Anything goes: Hygienic Art brings art, music and film to downtown New London

New London — Artist Nike Desis took a step back from the wall in the lower level of the Hygienic Art Galleries and, after surveying her artwork, decided it was hanging at a slight tilt. An adjustment to the wires holding up the adjoining wooden frames with metal hangers dangling inside appeared to do the trick.

Desis was one of dozens of artists to arrive early to the 79 Bank St. art gallery to snag open spaces on the walls or floor in advance of Saturday evening’s opening of Hygienic Art’s 41st Annual Salon des Independants.

The annual show allows artists to bring one piece of art to display with “no judge, no jury, no fees and no censorship." Those seeking a prominent location lined up early on Saturday. Hundreds of pieces are expected to be on display.

Anything goes at the show and the Hygienic by 11 a.m. was already filling with an eclectic mix of paintings, sculptures, photos and some pieces harder to categorize, such as the blank canvas with a note duct-taped to it reading “I.O.U. — Paint Thief,” a piece titled "The Decent of Beauty in Humanity — A Study."

Desis calls her piece “Primary Prototypes,” and it wasn’t yet fully assembled. The hangers inside the frames will hold jean jackets adorned with handmade patches fashioned from vintage sweaters.

“I think the energy of this show is inspiring,” said Desis, who teaches screen printing at Spark Makerspace and is a young adult librarian.

“It’s an opportunity for people to share a message, not necessarily only the art,” she said.

Pat Byrne traveled from Westerly to find wall space for his “My 2 Warhols,” a black and white acrylic work on canvas featuring the likeness of Andy Warhol he had painted over a different painting of Warhol.

He didn’t consider the spot optimal but it was close to where he had sold a painting several years prior. Byrne has been visiting the show each year since 2003 and thinks it’s great for the city’s downtown. He’s also a big fan of the Telegraph, a record store around the corner at 19 Golden St.

Hygienic Director Cherie Powell said she expects hundreds to peruse the gallery during the opening of the Salon des Independants show. The artwork will remain on display until Feb. 8.

The show is modeled after Salon des Indépendants, or the Society of Independent Artists, a show that started in Paris in the 1880s to showcase artwork that didn’t conform to the government-sponsored annual art show. The French version of the Salon des Independants allowed artists to display work "sans jury ni recompense," or “without jury nor reward."

This year the art show expanded into a nearby building at 38 Green St. to accommodate large-format works of art. It’s called the Hygienic Grande and idea was spawned by filmmaker, musician and self-described “starving artist” Bill Dumas, who said the larger artwork would help inspire the show to get back to its more subversive roots and gain back some “urban edge.”

Dumas displayed a large piece of his own making called “For the love of God don’t push the button,” a booth with caution tape, surveillance camera and mannequin acting as a deterrent. He fully expects people will, in fact, push the button installed on the piece. A surprise is waiting.

The large-form artwork also includes a piece by Providence artist Maxwell Fertik, who unfurled an 8-foot-long paint on canvas abstract, or “gestural,” piece that represents water, one in a series he created that represent the four basic elements.

The art show is one of several events being held in the downtown over the weekend. An independent film festival was held on Friday and on Saturday there was a concert at the Crocker House ballroom and a Young Artists Expo at the Garde Gallery.

The fun continues Thursday, with the Naked Canvas body painting competition at the Crocker House ballroom, a fashion event on Jan. 31, a Mayfly Playfest on Feb.1 and a Poets Café on Feb. 7.

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