A gallery with ‘living’ walls

Lenny Bazemore will open a juice bar in Manayunk across from Bazemore Gallery.

Lenny Bazemore pointed to a carving on the wall made of rich, dark wood by late Hungarian artist Jordan Ivanov in 1975.

“See this piece right here? I found it in 12 pieces in the basement,” said Bazemore, the founder of the Bazemore Gallery in Manayunk. “The good thing is, we preserved it and his name will live on because he signed it in the corner.”

For eight years, the Bazemore Gallery was empty, save for debris. Today, sunlight floods the gallery and illuminates the glossy pictures hanging on its walls.

In the silence of the gallery, a faint buzzing is dimly present.

“You heard that noise? Built-in irrigation system for the plant,” Bazemore said.

This plant, as Bazemore said, is a tangle of foliage lodged into a side of the gallery’s interior, which he refers to as “the living wall.”

“I wanted to be able to cross this threshold and come into a nice peace, quiet, zen, very relaxing place,” Bazemore said.

The gallery’s layout coincides with the five elements of feng shui, a system Bazemore delved into after traveling to China and studying with feng shui master Wang Xun.

“Most of my inspiration comes from worldly travel,” he said.

The first painting in the gallery that was sold when it opened two years ago was based upon an evening Bazemore experienced in Italy.

“The cuisine I paid attention to, the wine I paid attention to, the ambiance of the street I paid attention to and then the laughter of the children, the families and people driving by the little canal in these little speedboats going way too fast, it was just the action, it was amazing,” Bazemore said.

But the gallery is not the only building Bazemore has invested in.

Across the street, a short, vacant space, undecorated except for a splattering of graffiti, holds Bazemore’s current project. He plans to create a juice bar called Juice Merchant, which will showcase 12 local artists each year on its walls.

“I like finding character in buildings, something that people don’t find so attractive and making them beautiful again,” Bazemore said.

This will be the fifth building Bazemore has invested in within the Manayunk area. He said he began a career in real estate, working with properties on the Main Line and downtown. Later on, he went back to school at Montgomery County Community College to study fine arts more deeply.

Bazemore said his studio, several blocks away from his gallery, provides a place for him to formulate ideas both in the business and art world. He said he is always considering adding decorations – a homemade tribute to the artist Basquiat, a massive American flag, a small basketball hoop, to the space.

“I try not to take myself too serious, because life is really serious,” Bazemore said. “I don’t want to be a business guy who doesn’t know how to enjoy himself.”

Chelsea Catling, the gallery manager, is in charge of organizing current and future shows. The gallery’s most recent display, of photography from a class taught to pre-teens in South Africa, was on display on Nov. 23.

“They gave them cameras and said, ‘Now go out and capture something that means something to you,’ and this is what they came back with,” Catling said. “It’s awesome to see through their lens and what they see.”

When the gallery isn’t presenting on behalf of nonprofit organizations like Love to Langa, which helps to fund the education of the South African children, it holds works from artists ranging from the Philadelphia area to Hong Kong and Florence.

Elena Achilli, an artist who displayed her work at the gallery, is an Italian native and has done shows in New York and San Francisco, as well as Manayunk.

“In the Bazemore Gallery there is a feeling of harmony with the universe,” Achilli said. “It is a space where you can feel the exchange of energy.”

Angela Gervasi can be reached at angela.gervasi@temple.edu

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