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A Little Bit Of Urban Paradise 

Art and fashion on Camden Road

You won't find franchise clones lining Camden Road in the block running between South Tryon Street and Park Avenue. Instead, you'll find shops, galleries and other businesses that reflect the diversity that follows the endeavors of creative urban pioneers.

Other places have this ambiance, too: NoDa, Plaza & Central, SouthEnd -- all familiar names now. A few remain to be discovered, or rediscovered, in the process of urban regeneration, and those artists, designers, restaurateurs and boutique creators graced with the intrinsic ability of finding "interesting" places in Charlotte will continue to establish them.

These are places that have an iconoclastic ambiance rather than a franchise familiarity. Sometimes the feeling is funky, sometimes smart & trendy. Just as NoDa is the right neighborhood for the Smelly Cat Coffee Shop, Queen's Beans is right for the personality of "Lower" SouthEnd. This stretch of Camden is populated by a couple of eateries (Phat Burrito and Price's Chicken Coop), MyersArt ceramics gallery, the Charlotte Art League, and the Charlotte Post newspaper, along with various designers, techies and fine artists.

Now the "hood has TudiBoo and Art Too, a stylish clothing boutique-cum-art emporium, and it shows, in its newly regenerated space, how appealing an urban conversion can be. Clothing styles here are less funky and more chic than those at Central's Urban Evolution, and the art is high quality.

TudiBoo, started in 2000 by Kim Haire, is in its second generation with the added spice of "Art Too." Together, this pair of businesses inhabits a commanding position in the neighborhood. Drive down South Tryon from uptown and you can't miss it. Park on the street and walk into the newly painted (in a pleasing hue deemed "Miami Mint" by the owners) building at the intersection of South Tryon and Camden Road, and you'll find an art-friendly atmosphere.

Inside, amid the vintage handbags and "HeeHae Melancholy" tees, is a sophisticated selection of one-of-a-kind paintings that complement the crisp fashion design (much of which falls into the category of 70s retro) and polished contemporary fabrics.

In part, the success of TudiBoo has to do with what it's not. TudiBoo is not a GAP, a Talbot's or a Chico's shop. Much like a cutting-edge art gallery, part of the appeal of TudiBoo is due to the implied risk involved in having such a business. A financial "safety net" (which a franchise store would provide) is presumably absent. The potential lack of financial security suggests a business running on passion and risk-taking... much like an art gallery.

Passion is appealing, especially when well rendered, and the art provides this in full measure. The artists on view at TudiBoo all received their higher education at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), an institution where painters can be compatible with fashion designers and architects, and the paintings on view here, while challenging, fit well in this refurbished setting.

"The House That Johns Built," a large mixed media assemblage by Brian Slagle, combines encaustic with found materials -- distressed wood and natural fiber. A true bricoleur, Slagle likes finding things in abandoned barns and "dumpster diving" for what the artist calls "unique finds -- literally trash turned into art." The row of heads is a deliberate nod to Jasper Johns, and Slagle's use of rough wood and straw recalls Anselm Kiefer with a lighter touch.

You can tell that Troy Wandzel's large-scale, loosely painted oil portraits, "Guy Named Bob" and "Hank (Gibbs)" (both very reasonably priced), are painted from life. His impastoed likenesses breathe, and are indeed "bold and powerful." His notes explain that he often "places cool color on hot color, making the painting vibrate visually."

Another painter on view -- as well as part owner of TudiBoo and Art Too -- Jay Crider began his share of the enterprise when he painted the windows of Kim Haire's original TudiBoo on South Boulevard, and he's painted several urban-scapes for this new location. You can see his loose and handsome Charlotte townscapes inside (and viewable from the window).

TudiBoo and Art Too state that they "have a desire to see the art and fashion culture grow in Charlotte. Discovering and bringing artists and designers that might not otherwise be seen in Charlotte is the beginning of this mission. TudiBoo and Art Too will continue to expand this role as the appetite for culture grows."

Artists interested in showing in this location are welcome to contact Jay Crider at (704) 377-7008. The gallery/shop is open Monday from 10am-6pm; Tuesday-Thursday from 10am until dark; Friday and Saturday from 10am-6pm; or by appointment. For more info, call (704) 358-9008, e-mail TudiBoo@bellsouth.net, or go online to www.TudiBoo.com.

A few doors down from TudiBoo, MyersArt Gallery/

Clay has been open for business for several months now, and it's currently exhibiting clay works by Gena Van Dyke and Lambeth Marshall. During a recent gallery crawl, the sidewalks on both sides of the street were active, but the main focus was outside Queen's Beans and MyersArt, where Cajun music regaled the art crowd.Inside, the work of these versatile women is very different. Both work on the wheel and with hand-built slab pots. Gena Van Dyke's tall trumpet vase with lid is striking (but lose the lid). Her classically shaped vases and urns use feminine lines akin to ancient Greek vase forms. These pieces are often made in two parts with a funnel neck attached to a graceful body. While her forms are more rigidly classical, her glazes are unpredictable in the way of raku. It's a tricky combination, but when this balancing act works, the results are very seductive in their combination of refinement and serendipity.

By contrast, Lambeth Marshall uses more predictable glazes -- strong and glossy blacks and whites -- on less predictable shapes. A former painter and landscape designer, Marshall's contemporary white earthenware is adorned with under-glazes applied with a brush much like watercolor. At their best, these decorative motifs echo Kandinsky in their kinetic energy and subtle coloration. Some of the forms lack discipline, but overall it's a fine body of unique work.

Several dozen new apartments loom nearby this friendly new art neighborhood, facing the trolley line. Soon the new residents will be moving in and joining the community. This is a lot different than the ambiance about a decade ago. In its own quiet way, this block is a model of careful, patient regeneration. A far cry from the hearty boosterism of "arts districts," this is the real thing.

MyersArt is located at 1510 Camden Road. For more information, call (704) 790-2529.

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