DULUTH — In an outwardly inconspicuous one-car garage, Duluth's Matt Oman has created an art gallery with dozens of hand-selected works by regional landscape painters, jewelry designers and collage artists.
Everything here is purposeful, from the first view of a plant hanging slightly off-center against a fresh gallery wall — Oman hired a contractor to create the exhibit space, which includes track lighting — to the strawberry sticker stuck to a deer head that you have to look hard to find.
The showcase, Species of Art, is available for public viewing from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. on Saturdays in July and August at his home at 1316 Foster Ave. in Duluth.
“I think that good art — or special art — is going to make you feel something,” he said. “When art is at its best, it captures you and makes you feel things. It’s not always pleasant, but even unpleasant feelings can spark action and get your thoughts going and make you feel more alive.”
Oman, 40, is an artist, though he doesn't have a background in it. It's only in the past decade, he said, that he has really begun to engage with works. Among his personal projects is his own home, 560 square feet that Oman turned into a singular piece of art, in addition to a functional living space. Oman, self-described as having obsessive-compulsive tendencies, said it was a friend who pointed out that the way he was arranging his space was artistic.
“I never thought of it as art,” Oman recalled.
During a 2014 visit to his home, Oman offered a tour of the house and its abstract and engaging details: a Kleenex box selected purposefully for its color, a penny affixed to a table, a screwdriver over a door, a plant over the sink that had died but remained in place.
At the time, it was an ongoing pursuit: bringing his home to its artistic completion.
“I won’t make a move unless it’s very much sure in my mind that it’s the right thing to do,” he said at the time. “There’s not too much trial and error. I won’t make a move until I’ve spent a lot of time in the area. It’s a lot of feels, if I get a feel.
“Sometimes it’s very spontaneous. But once a move is made, it tends to stay.”
A red blanket draped over a couch, a leather necklace dangling at forehead level in a doorway, Alpine skis hung parallel with the front door.
Oman was in the early stages of creating the gallery in 2014 and in the summers since has occasionally opened the garage to visitors. This year, he is featuring, among his own pieces, works by other regional artists. Ed Newman, a writer and painter and figure in the local Bob Dylan community, has his own garage full of art.
"Mine is more informal, and I haven't had shows in my studio, really," he said. "People use their garages for different things. A lot of people fill it with clutter. This is a better excuse for not putting your car in the garage."
Oman visited Newman's garage and selected about nine paintings, including abstract images, a Bob Dylan tribute, and a Trumpian figure drawn within the lines of a map of Texas.
"He chose things that he responded to," Newman said. "That was fun to see. He responded to some things that were emotional, but he also responded to things that were unconventional.
"His work is unconventional," he added.
Some of Oman's work is textured collage, a place where a cotton swab shares space with the remains of a candlestick. He adds pompoms and purposeful strokes of paint. He scrawls words into the wood of the frames. And just because it's hanging doesn't mean it's done.
Take, for instance, a collage of images by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) that Oman is showing. Oman was pulled in by a piece by the French artist shown in a large gallery. but he has since learned about Gauguin’s pedophilia. Rather than remove the piece in his show, Oman has artfully edited it, graffiti style, to call him out.
“A selfish and sad man,” is scrawled in paint over the glass frame.
Oman has created a lot of art in recent history, and he created the garage space as a way to showcase it. Much like his home, he was very specific about what went where and the way energy flowed through the space. When it was completed, he had 101 pieces in place.
"To me, it became a singular piece of art," he said.
He has since catalogued all of it and put it away with the hopes of selling it to a gallery.
When that was over, he said, he wanted something completely different. He connected with the featured artists, in some cases, via Instagram, to build this exhibition.
"When a piece found its place, it got to be more and more exciting," he said.
So far, the gallery has had a bit of traffic, but he's hoping for more in the upcoming weeks. Some of the art is for sale. Oman enjoys art that sucks a person in — as the Peyton birth scene did for him. A viewer might want to walk away. But stay a bit longer, he said.
"My hope is that a person falls in love with a piece and that they find a spot in their house and have a lifetime of engagement with it," he said.