By Avery Ketcherside
Doja Cat, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift, and Ketanji Brown Jackson sit together, adorned in glitter and framed in neon.
To the left stands Birmingham native Angela Davis, and to the right, Maya Angelou.
It’s an intimidating company to walk in on, but Natalie Zoghby’s paintings are as powerful as they are playful.
“As whole, there are so few women represented in art in a position of power that’s not at the subject of someone’s gaze. I kind of paint and position my paintings in a way that’s meant to represent more traditional male poses and portraits, but with use of bright colors and glitter. I feel like glitter and bright colors really soften and bring some fun and excitement to the work that a lot of these women do,” said Zoghby.
Zoghby is the most recent local artist featured in the Grand Bohemian Mountain Brook Art Gallery.
The Grand Bohemian Mountain Brook Art Gallery is one of six galleries operated by the luxury hospitality brand, the Kessler Collection. In October 2015, the Kessler Collection erected the Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook across from the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. The neighboring flora and fauna’s influence can be seen throughout the hotel’s interior with whimsical pieces that complement its surroundings creating an aesthetic that is truly bohemian.
The brand’s curated look stems from the founder’s own love of the arts. Richard Kessler initially selected paintings from his private collection to be displayed in Grand Bohemians, but after guests continuously asked to purchase pieces, Kessler determined Grand Bohemians needed on-site art galleries.
As an experienced art collector, Kessler has developed friendships with many of the artists shown in Grand Bohemian galleries, including French-born plein air painter, Jean Claude Roy. Roy travels by minivan to whatever outdoor site he uses as his studio and inspiration for that day. His ethereal landscape paintings are exclusives for all Grand Bohemian galleries.
It’s a unique position to be able to showcase international and local talent within one gallery, but it’s “mutually beneficial” according to Grand Bohemian Mountain Brook Art Gallery director, Mary Smith. “I think they [international artists] add so much, they almost elevate the local artists in the collection that we have, but Birmingham has so much local talent,” said Smith.
She started college as a chemistry major, but Smith’s academic advisor told her to take one art history course. Within the first few minutes of the class, Smith said, “a lightbulb went off,” and she changed her major to art history.
Smith moved to Birmingham after graduating and worked in art galleries throughout the area for years before taking a hiatus. The Grand Bohemian Art Gallery was the perfect opportunity for Smith to re-enter the Birmingham art scene. “I felt like I was getting the band back together,” Smith said.
Now, Smith sits surrounded by friends, both local and international, some established and others up-and-coming in her gallery. The gallery is curated to be a welcoming space that transcends class, age, and experience.
“I want anybody who comes in here to find something that they connect with, and that they want to go home with them. My new favorite genre of art collectors are 12 and unders,” Smith said.
The gallery is also functional, hosting weddings, summer festivities, company dinners, and art shows- all of which attest to the flourishing nature of Birmingham arts and culture.
Smith has witnessed Birmingham arts and culture grow over the years and believes the recent foodie scene explosion is “the nail the arts are tacking on to.” She also finds it encouraging to see the rich arts and culture scene of Birmingham prosper and offer a different narrative to the historic city. “Birmingham is always fighting to get past what we’re first known for which is racial tension,” said Smith.
The arts allow for a sort of cultural self-determination within Birmingham communities, proving the city is bigger than its past. However, with the loss of the Arts and Culture section in the Birmingham News, and subsequently the art critic, as well as the docent program at the Birmingham Museum of the Arts, local artists and art-lovers sometimes have difficulty connecting with one another and the expanding culture of Birmingham. These cuts hinder communication concerning arts and culture.
“Without a centralized landing page, it is word of mouth. I mean, I’ve had artists come in on their way to an event at somebody’s warehouse, asking if I want to go, ” said Smith. “Like where did you find it? Who did you talk to? Instagram? So, we still have these huge gaps in knowledge about events.”
Determined to draw attention to Birmingham art, Smith and two former volunteer tour guides for the Birmingham Museum of the Arts started a Sunday salon for any wanting to discuss current art affairs. The group continues to grow and tours private collections, and artist studios, and has exclusive insight into galleries around the Birmingham area.
Smith often finds these events reflect the intersection of arts and culture. “It’s kind of like a reflection of the other areas of growth. It’s our culture all coming together or rather the culture coming together in the arts,” said Smith.
The salon meets every Sunday, except for the fourth Sunday of the month, and has something booked all the way to April.
“There’s a lot more opportunities for artists here,” said Zoughby. Born and raised in Birmingham, Zoughby has also observed the city’s local art renaissance. She appreciates galleries, like the Grand Bohemian, who don’t prioritize the “trendiness” of an artist’s work, but of the community value the piece offers.
“Community-based art has really grown, which is so wonderful,” said Zoughby.
The Grand Bohemian Mountain Brook Art Gallery is alive with pop stars, activists, time-traveling robots, dueling monkeys, kaleidoscopic glass, gym rats, indigenous sculptures, and captivating landscapes, to name a few pieces. It’s an open invitation into the Birmingham art scene and its conversation with the rest of the world.