Turning down a side alley, rounding a corner and ducking into a nondescript white cargo truck may seem nefarious—a bit dangerous, even—and certainly not something one would do in search of fine art in, say, Chicago, much less Northwest Arkansas. But hang around South Main Street just off Bentonville’s downtown square on a Wednesday or Saturday night, and you’re likely to encounter such a scene.
Though there’s nothing remotely illegal about it, visiting artist Louis Watts’ new four-wheeled gallery, Truck/Art, supplies a thrill akin to dropping in on a modern speakeasy—you’re in on a secret most walk on by. But that prohibition feel isn’t intended. Instead, it’s more a consequence of Bentonville’s street-merchant regulations. Peddling wares, even art, on public roadways is strictly verboten. That’s why Watts parks off the main drag in a spot provided by The Paisley Place, just behind the vintage store.
“I like the exclusivity,” Watts says. “I mean, it would probably be cooler to be front and center and get more foot traffic, but when you are selling art, it is different than selling T-shirts. The hidden nature of it makes it more interesting.”
As if it weren’t already interesting enough.
Inside, the space is intimate and raw. Several of Watts’ black-and-white drawings hang on floating whitewashed boards attached to the truck’s exposed metal ribs. The juxtaposition is powerful, and it is immediately obvious that the aesthetic is an extension of the artist’s work with pen and paper, a style he describes as “maximal minimalism.”
Trucks are a space the Little Rock native is intimately familiar with from his days hauling junk in Brooklyn and delivering food stuffs in Seattle. (“I’d never driven in the city, and I’d never driven a big truck before, but after driving normal vehicles in New York, I learned it’s actually easier to drive a big truck because you get more respect.”) There was just something about being in the back of a truck that he found entrancing. Turns out, it was that captivation—and not our national obsession with the mobilized sale of everything from food to vintage clothing—that germinated years later into this self-propelled gallery.
“I had never even put the food-truck thing together. I should have, but I never even thought about it,” he explains. “I just liked being back there. There is something about the industrial nature of it, where it seems more expansive than it is, or maybe it is because it has the potential for movement. I don’t know.”
Because the truck is, in a way, its own work of art, as well as an extension of his style, Watts had only planned on featuring his own work in the gallery in a series of three-month-long shows. But almost as soon as he’d opened on Sept. 13—the same day the much-lauded State of the Art exhibition opened at the nearby Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art—people started asking what other artists he planned to feature, to the point that he’s now open to the possibility. If he should outgrow the space and require a gallery of the brick-and-mortar type, he could see the truck becoming a space for other young artists to inhabit.
“It’s very American,” he says. “Selling art out of the back of your truck is the most American thing.”
For times and locations, visit truckartgallery.com.