The new gallery’s May Day exhibition focuses on the role of work in society
The founders of the new Sevastopol Rabbit Hole Art Gallery and Studios featured work exploring comfort and conflict in an art exhibition earlier this month.
On Sunday, May 1, friends and visitors strolled through the Gravenstein Highway studio to browse and shop among the assemblage of drawings, paintings and digital collages by Western artists Melissa Jones and Sam Roloff.
The art exhibition is one of the first events held at the gallery since it opened in March this year.
Roloff founded the gallery in 2022, and together he and Jones have worked hard to reshape the place. Jones became the first artist to exhibit her work alongside Roloff in an exhibition there.
“We’re pretty new, so we’re really trying to get our name out there,” Roloff said of the “diamond in the rough” gallery. He shared that they intentionally lowered the price of their art on May 1 so that it would be more affordable.
The date commemorates both ancient European holidays surrounding the start of summer and International Workers’ Day. Although the show was not advertised as such, several pieces offered commentary on issues of working in the two artists’ distinct styles.
Jones teaches art at Windsor High School and creates popular art that speaks to the struggle to ground oneself in the richness of ordinary life amidst a demanding and chaotic capitalist society.
She painted a maypole dance that blended the meanings of the two holidays – the change of seasons and the celebration of workers. The coin depicts people writhing in the air around a flagpole alongside messages such as “WORK”, “SHOP NOW” and “PAY UP”. At the base of the pole stands a girl with a sign reading “STRIKE FOR THE CLIMATE”.
As a worker herself, Jones said the daily rush of hyper-productivity and consumerism keeps people from slowing down to address other major issues. “We have to change the shit we do, but we’re totally whirling in survival,” she said.
Other pieces of her art explore working-class life, motherhood, feminism, and the value of housework and other tasks traditionally considered “women’s work.”
“About 10 years ago I started drawing as a meditative practice and tried to be at peace with my life as an ordinary life, as a teacher and a mother, and somehow learn to let my ego resting, and wrestling with the ego of that,” she said. “I would just draw from my ordinary life experience, and the designs are really simple and often they don’t have a lot of layers and depth. But I just look at one thing and say, ‘That. This. That’s what I’m watching today.
Several digital collages and paintings by Roloff, a full-time artist and brother of Matthew Roloff from the reality TV show Small people, big world, explored the power dynamics and conflicts present in the modern world.
Roloff’s art often emphasizes the power of ordinary people coming together as a collective against institutional forces.
In one of these rooms, a battle takes place near a European-style cafe. Police battle with a group of demonstrators dressed in yellow vests emblematic of the French working class protest movement, and ordinary people appearing as sheep and ballerinas – docile in the eyes of the government, but beautiful in their movement.
“It looks like an army, and it shows that people have more power than they think because the pictures don’t lie,” he commented.
Roloff said that because the mainstream media doesn’t tell the story of organized labor in its entirety, “there’s a certain responsibility for the artist to kind of help elevate things and bring them into the people’s salons, if you will.”
He noted that while many countries celebrate the international labor movement on May Day, the United States has its Labor Day holiday in September, “and it has practically turned into a barbecue weekend.” Roloff called it an effective, movement-suffocating way to remove the holiday context.
Jones and Roloff share a disinterest in creating another gallery defined by exclusivity and big-budget art. They priced their works at around $50 to $1,500, with the exception of one piece costing around $2,000 at most, Roloff said.
“I firmly believe that if someone wants my art, I want them to have it. I don’t want them to feel like, ‘Ooh, I can’t have it.’ It’s complicated because you don’t want to undervalue your work and people think you’re undervaluing your work,” Jones said.
Many visitors who stopped by on May Day were artists themselves. Santa Rosa’s Kristen Tucker picked up a limited edition print of Roloff on Occidental.
“[It was] really cool and kind of spoke to the craziness of Occidental and the randomness you’ll find there,” Tucker said, adding that the coin had a remarkably modest price tag.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “The one piece I was looking at was around $400…Typically a piece like this is around $1400…So it’s nice to have an approachable, approachable artist who just wants to be a part of the community.”
Mark Grieve, an artist from Marin County, said of looking at Roloff’s digital art, “I kinda feel like I’m looking at a surreal version of the news.”
He described Jones’ art as raw and bold, with “a wonderful honesty about her work which you can see in the way she uses her color”.
For more of Jones’ work, follow @jones.drawings on Instagram. Roloff said his paintings will be in the next season of Small people, big world on TLC, which comes out this month.
the Rabbit Hole Art Gallery is open most days from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Those planning to visit can try their luck on the Gravenstein Sud highway in Sevastopol or call at (503) 975-5256 make an appointment.