Uptown Art House

Twelve Twenty One: Mensa A. Kondo Exhibition by Maxwell Young

Artist Mensa A. Kondo outside of Uptown Art House.  Photograph by Maxwell Young

Artist Mensa A. Kondo outside of Uptown Art House.  Photograph by Maxwell Young

There's a skateboard with colorful paint blotches lying on the concrete floor of Uptown Art House.  Mensa A. Kondo, who's currently working on his installation for his exhibition Twelve Twenty One, finishes his clementine and kick-pushes over to his mural.  Vivid blue arms and hands, some featuring six fingers, rip through a green chasm that exposes the viewer to a hell-ish dimension laden with gazing eyeballs.  The piece stretches across an entire wall of the Art House evoking images from the 2002 film The Scorpion King, in which Rick O'Connell duels with Mathayus (played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) over the abyss of the Underworld and the thousands of demon souls. 

Kondo has been a seriously trained artist since high school where he attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest Washington, D.C.  He reminisces about his old art teachers Mr. Harris and Mr. Easton with Jabari, another Duke Ellington alumnus and woodwind musician while we talk under the night sky.  "I first started my style at Duke.  We all went to Duke, most of us kids in the art scene here," says Kondo.

Twelve Twenty One is Kondo's fifth solo exhibition.  It is an amalgamation of works new and old as well as a "manifestation" of himself as an artist.  "There's pieces in the exhibit that I've had since 2011," he says.  "One was my first really big piece and it's an oil painting.  I don't really like oil painting that much anymore."

Sonics will be provided during the exhibition by local artists including *Discipline 99, Shaka, Luke Stewart with Trae the Drummer, and some familiar names from the Sounds of D.C. playlist like Sir E.U. with RobSmokesBands, Mr. Daywalker, Aquatic Gardner, St. Clair Castro and Dreamcast.  This is also a family affair, as Mensa's sister, Meche Korrect, is hosting the show.

The following is a snippet of the conversation I had with Kondo during his installation process:

MY: It seems like music is a complimentary aspect to your process.  What kind of music do you like to listen to?

MK: I've been listening to a lot of old shit, like some old psychedelic bands.  I like that sound--like 'y'all on hella drugs,' but it varies.  I had a Death Grips period, they're wild; they're on some cult shit, so I can't be fucking with them.  I would listen to them if I had to fight a whole set of people...Pink Floyd...Bad Brains forever.  I've seen them perform four times.  I got to see them here and in New York a few times.  The [mosh] pit was epic.

Kondo takes a moment to appreciate his Bad Brains tattoo.

Kondo takes a moment to appreciate his Bad Brains tattoo.

MY: Who influenced you as an artist?

MK: There's a lot of people.  It even goes beyond artists.  I like comic artists.  Geof Darrow and Frank Miller--he did Sin City.  I like Miller's art, but I didn't like his writing.

MK: I do have some of Basquiat's things, though.

MY: You have some Basquiat pieces?

MK: No, things, like a jacket of his--my friend gave it to me.  I did find a little bit of hair in it and I threw it away.  I have some photos of him, too.

MY: Where else have you shown your work?

MK: I showed at the Warhol...

MY: Hold up.  You know I'm from Pittsburgh.

MK: I needed to find some more thrift stores up that way.  But yea, I won third place in this print-making competition.  That was the show I was most impressed about.  I've put on a few shows in D.C. by myself.  I rented out a spot on U St. one time, it was $100/day.  That was around 2012.  Now it's a barbershop.  I had something at Art Under Presser when they were still open on Georgia Avenue, and I had something at Union Arts when they were still open.  I was in Philly recently, too.

MY: What's your favorite medium?

MK: I like print-making the most.  You can make the print and just leave it.  I love painting, too, but you can make multiple prints and print on t-shirts.  It's dope. 

Twelve Twenty One

June 24th-30th

Uptown Art House

3412 Connecticut Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20008

Uptown Art House by Maxwell Young

The corner building on Connecticut Avenue in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C. used to be a restaurant/bar space.  First, it was called 4P's--an Irish pub--until the patio was adorned with red awnings and the name was changed to Uptown Tap House in 2012.  Now, the building has a large 'LEASE ME' poster hanging on the exterior wall. Passersby peer through the side windows or poke their heads through the door, curious to see if a third restaurant plans to make its residence there.

In fact, however, the space is fairly open.  The tables and chairs, the wood floors, and even the ceiling tiles that embellished the old restaurant location are gone.  Left behind is an industrial shell that houses a modified Conestoga wagon harkening back to images of the Oregon Trail, graffiti art, and artifacts from protests like the People's Climate March and other activist organizations. Reclaimed and repurposed, the former Uptown Tap House is now the home of Uptown Art House, a community space for art, activism, and cultural engagement.

The empty canvas is reminiscent of the Factory--Andy Warhol's midtown Manhattan studio from 1962 to 1984.  The Pittsburgh-born artist's fifth floor space was the creative epicenter of his multifaceted work.  It was the backdrop to his screen tests that made his band of "superstars" like Edie Sedgwick and Brigid Berlin famous.  It was the recording studio for Nico and Lou Reed's The Velvet Underground.  And it was a manufacturing plant where Warhol churned out print after print.  Uptown Art House, much like the Factory, will be a space for like-minded creatives to congregate and collaborate in various art disciplines.

Advance to the 20 minute mark to watch Sebi Medina-Tayac and Jamal Gray talk about the mission of Uptown Art House.

Envisioned and directed by Sebi Medina-Tayac and Jamal Gray, Uptown Art House was created in resistance to the roles that gentrification and corporate acquisitions play in the displacement of local businesses, residents, and culture. 

"It's the missing organ in the city's creative body," says Medina-Tayac.  "We've had so many spaces shut down in D.C. because of gentrification that to go to an already gentrified neighborhood [Cleveland Park] as people of color, or as a native people is really meaningful. We need a hub."

Functioning since late April, Uptown Art House has already played host to some local programming.  As I previously mentioned, protest signs for the People's Climate March that happened on the National Mall earlier this spring were made in the space, and activist groups in coordination with the District's LGBTQ alliance were also in the space this past week preparing for the Pride Parade.  Rob Stokes of Medium Rare and the CMPVTR CLVB collective also organized an event 'Pittsburgh 2 D.C.,' in which Jack Swing, The Bird Hour, and Rob Smokes came together for a Steel City jam session.

Uptown Art House is subsidized by the Green Faith non-profit, which inspires, educates, and mobilizes people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership.  The community-run space is open every day of the week this summer, except Tuesdays.  On Mondays, visitors can expect instructional workshops on drawing, painting, and even talks on wellness and meditation practices.  Wednesdays will continue to be open house days for anyone and everyone to hang out in the space, make art, and listen to some music by local acts, while Thursdays and Fridays are set aside for organizations to rent the space and use to their discretion.  The Art House will also be open during the hours of the Cleveland Park Farmers Market on Saturday mornings as a youthful environment for kids to paint and create while their parents shop.

"In D.C., spaces are extremely expensive and scarce.  To find a space where anything community- based can happen that's not being run by the government is hard," says Gray.

On  Saturday, June 17th from 5-8pm, Travis Houze will be hosting a free viewing of his documentary Sounds of Summer, which highlights the past and present of DMV music culture. There will be a coinciding Q&A panel with the founder of One Love Massive and the CEO of B.A.M.M. Entertainment Molly Ruland and Cortez Santana respectively, along with Jamal Gray. 

We will be hosting a viewing of @travishouze "Sounds of Summer " Saturday June 17th 5-8pm

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Keep your eyes peeled to InTheRough for more programming by the Uptown Art House until their web infrastructure is established. 

Uptown Art House

3412 Connecticut Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20008