Jimmy Rouse is an artist. Always has been. Always will be. "I've painted my whole life," he says.
For 15 years, he has also owned Louie's Book Store Cafe on North Charles Street. During all that time, he has organized an art show at the cafe every six weeks, typically three artists and 50 or 60 works per show. Eight shows a year, about 120 shows in all, thousands of works of art, 200 different artists at least. In all that time, he's never had a show of his own art. He's put a painting in the annual show of employees' work; that's it.
Now he's giving up Louie's, gradually, so he can devote more time to his first love, painting. And he's celebrating this new freedom with a show -- but not at Louie's. At Resurgam, a small but attractive South Baltimore gallery run by two artists he has shown at Louie's, Ruth Channing and Ruth Pettus.
It's not just because he's shown their art that they're showing his. Channing calls him "very serious" about his art, and Pettus agrees. "He's obviously very committed to painting," she says.
But both artists are among the many in Baltimore who have benefited from his unflagging commitment to local artists. "Louie's has been a wonderful venue for showing art," says Channing. "Everybody from out of town is taken there. People from Paris have bought my work. Musicians from New York coming to play at the Meyerhoff take something back with them."
"As far as providing an avenue for people to buy local artists at a reasonable price, Louie's is unex- celled," says Al Meyers, a local collector who has assembled some 300 works, many of them bought from Rouse's shows.
Noelle Zeltzman is another artist who has shown often at Louie's, thanks to Rouse. "I had my first show at Louie's about 10 years ago, and I've had one just about every year since then," she says. "He's one of the most influential people in my life as far as continuing to do art and have shows and to actually have people see and even buy the work who aren't your friends or family. He's wonderful; we all love him and wish him well."
It's an irony of sorts that Rouse's dedication to running Louie's and putting on its shows for a long time kept him from pursuing his own art.
"When I first opened Louie's, I was working 60 to 80 hours a week," he says. And even later, when he had some free time, he wanted to spend it painting and not planning a show of his own work. "Organizing your own show and framing the work is very time-consuming," he says. "And I didn't feel good about showing unless I was producing at a good rate, and that was pretty hard to do as long as I was running Louie's."
His commitment was always strong. "The fundamental reason for opening Louie's was that so many artists of all kinds -- music, art, dance -- are in the restaurant business because they can adapt their schedules to what they're doing. And they're desperate for a sympathetic place to work. We now have 90-plus employees, half of whom are in the arts in some form, including a lot of writers."
The art shows were another way of satisfying his desire to help artists. "There are a lot of artists working in Baltimore -- it's economically good, space is cheap -- but there's not much market and only a few galleries. When we started, we were one of the few cafes in Baltimore showing art; since then there has been a proliferation."
For the past two years Rouse has been selling the business gradually to a Baltimore couple, Shani Mack and Truman Fincham Jr. Part of the deal with them, Rouse says, is to continue the commitment to art shows as well as the live music that Louie's presents. For now, Rouse continues to plan the shows at Louie's, but he expects to bring in others over time to organize them, so he can eventually become a full-time painter.
The show at Resurgam, he thinks, is a better way of announcing that intention than a show of his work at Louie's would have been. "I thought it would be nice to start re-entering the art world in another place than Louie's, because I'm so associated with Louie's," he says.
A representational artist, he's showing paintings that include figure studies, landscapes and still lifes, plus a few prints. He's having a good show, with eight paintings and four prints having sold so far, and another week to go.
One of the buyers was Al Meyers, who says of Rouse's art, "They're just lovely works ... very enjoyable, which is something that is rare nowadays."
'Jimmy Rouse: Paintings and Woodcuts'
Where: Resurgam Gallery, 910 S. Charles St.
When: Noon to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, through Sunday
Call: (410) 962-0513
Pub Date: 12/23/96