Creating Community: 7 Ground Floor Artists on the Art Scene in Birmingham

Photo Iron City
“Gate City” – photograph on paper, thread, heart-pine 8.75” x 11.75” Photo by/via Tara Stallworth Lee


Many people are shuttered inside their homes now, but the murals in downtown Birmingham bring just as much life and color to the streets past the McWane Center and around the Lyric theatre. Pockets of color and life continue to create and contemplate on the world around us. Although many pastimes stalled in the past few months, our art scene is brimming with creativity. The art world is scattered throughout the Birmingham area, and right near the Magic City Rotary Trail is where you will find Ground Floor Contemporary art gallery.

Literally the ground floor of 21st Street Studios, Ground Floor Contemporary (or GFC for short) is providing art shows for the public even during a pandemic. GFC is dedicated to expanding and promoting the visual arts in the greater Birmingham area by offering a professional gallery experience and exhibition opportunities for its members and viewers alike. Jennifer Marshall, the Gallery Manager, said, “What’s great about GFC is that we are a community and artist-driven visual arts exhibition space. We have a new exhibition every month…so our output is enormous and our presence in the arts community feels very impactful.” Like most businesses in Birmingham, GFC is taking precautions to prevent spreading covid-19: 

  • Only three attendees are allowed in the gallery at a time 
  • Masks are required inside the gallery
  • The gallery is only open for viewing the exhibition 

Before checking out the gallery, check out these 7 Ground Floor Contemporary artists!

Tara Stallworth Lee

Tara Stallworth Lee
Tara Stallworth Lee. Photo via Tara Stallworth Lee

Tara is actually one of three artists featured in a new exhibition at GFC showing this September. She uses traditional photography, handmade paper, and encaustics to preserve pivotal moments in our existence and history. Tara writes, “Creating encaustic portraits helps me preserve ideals of basic human and civil rights and allows me the space and time to explore progressive thinkers and human evolution. I like to think I can provide a platform for others—taking a portrait allows for someone’s story to be heard.” She wants her art to provoke self-reflection and hope. Her pieces work through “personal ruminations and struggle,” which is incredibly relevant with the progression of 2020. Tara’s art is a cathartic and rhythmic process that allows her to deconstruct this year, saying, “Many of us are facing truths. Many of us are finding truths. Pause. Self-reflect. Re-set as a higher version of oneself.” Her favorite part of Birmingham is the community and her artists friends; being a member of Ground Floor Contemporary gives her a built in support system and family. 

“Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you or your art?” 

“I really, really love dogs!”

To keep up with her love for dogs, art projects, and latest exhibitions, follow her on Instagram and Facebook @tarastallworthlee.

Artwork by Tara Stallworth Lee
Untitled work by Tara Stallworth Lee. Photo via Tara Stallworth Lee

Aaron Beane

Photo of Aaron Beane
Aaron Beane. Photo via Aaron Beane.
Line Art by Aaron Beane
“The Plan Failed” by Aaron Beane via Aaron Beane

Aaron, a BSC graduate, is a multidisciplinary visual artist inspired by postmodern art, contemporary art, and tattoo art. He uses photography, painting, and installation to explore themes like anxiety, introspection, and adversity. Many distractions fill the minutes of our lives to separate us from ourselves, but Aaron hopes his art connects with others and “…encourages the viewer to look within themselves to find the sources of conflict in their lives that they can learn to better understand and mitigate.” Which is how he spent most of his quarantine:

2020 has meant a lot for my art. I have really found how much having art in my life means. I have committed more to my art practice, and exponentially grown the scope of what my work can look like. Due to COVID it has also been a year of laying the foundations for what my practice will look like in years to come. This growth towards the future is in great part due to my joining Ground Floor Contemporary, a partnership I am very excited about!

His favorite part about the art scene in Birmingham is the talented, supportive, and expansive artist community right here in the city. There is usually something going on, like gallery openings, events at the Birmingham Museum of Art, or perusing Art Walk, giving consistent opportunities to support local artists. If you would like to support Aaron, he will be selling work from his archives soon and has an upcoming exhibition at GFC later this winter. Follow him on Instagram @aaronbeaneart for updates and check out his work at https://aaronbeane1.wixsite.com/abphoto.

Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky

Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky
Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky. Photo via Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky

        Sarah has a unique choice of medium: bacteria. She paints with bacteria, also known as Agar Art, to bridge the understanding between the medical field, students, and public about the relationship between our world and the microbial world. Bacteria consists of a variety of chemicals that can manifest in a range of colors when plated in Petri dishes, causing beautiful and interesting works of art. In a brief interview via email, Sarah writes, “I hope my art reveals the beauty of bacteria while reshaping important discourse around our microbial world—For example, did you know bacteria from the soil produce a majority of clinical antibiotics?” No, I did not! 

Agar Art
“Paradigm Shift”. 30”x12”, is a triptych of brain illustrations filled with dynamic images from different agar art petri dishes. Awarded Honorable Mention for Distinguished Artwork, Sigma Xi Art and Film Festival 2019. Photo via Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky

Art and science combine many of her passions, but she has other interests too; she co-created a curriculum called “The Art of Microbiology” to utilize Agar Art as a teaching tool and is a Big Sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham program. Her favorite part of the Birmingham art scene is the closeness and inclusivity of it—something that Sarah says inspires her Little Sister to create art too. This 2020 Sarah spent her time reconnecting with friends and artists, shaping the way she practices her art and the way she interacts with the world. To see what her art will bring, follow her @admiraladkins on Instagram and Twitter or visit her at https://sarahjeanneadkins.weebly.com/artist.html

Liza Butts

Liza Butts
Liza Butts. Photo via Liza Butts

Liza loves the close community of Birmingham so many other artists have already echoed. Another essential part of Birmingham to her is the grassroot efforts to improve our city. Her favorite part about Birmingham is “…there’s a lot incubating here…I worked as a teaching artist in some really broken schools. It illuminated so much for me about the lack of equality in our country’s public school system.” Some of her favorite organizations are Alaquest Collaborative for Education, Paperworkers Local, and The Flourish Alabama. Her passions for change and equity are reflected in her oil paintings. A new painting she is working on called “Wildflowers” uses venus flytraps as a metaphor for persistence because of their constant, openly waiting mouths to catch flies (which she envisions as intolerance, racism, and invalidation). 

Artwork by Liza Butts
“When It All Settles” oil paint on paper, 2020 by Liza Butts. Photo via Liza Butts

On the subject of 2020, Liza said, “One thing I’m thinking about as an artist… is listening and really hearing. This work of expanding our internal space to hold more space to understand other people’s experiences. For white folks, I think owning up to these truths that are uncomfortable and not pretty…For a lot of people including myself, this can be really uncomfortable. But I know for myself, discomfort is the starting point for any change or growth.” A continuous theme of nighttime in her paintings focuses on that pause before a new day and how crucial pausing to reflect is important for change. Right now a portion of proceeds from her available works will go toward Birmingham Promise, a group helping high school students afford higher education and apprenticeships! She will have an exhibition of new works on Nov 5th. Follow her on Instagram @miss.butts to keep up with her activism and art and send any inquiries to her website lizabutts.com

Catharine Friend 

Photo of Catharine Friend
Catharine Friend. Photo via Catharine Friend
Artwork by Catharine Friend
A sampling of artwork by Catharine Friend. Photo via Catharine Friend

        One thing that energizes Catharine is the resilience and diversity of Birmingham’s art scene. Despite the intense anxieties gripping the world right now, Catharine notes the number of artists grew during the past few months and how well mhttps://www.catharinefriend.com/any galleries and classes adapted to being virtual. Catharine says, “…artists always seem to have something to say, to share, a colorful story, a rugged individualism, an insightful or zany or curious approach. I love being a part of this group.” The lockdown gave Catharine the opportunity to experiment and reflect, prompting a new series of paintings. Her newest endeavor is an abstract series focused on man working against and with nature. While she dabbles in different media, she always comes back to oil paints, saying, “There’s something about the richness of a thick oil brush stroke that pulls me in every time and conveys that “snapshot” I’m after. Capturing these fleeting moments that otherwise might be missed is my pursuit and these moments are everywhere but particularly in nature for me.” To keep up with her art and meditations, check out her work on www.catharinefriend.com and at GFC’s website.

Chiharu Takahashi Roach

Chiharu Takahashi Roach
Chiharu Takahashi Roach. Photo via Chiharu Takahashi Roach

You may recall at the 2012 Moss Rock Festival a series of paintings of women with animals tangled in her hair. Maybe one with a fox wrapped up in her hair? These are the paintings of Chiharu, a featured artist from that year! She likes to paint women with animals, insects, and plants to show the spiritual connection between people and nature and the ways that emotions reaffirm what humanity is. Chiharu writes, “I hope people feel something from my art and it synchronizes with them.” Hailing from Nagoya, Japan, Chiharu moved to Birmingham in 2000 where she earned her art degree from UAB. For her, the Birmingham art community is smaller and cozy, allowing for an amazing support system. While she adjusted to this new normal of coronavirus regulations, other aspects of the year stay on her mind:

2020 has been a time of fermentation for me. I am in the middle of cultivating all these seeds and ideas I have planted in my mind to find a way to express them artistically in new ways…but, I also feel I cannot ignore the Black Lives Matter movement. I have so many experiences of bad racial discrimination as an Asian female. For this reason, when I was a UAB student most of my artwork pertained to Asian girls stereotypes. I think my experiences are nothing compared to what is happening racially in America, however, I never forget the feelings and the pain from them.

artwork by Chiharu Takahashi Roach
Untitled Work by Chiharu Takahashi Roach. Photo via Chiharu Takahashi Roach

Chiharu is continuing to create art through these times and explore different mediums and expressions. This year she will be an artist at the Moss-Magic art festival in November. Follow her on Instagram @chiroach to keep up with her at Moss-Magic! 

Leah Karol

Leah Karol with dog Carlo
Leah Karol and Carlo. Photo via Max Karol (at age 8!)

Leah is a photographer that specializes in portraiture. She wants to spark imagination by creating whimsical worlds through photoshop but also hopes to move perspectives. She encourages others to seek out and support artists that give a voice to those living in the margins, saying, “Art that challenges our way of thinking is especially important right now.” 2020’s impact is not lost on her or her art. The torrent of events that happened the past few months did bring clarity, showing how her own history and purpose as an artist combine in an unforeseen way. Leah writes, “A lot of new work is still gestating right now…but I am different, so inevitably the new work will reflect that.” There is no shortage of inspiration. As a part of the Birmingham art scene, Leah’s favorite part is “….the feeling of community within the Birmingham area art scene. I have met my best friends and some of the greatest people I have ever known.  I am also constantly inspired by the work I see here—there is so much talent in Birmingham.” She loves being immersed in all the talent that Birmingham has to offer. You can find her art @leahkarol_photography_imagined on Instagram and on her website.

Work by Leah Karol
Untitled Work by Leah Karol. Photo via Leah Karol

Showing from September 3rd-20th, Ground Floor Contemporary has a new exhibition called A Patch of Blue. Tara Lee, Anita Gómez-Ronderos, and Susan Vitali are debuting new works centered on “interpretations of idealized emotional landscapes” stemming from “…perceived memory and the prospect that basic human values, simple truths, and hope can peacefully coexist.” A Patch of Blue, like their other exhibitions, will be open for viewing the 1st Thursday of each month from 5-7:30 p.m., Sundays from 1-4 p.m., or by appointment. You can even visit the gallery virtually. There is also a virtual artist talk on September 12th starting at 4pm.

What’s your favorite exhibition from GFC? Let us know @BhamNow on Facebook and Instagram, or @Now_Bham on Twitter.

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