Off-the-Wall Art on the Wall

…at Oddball Art Hall, that is, where ‘unique’ is the operative description

Most people would take umbrage at being called an oddball, but there is a thriving community of local artists who not only accept the term, but embrace it.

Welcome to the Oddball Art Hall, a celebration of art and artists that takes place the third Friday of every month at—where else?—Oddity Bar in Wilmington.

“I suppose I’m a bit different,” says illustrator Kristen Margiotta, one of the founders of the event, when asked how she is an “oddball.” She describes her paintings as “whimsical, dark and dramatic, which keeps people on their toes.”

Margiotta encourages the uninitiated to come experience it in person. “It’s unusual and not traditional,” she says. “The works speak for themselves.”

Walk into the Oddball Art Hall at 500 Greenhill Ave., between West Fifth Street and West Sixth Street, and you will encounter unique paintings, cutting edge photography, bizarre sculptures and much more; or, as photographer/artist Joe Hoddinott says, “a visual buffet of eclectic artwork.”

The concept had its beginning in late 2014, when Pat McCutcheon, the owner of Oddity Bar, approached Margiotta and illustrator Pat Higgins about doing a “drink and draw night” at his establishment.

Higgins, who describes his art as a mixture of “Harvey Kurtzman (Mad magazine), John Kricfalusi (Ren & Stimpy) and Chuck Jones (Looney Tunes) stuffed inside a blender with punk rock and craft beer,” quickly bought in. He and Margiotta sketched out their ideas, and the OAH was born.

Artists line the main room with their works while a DJ spins records and avant-garde videos play on the multiple television screens. Live model sketching takes place on stage next to the DJ, with the models often adorned in themed costumes, such as those by Ellen Durkan, who creates forged fashions from metal.

The venue itself is part of the attraction. Festooned in a palate of vibrant red and shadowy black, Oddity Bar would not look out of place in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and many works from Oddball artists over the years decorate its walls. Photographer David Heitur sums up the event this way: “There is so much different and unique art going on in one spot,” he says, “There’s no need to go anywhere else.”

Gus Fink is an artist who says, “I never thought of myself as an oddball, but clearly I am.” Fink, like all OAH artists, is as much an attendee as a participant. With his wife, Emi Boz, they create paintings, plush toys, video games, apparel and comic books, among other works. Last year, they began making short films, thanks to the contacts and friendships they forged at the OAH.

Fink has lived in several major cities, including Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia, and has been living off his art for 20 years. “I love Delaware more than any other place,” he says. “The people here care and give.”

“Classic and surreal” photographer Tom Newforge is an artist whose work has sent him around the globe, including Iceland and the Vatican. Asked to provide one word to describe the third Friday event, his response is immediate: “Family. Everyone is extremely supportive of one another and I’ve never felt unwanted or not good enough.” He says this is in stark contrast to the ultra-competitive world of professional photography, where “one false step can lead to being ostracized.”

Mimi Sullivan, owner of the women’s boutique Bloom, is not an exhibiting artist but attends regularly. She sees the OAH as a vital cog in Wilmington’s cultural footprint. “It takes everyone’s effort to keep the local art scene alive and thriving,” she says.

To that end, one of the most enticing elements of the event is being able to see familiar local artists exhibiting new pieces as well as new artists sharing their work. “The Oddball Art Hall is an ever-changing collection of visual artists, photographers and designers,” says Sullivan.

Ric Frane, co-owner of the Talleyville Frame Shop and self-described “horror/monster/pinup artist,” says the OAH “is a great (event) for new artists who may not be ready for a gallery show” that showcases “outsider and lowbrow art.”

Many of the regular exhibitors at the OAH have received local, national and even international recognition. Newforge has won several “Best in Show” awards for his conceptual photography; Margiotta, along with illustrating the international Gustav Gloom children’s book series, has been featured in several art publications; Heitur’s work is hanging in Delaware’s Superior Court House and he has designed the cover of guitar virtuoso Vinnie Moore’s album, Ariel Visions; Higgins recently won a Silver Medallion for Digital Illustration and a Bronze Medallion for Poster Design from the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations; Fink and Boz design apparel for Hot Topic and create toys for Toys “R” Us; they also released a video game last year, Fright Show Fighter, which received positive reviews from the gaming community; Hoddinott won the Wilmington News Journal’s “Best Wedding Photographer” two years in a row and recently had a solo exhibit at the Delaware Contemporary; Durkan has staged and participated in numerous runway shows and her fashions have made the catwalk and display cases as far away as Paris, Australia and South Korea; Frane has illustrated many books, magazines, games and comics and has been featured in publications domestically and abroad, and he’s currently finishing work on the feature film Pale Horse.

These artists wear the oddball badge proudly. In fact, call them “normal” and they might be insulted. Expressing the spirit of OAH, Heitur says, “Normal (stuff) is boring.”

So, what do you think? Please comment below.