Photo by Tara Massouleh.
Craig Legg at work on the History of Jazz art exhibit.
Artist Craig Legg is bringing new life to East Lake’s most infamous theater with the opening of his art exhibit, “History of Jazz: An Exercise in Visual Storytelling.”
The East Lake Theatre was originally opened as the College Theater in 1948. Later, the traditional movie theater took a turn when it was bought and became Cinema Blue, a pornographic theater. After years of abandonment, East Lake developer Vince Amaro purchased the theater, and began working with Legg to turn the old lobby screening room into a gallery.
“History of Jazz” is Legg’s second art show in the space. His first, “The Sacred and the Mundane: Transforming the Worldly Discarded into Art of the Supernatural,” was held in summer 2015. For his new exhibit, Legg said he was inspired by Birmingham’s rich jazz history. He said though Birmingham hasn’t produced many nationally known jazz musicians, save his favorite, Sun Ra, the city is a jazz town nonetheless.
“Birmingham is a huge jazz town because everyone here taught it in school,” he said. “Since they taught people how to read it and they knew the basics, [Birmingham musicians] would get jobs with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the big bands because everyone knew people who trained in Birmingham knew what they were doing.”
To prepare for the show, Legg spent nearly a year reading up on the subject. From its major player to its many sub-eras, Legg studied everything he could find on jazz.
“This was the first time I really paid attention to the whole history and how it came together, and it was just fascinating from the get go,” he said.
Legg’s 60 works range in size and go from small $20-$30 paintings to his largest, a 24-by-36-inch acrylic painting depicting the bebop jazz era. The piece, Legg’s admitted favorite, will be priced at a few hundred dollars.
“The history of jazz breaks down real easy into decades and styles, and bebop was a true revolution,” he said.
In addition to size, Legg’s works also differ in medium. The exhibit features three major styles: acrylic painting on canvas, Styrofoam carvings covered in papier-mâché and constructions made from found objects. He said the paintings represent the meat of the show, but he’s most excited about the found object section where he used objects like bottle caps, cans and automobile parts to create jazz instruments.
The former poet, who has only been making art for the past 15 years, said that for him, the message behind the show is more important than the art itself.
“I’m not trying to express myself; I’m too old for that,” he said. “I’m not much for art for arts sake. So the most important part is actually the text.”
For this reason, a paragraph explaining the history behind the work and what it represents will accompany each of Legg’s works. Legg, who describes himself as a “history buff,” not only wants to share his art with the community, but also the history behind it. The East Lake resident said he hopes the show will draw people into the neighborhood so more positive activity will follow.
“There’s a group of us who are trying to make something in East Lake,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep it going here.”
“History of Jazz: An Exercise in Visual Storytelling” will be open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. through August or by appointment in the East Lake Theatre Art Gallery Annex, 7606 First Ave. N. Admission is free. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-7702.