsley explains. "Joe says that's where the term "Don't be a chicken' comes from."
Parsley, who admits she went into the gallery business backwards by opening the gallery first and writing the business plan as she goes, has been holding openings every two months. She wants to get it down to once a month so she can continue to fill the gallery's walls with both local and national artists.
"I just love helping out people who make really good artwork," Parsley says with a shrug.
R3 Gallery, 2421 India St. in Little Italy, is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays or by appointment. www.r3gallery.com.