Printer and illustrator Thomas Dean makes his mark in unusual spaces

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Screenprint artist Thomas Dean's work derives imaginative imagery from generic sources. (Photo by John Robinson) Screenprint artist Thomas Dean's work derives imaginative imagery from generic sources. (Photo by John Robinson)

Mention screen printing in Charlottesville, and one of the first names you’ll hear is Thomas Dean. The musician and artist is a prolific screen printer and illustrator, churning out T-shirts, prints, album covers, and gig posters, often for the many bands he’s played in or collaborated with. For local indie rock fans, it’s rare to attend a concert without spotting a few of his popular T-shirts among the audience.

Dean works in a variety of styles. His hand-drawn work is heavy with hair, foliage, eyelids, clouds, and fur, and the distinction between those elements is often ambiguous. He’s also worked heavily with collage, employing generic or bland source material (often taken from old Life magazines) cut up and imaginatively assembled into chunky, colorful blocks reminiscent of the alien machinery Jack Kirby used to draw in old Fantastic Four comics. His last exhibition was in a record store (at Melody Supreme in February) and consisted entirely of T-shirts­—each emblazoned with the textless image of a musician, the defining canon of the tastes of a 21st century omnivore: David Byrne, Françoise Hardy, Al Green, Thurston Moore, Chan Marshall, Public Enemy, Neil Young, the Ronettes, Morrisey, and Jonny Marr.

Dean’s current show is also in an unusual space—The Honeycomb, a hair salon located on Market Street in the former home of the Avocado Pit bookstore. The Honeycomb was opened in June by Claibourne Reppert (winner of Best Hairstylist in 2011’s Best of C-VILLE poll) who plans to host monthly art shows in the salon’s back room, a sunken gallery space painted sunshine yellow.

“I feel so lucky that I have this space, but I only needed part of it. I wanted to give some of it back to people who need a place to show their art,” said Reppert, who does not take a commission on artwork sold from the gallery. “A lot of the galleries Downtown can feel kind of strict, or really expensive,” she said, and hopes that the Honeycomb can become “a friendly space for DIY, low-key artists.”

The exhibition of Thomas Dean’s work opened last Friday, and will remain on display through August, culminating in a live silkscreening workshop in the afternoon on Saturday, August 25. For the event, Dean is bringing in a group of his fellow screen printers, including Matt Leech, Travis Robertson, and Marie Landragin. “It’s mostly an excuse to hang out with other artists whose work I like, and who I like to hang out with,” said Dean. Nonetheless, attendees who bring a t-shirt (or a tote bag or other print-ready item) will have a chance to get one free pull from the artists’ screens; the printers will accept donations and have pre-made prints for sale.

Reppert plans to provide hot dogs and refreshments, to lend a cook-out party atmosphere to the event. “Doing stuff like this helps to create a culture, the same sort of people that I’m looking for as clientele,” she said. “Plus, there’s the people who would never ordinarily go to a smaller art show, who get tricked into looking at one while they’re waiting for their haircut.”

At the hop
The 1970s saw no shortage of nostalgia for the 1950s, as those who had grown up during that era started to make their mark on popular culture. One of the earliest and most notable examples was ’73’s American Graffiti, the second feature by a young filmmaker named George Lucas. Though many of the film’s techniques have now become clichés, the semi-autobiographical Graffiti has a charm and a soul missing from Lucas’ later works.

The high point of the film is unquestionably the soundtrack, a wall-to-wall parade of classic hits from pre-British Invasion American rock radio, featuring the inimitable utterances of legendary “border blaster” disc jockey Wolfman Jack (who also makes a cameo appearance in the film).

The Paramount will screen American Graffiti at 7pm on Wednesday and in addition to the film, attendees and passers-by will be treated to a doo-wop sing-a-long led by Joan Fenton.
Fenton is a prominent local business owner, but those close to her also know she’s a passionate musician. Fenton explained, “I go to West Virginia every summer to teach blues guitar” at the Augusta Heritage Workshop, where she’s taught for 30 years. “We always end with a big doo-wop sing-a-long on the last night, so I thought it would be fun to start doing that over here.”

The past two summers, Fenton has led a downtown sing-a-long during the summer solstice. For the third year, she decided to coordinate the event with the Paramount, whose August movie series will again focus on classic music films. Fenton is rehearsing with a pianist and a core group of singers, but will invite the crowd to join in, and in past years they’ve drawn crowds of over 50 participants. “Usually when we go to an event Downtown, it’s to see someone else entertain us,” Fenton said. “But this time, we’re all going to do it together.”
Tickets for the screening are $6 (or $4 for youths), and the Charlottesville Derby Dames will serve as ticket-takers.

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