A cozy block of Read Street in Mount Vernon has a new neighbor in a storefront last occupied by a liquor store. The spirits emanating from the space now are of a more ethereal nature.
Randall Scott Projects, a commercial gallery, relocated this fall from Washington. The inaugural exhibit, "James Busby: Eyelid Movies," which closes this coming Saturday, showcases bold, highly textured paintings by the South Carolina-born artist.
"I wanted a space that was workable and affordable," Scott says. "D.C. is so expensive. It required a lot more capital than I had. I looked at several places [in Baltimore], and this spot seemed like the slice of neighborhood that is necessary for me. I like it a lot. There's an interesting demographic."
The move also allows for pedestrians to notice the newcomer.
That's a change for Scott, 51, who operated two venues in Washington during the past eight years, each on the second floor of a building.
"I liked looking out," he says, "but you have to be on a ground floor to get people to walk through. I've had more pedestrian traffic here than I did on H Street [N.E.], where thousands passed by ever day."
Not that the gallery is dependent on walk-in business. Scott, whose emphasis is on "emerging and midcareer international artists" in a variety of media, has a substantial client base. Much of it is out of the area and was developed at art fairs he participated in around the country.
That helps explain how, of the 11 sizable Busby paintings in the current show, priced from $8,500 to $20,000, eight were sold within a few days of the November opening. Only one buyer was local.
Scott's gallery expands the small circle of the city's major dealers in contemporary art, which includes Goya Contemporary in Hampden and, especially, C. Grimaldis Gallery in Mount Vernon. The latter, launched by Constantine Grimaldis in 1977, has long been the premier commercial art gallery in Baltimore.
Asked about the arrival of nearby Randall Scott Projects, Grimaldis said in an email: "Welcome. The more galleries in town, the better for the health of the arts community."
The new venue gives Scott three times the space he had in his last Washington gallery, which was above a veterinarian's office.
On Read Street, he has room to run two shows at once. He'll do that next month with an exhibit of mystical, Scriptural text-based drawings by New York-based artist Meg Hitchcock in the roughly 800-square-foot front room; and the geometric works of Baltimore artist Timothy Horjus in an intimate space of about 300 square feet in the back
The Horjus show came about serendipitously — the artist walked into the gallery at the moment Scott was planning the gallery's next exhibit. But Scott did not set up shop here to promote local work.
"I don't limit myself to one group, one style of artists or one location of artists," he says. "For me to grow as a dealer and collector, I have to look elsewhere — at New York, Europe, Asia. Every artist should be looking, too. That said, a good art dealer makes himself aware of good painters in the area. And it makes sense to show their work."
The Los Angeles-born Scott has followed that philosophy since opening his first Washington gallery in 2006 (that one was above a restaurant in the Logan Circle area).
"I could find all these artists I really liked all over the world and they were only a FedEx away," he says. "And I would mix them with some local artists in shows. I represented [Baltimore artist] Cara Ober and others at that gallery."
In 2009, Scott left Washington and opened a gallery in New York.
"I wanted to see what it was like there," he says. "It was a good move. I spent two years up there. But my family stayed in Gaithersburg."
The combination of traveling back and forth, high rent and the Great Recession took a toll. Scott returned to D.C. after a couple of years and eventually opened the H Street gallery. But the economics weren't working out the way he had hoped. Baltimore started looking better and better.
"I really like the fact that there are so many artists here and they're always going through new ideas," Scott says. "It reminds me a lot of what it was like when I was in Los Angeles in the 1990s, when artists were opening their own spaces."
Scott opened one, too, and got some lessons in DIY culture that would serve him well. He talked his way into a vacant office space in chic Santa Monica where he set up a gallery. The only drawback was a lack of electricity. When the sun went down, he ran extension cords from any outlet he could find nearby. Patrons got used to being in the dark when he overloaded circuits.
On Read Street, Scott has only had to spruce up existing walls and add another one to get started; the original tin ceiling adds a vintage touch.
The Busby exhibit fills out the place vibrantly and provides a strong calling card for Randall Scott Projects.
"James is one of my favorite artists," Scott says. "He created all brand-new work for this space. His work is very process-oriented, using paint and gesso, covered in graphite and polished out. It's layer upon layer upon layer. There is a sculptural feel to the pieces. Lines go off in unexpected directions. It's wonderfully ordered chaos."
The paintings reveal more and more details the longer and closer you look. If their titles do not provide obvious clues to their inner meaning ("Flashed Junk Mind," "Zero Orchestra," "Dial 7"), their vitality and visceral quality communicate easily and exert a strong pull.
The new gallery may do the same in the months ahead as word spreads.
"I like being that space you discover," Scott says. "I have confidence people will find me."
If you go
"James Busby: Eyelid Movies" continues Wednesday through Saturday at Randall Scott Projects, 216 W. Read St. Call 410-617-0091 or go to randallscottprojects.com.