“My husband and I have always been collectors of ‘strange’ things. [When] we opened our shop and gallery in the new “South Park” district of San Diego (formally Golden Hill), we definitely grabbed the attention of the neighbourhood. People were coming in just to look at our collections of cool and creepy things… They thought we were an oddities shop at first! But all of this – this is like a window into the soul of Left Hand Black.”

With Crystal and Turk’s curious collection of trinkets, sculptures and artwork, Left Hand Black Tattoo Studio and Gallery is not a venue easily forgotten. In fact, there’s something simply wonderful in stepping through their door and entering another reality; here, artwork is a foundation for the place, rather than just decoration hanging on the walls.  With a strong support network within the local art scene, the two-part Left Hand Black experience caters to all of your tattoo and alternative art needs. Add in their quirky and macabre décor, bands like The Misfits playfully echoing around their chambers, and you start to get a better understanding of the power-couple behind the Left Hand Black brand.

Crystal Turk, owner and curator of Left Hand Black Gallery, remembers their choice to move back in 2012:

“South Park is a great neighbourhood that was in need of some Left Hand Black, and I really felt the art scene was disappearing in San Diego. There were no galleries near the area; it was needed. I wanted to bring art alive again within the community. With Turk already having a name for himself – he’s been tattooing for 20 years – opening a tattoo shop with an art gallery here was the perfect location for us.

[Before opening Left Hand Black Gallery] I would go to gallery openings with my friends, meet new people and admire the art. However, I felt there were never enough good spaces to show art. When a show did happen, it always seemed like a last minute ‘throw everything on the walls’ event, and the artists changed way too much. I always expected more than I got – constantly seeing the same style of art from the same artists, displayed in a boring manner. I wanted to change that and help bring art alive again. I hope that’s what other people see we are doing here.”

Crystal Turk – Owner & Curator at Left Hand Black Gallery

In the six years since their opening, Crystal has cemented Left Hand Black Gallery’s reputation as an artistic haven for contemporary art outside of traditional art conventions. This has rewarded the gallery with a loyal customer base and the support of world-renowned artists across their exhibitions. One such show is their annual HORROR BUSINESS group exhibition. The show gives artists around the world the chance to move out of their comfort zones and play with the unusual canvas of the meat cleaver – and it’s concepts such as this, which merge the unusual with the playful, bringing a refreshing portrayal of what a gallery space can be. From mischievous taxidermy, to dark art and full-blown mixed media sculptures, the event has seen audiences queuing out the door on the opening night, and customers asking when the next HORROR BUSINESS will be.

With an average of 50-60 cleavers to organise and hang at the annual event, Crystal is no stranger to the challenges and joys of curating. Often, one of her favourite elements is curating mini spaces within the larger room. “I think it’s important to look at each piece and see what it is telling you; it chooses what it should hang next to on the wall, you just have to listen. I usually spend an all-nighter the night before with a bottle of wine and metal music hanging these shows!” she laughs, “I usually spend 12 hours hanging the artworks, not coming home until 1am the next day. I don’t have any assistance while hanging, nor do I want any. I enjoy my all-nighters.”

 

Each of the exhibitions, designed by Crystal, are created around themes that she believes people crave – while, of course, keeping an element of the Left Hand Black’s je ne sais quoi. Recent shows include ‘Creature Feature’, focusing primarily on sculptors and mixed media artists to birth ‘creatures’ of their own. “’Till Death’ is a Valentine art show that we’ve produced for several years” explains Crystal, “it’s not the usual Valentine theme… it’s more open. The theme is love, death, and sex.” As fellow artists themselves, Crystal and Turk also join in with the themes, and alongside the group exhibitions, artists including NEKO, a local street artist, EGO and GOREilla have exhibited in solo shows.

Turk and I both have a fascination for skulls and both of our styles are easily summed up as macabre. Since I was a child, my father and I would go skull hunting in the Cuyamaca mountains. My father would find skulls and clean them to sell; I kept a few of them from my childhood and started building them into little reliquaries. My style of art is definitely inspired with a bow to the nature gods. Creating little reliquaries for these found, abandoned beauties and giving them each a story to glorify. Remembrance and worship to nature itself. Beauty in death.

Turk has always been drawing skulls; he has a very district style, which has made him so significant in the tattoo world. The exaggerated teeth or cheekbones mixed with crazy amounts of details always makes a Turkskull.” Crystal smiles, “He has developed his own style based on cute-creepy dead things and people seek him out because of that. He paints beautiful watercolour and acrylic paintings as well as tattooing.

Between art exhibitions, the gallery is filled with works from the resident artists at the shop, as well as other local artists and jewellery makers. Making sure that the tattoers at Left Hand Black are also celebrated, Crystal ensures that their original art has a permanent space to display while the remaining gallery walls evolve with the seasons.

“Dark art is usually pushed aside, and tattoo artists are usually segregated into their own shops. It’s unfair and doesn’t do the art community any justice. I always make sure to seek out new artists of all styles, whether I’m into it or not.”

One thing is clear: Left Hand Black Gallery will continue to surprise and inspire, supporting the broad range of artists and mediums found under the umbrella terms of Dark and Tattoo Art. Blending all forms under one roof, Left Hand Black provides the rebellious, versatile space you’ve been waiting for, with something for everyone.

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