The London Art Gallery Represents
One of Oakland’s native sons carves out a new home for fine art in the Jack London district.
Kelvin Curry has a keen understanding of the black arts movement in and around the Bay Area.
Photo by Catherine Brozena
Amid the array of warehouses, small businesses, corner cafes, and sleek condominium complexes of Oakland’s Jack London district, a new arts gem glimmers. It may not look like much to the average passerby—a simple storefront art gallery. But if Kelvin Curry has his way, The London will add a permanent fine art presence to the district.
“Everywhere you look around here, you see new development and revitalization. As an artist and an entrepreneur, I want to tap into that,” Curry said. “I want to make sure that artists who have been here get proper exposure. If one of us doesn’t do something about that, we get overlooked.”
Curry, who effortlessly enchants guests with his stories of Oakland’s history, studied fine arts at San Jose State University and has been making and exhibiting art all his life. His family spawned a succession of African-American-owned small businesses throughout Oakland. “I had two uncles who owned produce shops. My mom opened a very successful salon on the west side. I always had a spirit of entrepreneurship in me.”
Curry has a keen understanding of the arts, particularly the black arts movement in and around the Bay Area. His interest in locating his gallery in the Jack London district was inspired by Samuel Frederick who owned Samuel’s Gallery in what was formerly Jack London Village, along the waterfront. After a 20-year run, Frederick closed the gallery in 2003.
“He helped a lot of us artists get started,” Curry said. “He was one of the few African-American art dealers on the West Coast at the time. Even back then, I had a desire to have a gallery in this area because I knew it would eventually be a prime location when we got the spillover from San Francisco. The kinds of folks who gravitate here tend to be cultured, but gritty. I like that.”
Curry hopes that The London will become an extension of galleries in the East Bay that highlight black and minority artists as well as other local art creators. He hopes to do some shows that also embrace the shifting demographics around him. “Once we get established in the community, get a pulse of things here and what people want to see, I want the art to reflect that too.”
The London is currently showing works from several local artists: pen and ink portraits of jazz musicians by Jason Austin, abstract expressionist paintings from Bill Dallas, photography by Gene Dominique, and acid paintings on brass by Stephen Bruce. Curry has a few of his own pieces—figurative abstract drawings in soft pastels—that hang near the entrance. They have an unmistakable stained-glass quality to them.
“My grandmother was really involved in Evergreen Baptist Church,” Curry explained. “She’d set me next to her on Sundays. I’d hear the choir and look at the windows and the sun shining. As my work evolved, it all came full circle to those experiences.”
Full circle indeed. With the opening of The London, Curry brings his long and winding relationship with Oakland and with the black and local arts scene to its natural culmination. He said wistfully, “I was born right down the street at Highland Hospital. Now I’m a 53-year-old, middle-aged man. I probably won’t have any children. The art that I cultivate and the art that I leave here is my legacy.”
The London, 360 Madison St., is currently open by appointment only by calling 510-978-8379.
Published online on March 8, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.