Art crawls and twists from floor to ceiling at Donna Van Gogh’s gallery like colorful kudzu directed by a natural force of feng shui. It is, all at once, complex and charming and evocative and bright, from covering the gambit of traditionalist concepts to straight-up avant-garde weirdness.
Perfect example: a painting of local intersecting street signs hangs comfortably near one of a grinning neon skeleton, while topping it off, a cut-out Elvis Presley provocatively postures opposite rows of prints.
It’s wacky (but not in a Panama City gift shop’s sense of clashing disarray), refined (but not in a stuffy, must-have-a-martini-to-view-the-exhibit way) and, above all, unique to metro Atlanta. And that’s exactly what owner Teri Stewart wants. “This city has gotten less funky and quirky,” she declared. “We’re trying to keep some of the soul going.”
A clichéd narrative of Stewart’s profession would go along the lines of art being “more than a business; it’s a way of life.” And so it is; her sincerity that the quaint Candler Park gallery is one of the few survivors of a less art-conscious, more greed-driven culture is undeniable.
However, Donna Van Gogh’s affinity within a neighborhood still harboring a few pockets of flamboyant resistance is unusually dear – even for the artistic community.
That’s probably because many can thank the shop for a livelihood. Promoting local artists was one of its founding principles 15 years ago and continues to this day. During that time, more than 130 of them, and most living within walking distance, have displayed pieces. One of them was a “wild, crazy hippy chick who hitchhiked here” when Atlanta was under the spell of “free love.”
“Yes, I displayed here as an artist 15 years ago,” said Stewart, who went on to manage the shop before assuming ownership with partner Iris Hale in 2003. “Before then, artists didn’t really have an outlet.”
There are no other requirements apart from being local, as artists range “from 9 years old to their late 70s” and span all demographics. “My only criteria: Do I think I can I sell it?” said Stewart.
Consequently, the breadth of work is refreshingly eclectic and manifests into pottery, paintings, prints and even bumper stickers, car magnets and drink coasters.
In fact, that last item—featuring several unusual Atlanta landmarks like the Clermont Lounge, the Varsity and Zesto’s—is a current best-seller.
“People appreciate our art and gravitate toward it,” explained Stewart. “It’s because they buy things they can’t buy anywhere else in the world.”
In a business “that’s very hard to be in,” the ownership believes survival, particularly in the Atlanta market, requires a number of variables. Donna Van Gogh’s formula: community support, evolving inventory and fresh displays.
Seasons, holidays and an eye for trends all influence the stock, which typically has a life of about 45 days before making way.
Affordability is another consideration, with items running from “50 cents to $500 ,” meaning collectors can be found on any budget.
Nevertheless, the touch of spotting, placing, pricing and rotating items is better served by an artistic eye, rather than one focused purely on profit. “You’re never going to make a lot of money,” said Stewart. “We went into it because we loved it and felt it provided an important community service.”