Art in a nutshell

By Brianna Wellen

A pile of peanut shells sits inside a taped -off area in The Peanut Gallery, a small gallery space at the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave. Unfinished drawings and art supplies are spread across a table filling the space, with a makeshift studio set up amid remains of the latest exhibition. Paintings and photographs on the walls range from realistic birds to abstract nudes that round out the room—setting the scene for the Peanut Gallery’s third show “Vacation.”

Kelly Reaves and Charlie Megna opened the Peanut Gallery in August for underrepresented artists in the city to showcase their work. It doubles as a studio space, and the gallery has since inspired the artists to further pursue their own art. After three shows revolving around one-word themes and countless connections with artists, Reaves and Megna are working to keep their accessible gallery and creative vision alive.

“Part of the idea behind opening [the gallery] is to have something more approachable and less pretentious, a place where people can have fun and relax,” Reaves said. “There are a lot of creative people with really good ideas, who don’t ever act on their ideas because they don’t have someone encouraging them or giving them a venue. That’s a big part of what we do.”

Reaves and Megna began using the studio space in March when they decided to get back into painting. Reaves, an editor for Chicago-based web publication Gapers Block, who also works at a bar in the city, enjoyed having a set time and place to focus on her work. She and Megna, who works full time at an art supply store, realized they could combine forces and take it to the next level by curating shows in the space, including their own work in the exhibitions.

Using Gapers Block, Facebook, Twitter and fliers, the gallery puts out calls to artists to submit work within the one-word themes of the exhibitions, such as “Colors,” “Vacation” and their next concept “Facebook.” As a new gallery, this strategy creates a networking system to find newer artists who produce art up to their standards and are fun to work with, Reaves said.

After seeing a flier for “Colors,” Edmund White took advantage of the opportunity offered by the Peanut Gallery to emerge into the art world through a new gallery. The theme fit perfectly with the color and composition he worked with in his photography, White said.

After being featured in “Colors” and “Vacation,” he sees the benefit of the gallery’s presentation style and hopes to be involved in future exhibitions.

“I like the group show mentality,” White said. “I think what’s interesting about it is it’s kind of more of a salon space [like the exhibitions in Paris] than a gallery space. When I go to the shows at the Peanut, I get a lot out of that as an artist, seeing what else was chosen and seeing who else was chosen.”

While the gallery thrives on the collaborative shows for now, Reaves and Megna said they hope to eventually have more specific conceptual shows focusing on the work of one or two artists they grow to trust after the networking phase of the exhibitions.

“It’s been nice to see people come through [who] will be willing to help later on too,” Megna said.

Other changes are on the horizons as well. Megna would like to move to a larger location outside Wicker Park, with a separate studio space so the gallery can remain open to the public all day. Other programs will be introduced, such as drawing clubs once a week for artistic collaboration and movie nights once a month to showcase local filmmakers’ work.

While balancing other jobs with running a new gallery, both admit everything came together more easily than they originally anticipated. So far, the biggest challenge they’ve faced has been spackling the gallery walls. The rest continues to fall into place.

“When I’m not feeling it, he keeps it moving,” Reaves said. “Then if he’s not, I keep it moving. “[The Peanut Gallery] is all about making connections with people, and that’s why we’ve been trying to be so open and public and [get] people involved. It just snowballs. The more people [who] get involved, the more excited people get.”

Submissions for the next show, “Facebook,” can be sent to until Nov. 15. “Facebook” will open at the Peanut Gallery, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., room 345, on Nov. 26.