tonight, just below Slowtrain Music, is a brand new art gallery that
is sure to give any local concert goer a feeling of
Signed & Numbered takes the conventional poster or flyer and shows it off for the work of art is truly is. Bringing back memories of concerts gone by in the Utah area from both local and national artists. And what better place to be than right below a record store. I got a chance to talk to very talented artist and owner, Leia Bell. As well as snap some photos of the new place before it opens up to the general public.
Gavin: Hey Leia, tell us a little about yourself.
Leia: I was born and raised in Tennessee with one older brother, and mom and a dad. I moved to Utah about 10 years ago, and now I think of Salt Lake as my home. I have an awesome family of my own now too—3 sons and my better half, Phil. I spend a lot of time designing and printing posters.
Gavin: I read a little on your bio, where did the decision come from to move from Tennessee to Utah?
Leia: I wanted to try something new, it didn’t matter much to me where. I’d never actually been to Utah, but the guy I was with at the time had friends that moved here for snowboarding and skiing, so it sounded pretty nice. He got a job here and I started my art degree at the U.
Gavin: You went to the U for the majority of your artistic classes, what was that like?
Leia: At first it was hard because I’d already taken Foundation art classes at the University of Tennessee, but my credits didn’t transfer. It added an extra year to my schooling, but I’m probably a better artist because of it. I didn’t get outstanding grades in drawing because I am not the best at rendering things accurately. I opted for an emphasis in printmaking because I love the process, and it wasn’t as much about being able to draw well.
Gavin: When you got out, you started doing posters for Kilby Court back when it was originally owned by Phil. How did that conversation come about for you to do those?
Leia: One of my roommates at the time saw Phil at the Coffee Garden and started chatting him up about Kilby because we’d just gone there for an Art Night organized by Richard Visick (comic book artist who now lives in Seattle). My roommate invited Phil to our house, and when he came over he saw some of my prints on the wall. We talked the whole night and instantly became friends. I wanted to help him out because I loved Kilby, so I offered to make flyers for the shows. I made Xeroxed ones at first, but Phil soon insisted that I screenprint them. He even built me a studio on the street.
Gavin: What did the bands at the time think of the work you did for them? Any negative feedback or were they all glad to have some artistic promotion?
Leia: I have been very lucky to have never had negative feedback (knocks on wood). For the first few years I was printing posters I gave all of them away at the shows, to the bands and the fans. I felt like it was a nice gesture for these indie bands to get a souvenir from their show at our little venue, to show our appreciation of them (since we couldn’t always pay them in lots of money). The bands were always very positive and grateful, with no "rock star attitude" (Kilby’s unofficial motto). I sold my first poster in 2003 to Pat Eddington, art teacher at Highland High. He came by Kilby and wanted to buy posters. I tried to give them to him, but he insisted on paying—it was weird for me! It was the first time I thought that maybe I could make a career out of being an artist. The next turning point came soon after that when I attended my first "Flatstock" (semi-annual contemporary rock poster convention) at SXSW in Austin 2003. The authors of the book The Art of Modern Rock were there and they made an offer to buy every poster I brought with me. It was exciting to say the least!
Gavin: What was it like for you when he sold Kilby?
Leia: I knew it was time, but it was a bit sad for me… mostly because I’m not sure if our boys will remember it when they’re older. We named our youngest son Oslo Kilby, so maybe one day he’ll ask us where he got his name. Phil had been talking about closing it for a while because he spent so much time working at it, and yet it wasn’t enough money to support a family of five. We were so happy that Will and Lance took over—it needed young, gung-ho folks with no kids to carry on the legacy. I am just so happy that it didn’t have to shut down all together. I think it is a wonderful, positive thing for Salt Lake City.
Gavin: Tell us about Signed & Numbered.
Leia: Signed & Numbered is my little poster gallery/store on Broadway. The name refers to the technical term collectors use when talking about a limited edition run of prints. In printmaking, the artist signs their name and then numbers the prints in sequence (1/100, 2/100, etc). This lets a collector know which print they have and how many others there are like it out there. I have met so many amazing artists from all over the world by attending Flatstock conventions and in the online poster community, Gigposters.com, I wanted to bring their work to Salt Lake to get more people excited about attainable art. Many people may not be able to spend money on an original painting, but with posters, one can still own a handmade piece of art that is totally affordable. Along with gig posters and art prints, the store will also features art and music magazines, limited edition stationery, clothing, comics and other handmade collectibles.
Gavin: Just curious, why did you set up in Slowtrain's basement and not set up your own shop?
Leia: Phil and I had originally been trying to get our own space on 3rd South, but nothing was available. I knew that was the area of town I wanted to be in, and I love the energy and dynamic of that street. Then when Anna and Chris of Slowtrain offered their basement to us, we realized it would be a perfect fit. Music and Posters go hand-in-hand, so it seemed like a no-brainer for us.
Gavin: What's your opinion on the local art scene here in Utah, both good and bad?
Leia: Salt Lake has so much potential. I loved seeing what happened with the 337 Project—it made us feel like a big city in terms of cutting edge/underground art. It’s a great time to be an artist because with the internet, you don’t have to be in L.A. or New York showing in a fancy gallery to get your work noticed. This may create more issues though—over saturation. This is already happening with underground music because anyone can create a Myspace account for their band and get "heard" I suppose. It seems like bands are trying new tactics and gimmicks to stand out from the pack.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to improve it?
Leia: The mentality of "I bought this in New York" meaning, "it must be better" needs to change. People should be proud of their local art scene and want to own work by local artists.
Gavin: Are there any local artists you recommend people go check out?
Off the top of my head: Potter Press, Trent Call, Sri Whipple, Cein
Watson, Saltgrass Printmakers, Fletcher Booth, Dana Costello,
Furturtle Printworks, Erik Dewaal, Lenka Konopasek, Tessa
Gavin: Touching base on music a little, what's your take on the local scene?
Leia: I think it’s thriving—there are so many bands I can’t keep up!
Gavin: What are some bands you think people should be checking out?
Leia: This is a hard one for me to answer, I don't like to talk much about music… All I know is, almost every time I go over to Kilby and a local band is playing, I like what I hear! I think some of my favorites of the past few years have been TaughtMe, Vile Blue Shades, Redd Tape, The Brobecks and Neon Trees.
Gavin: Aside from the new store, what can we expect from you the rest of the year?
Leia: I have a solo show in West Virginia (of all places) this fall, and a custom toy in another show there that opens May 16th. In July I’ll be Chicago with a booth at the Pitchfork festival, and (at this point) I also plan on having a booth at the Bumbershoot festival in Seattle in September. I might also be doing another show in the U.K. either late this year or early in 2009.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug while we're here?
Leia: I think you got it covered!