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‘Come Be Free’ — Artist Aaron Fowler Summons Dreams With Exhibition At The Luminary

Jeremy D. Goodwin
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis-born artist Aaron Fowler created a series of installations based on the aspirations of his friends and family.

Mixed-media artist Aaron Fowler set out to make dreams come true with his latest exhibition.

For “N2EXISTENCE Genesis,” the St. Louis native transformed most of the space in the Luminary on Cherokee Street into a series of conceptual sculptures and installations. The raw materials he used include a basketball hoop and rows of wooden church pews he salvaged from a church in rural Missouri.

Fowler drew inspiration from the hopes and aspirations of his friends and family. His gallery installations summon into being temporary manifestations of places his collaborators would like to create permanently.

“I would not be able to make the visuals that I’ve made in the show without their dreams, and trusting me to visualize their dreams and their goals and the things they’re already doing in life and the things they want to manifest in life,” said Fowler, 33, who lives in Los Angeles. “I would never be able to make those pieces without that trust.”

aaron fowler 2.jpg
Jeremy D. Goodwin
St. Louis Public Radio
Traci Petty has her sights set on creating her own lingerie line and is forming a nonprofit organization named after her late mother.

In one corner of the gallery, he created a pop-up store for his cousin Traci Petty to sell her lingerie line, Sexy Salvage. She aspires to design her own lingerie pieces and sell them from a permanent store.

Fowler concocted an environment including a bed strewn with rose petals and an image of Petti sitting triumphantly in a giant martini glass.

“That represents me embracing my body and my womanhood. It's being on top of the world also, for all women. It’s just me loving all my flaws,” Petty said. “My body is not the same as in high school but you still have to love yourself.”

The space leaves room for racks of clothes and bags of breakfast cereal, which Petty donates to people in need. She’s forming a nonprofit called Adrienne’s Angels, named in honor of her late mother. Fowler used old car parts to create a small model of the black Dodge that Petty's mother used to drive.

Jeremy D. Goodwin
St. Louis Public Radio
Errol Isom, AKA the Trap Pastor, holds forth in his space about the 10 Trap Commandments.

Next to that space, Fowler created a small chapel — a trap church, named for the southern genre of hip-hop popularized by Gucci Mane and other artists. A portrait of the rapper is on the ceiling.

Presiding over the trap church is Errol Isom, aka the Trap Pastor. Wooden church pews sit in rows on the floor. Above the pulpit is a list of the “Ten Trap Commandments.” They include “Make your next shot your best shot” and “Always make it home.” On one wall is a group portrait of friends and family who have died.

“The Trap Pastor is all about motivating people,” Isom said. “I just give people a chance to come up and give they testimony. People talk about everything, like relationship problems. People share resources. People talk about businesses that they want to own.”

Jeremy D. Goodwin
St. Louis Public Radio
Karl Lewis tends a pop-up sneaker shop that includes artist Aaron Fowler's renderings of characters Lewis plans to include in a comic book about sneaker culture.

In the front of the gallery is Karl Lewis’ pop-up sneaker store, Lace Gods. Looking down on the sneakers is Fowler’s image of three mythological characters Lewis envisioned — sneakerhead aliens landing on Earth. Lewis, who has published a book of poetry, plans to feature the characters in a comic book about sneaker culture.

There’s also a basketball hoop and illuminated photos of sneaker-style icons Lewis admires: Allen Iverson, Deion Sanders, Kanye West and Michael Jordan.

Lewis has known Fowler since they were teenagers and said his friend realized his vision for Lace Gods expertly.

“Everything we were talking about, we were able to make it work somehow. He did a really good job of bringing what was in my head out into existence,” Lewis said. “He wants to basically give people space and help them as much as he can to take their dreams or vision, whatever they have going on, to build it up as much as he can do it.”

Fowler’s original plan was to put on an exhibition at the Luminary timed to Mother’s Day last year, but the coronavirus pandemic put that show on hold. Instead he used the gallery as a studio space, slowly working out ideas as the vision for “N2EXISTENCE Genesis” came into view. The visit turned into a nearly yearlong residency. The show is presented by the Luminary in collaboration with STLMade.

The first phase of the show came when Fowler put his installations in a nearby storefront on Cherokee Street, one at a time for about a month each. Now they’re together in the same space, styled as clouds in the sky where dreams take shape.

The show includes a large sculpture of a keyboard, made from wooden siding Fowler’s friend was removing from his house. It’s a reference to the hours Fowler spent playing a keyboard in the empty gallery last year, searching for inspiration.

aaron fowler 4.jpg
Jeremy D. Goodwin
St. Louis Public Radio
While searching for inspiration, Aaron Fowler spent many hours playing keyboard in the empty gallery. He memorialized that experience with a sculpture made from wooden paneling removed from a friend's house.

Part of his motive is to attract people who might not typically feel comfortable in an art gallery. The Luminary is booking appointments for visits because of COVID-19 safety protocols, but on a recent afternoon at least one person entered spontaneously after spotting the sneakers from the sidewalk outside.

Fowler said this exhibition is a leap forward for his work. It requires visitors to be present for it to truly be complete, he said, and thus it’s always changing.

“It’s a bridge between art and community. In every community you have shoe stores, you have a church, you have some kind of store for women,” Fowler said. “So it kind of becomes a bridge because it’s still an art show and an art space, but it’s also a space where you can feel like you. Come play basketball. Come be free.”

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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