Thrilla in Manila

Sweet Theory Baking Co.

by Jack Diablo
Longtime local art advocate Tom Pennington and enterprising nightlife entrepreneur Christy Frazier have teamed up to bring a new kind of art show to Jacksonville. Dubbed Versus Gallery and branded with boxing-related imagery, the project is the culmination of years worth of ideas and planning on behalf of its creators. Pennington and Frazier are both avid art collectors and have discussed the idea of opening an art gallery since they met back when Frazier owned and operated the Art Bar in Riverside.
Versus Gallery takes its name from a concept that Pennington came up with. Taking its cues from boxing press conferences, Tom wanted to pit some of his favorite artist friends against one another to foster friendly competition and generate hype. “It’s all about hype,” Tom explains.
The first show featured local superstars Mark George and Ronnie Land facing off in a 5 Points Theatre Building office suite during the October First Fridays. At the time the plan was to have the shows in no particular permanent location but wherever a venue could be procured. “Galleries get boring,” says Pennington. If the bottlenecked hallway was any indication, the show was a smashing success.
Since then Versus Gallery has found its home in the little yellow house at 2000 Forbes Street behind Grassroots Natural Food Market. Currently, the gallery is serving as studio space for both Pennington and Frazier.
Versus Gallery’s next show is entitled “Thrilla in Manila,” an obvious nod to the final famous 1975 Ali / Frazier rivalry bout, and will debut at Birdie’s during March’s First Fridays in Five Points. Rather than have two individual artists compete, this show’s name is more of a play on words. Artists and creatives of all kinds have been asked to make 50 identical submissions that will be stuffed into manila envelopes and distributed to select individuals. Pennington’s novel idea is to create a “magazine” that puts out regular “issues” containing editions of the art received. Tom has already received over 30 submissions ranging from an exclusive EP recorded just for the project, stickers, hand-screened and photographic prints, and even friendship bracelets.
Pennington plans to give away copies to important figures in the arts community, reserving a limited number that will be competed for the show. Those hungry enough for a copy will be expected to perform dares, show off stupid human tricks and otherwise prove just how far they’ll go for a coveted copy. The event itself and the participation of the community is the actual art show according to Tom. To him, engaging the community is as much an integral part of the show as the art created for it.
Versus’ next show is already in the works. Tom doesn’t want to reveal who it features just yet, but the boxing-related theme will focus on “the champ.” It will be the first show hosted in the gallery’s permanent location.
Thrilla in Manila debuts Friday, March 4th at Birdie’s in Five Points. For more information including sneak peaks at submissions, like Versus Gallery on Facebook.

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