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Visual art and music collide at 'Made You A Mixtape' in Louisville

A woman stands in front of a gallery wall full of art.
Scott Recker
Aurora Gallery & Boutique co-owner Alexandra Rumsey at “Made You A Mixtape.”

Each artist in the group show “Made You A Mixtape” picked one song to inspire a work of visual art. The exhibition runs through March 17.

Music and visual art have a long and storied history of being muses for one another, which is at the heart of “Made You A Mixtape,” an exhibition at Aurora Gallery & Boutique.

The concept of the show is straightforward: Each visual artist in the open group show can submit one piece that was inspired by a song.

The results are expansive and profound.

“Made You A Mixtape” — which runs through Sunday — contains more than 100 pieces that cover several mediums and various genres of music, producing a wide range of creativity.

There’s a self-portrait dedicated to “Looking For A Kiss” by the New York Dolls, where the artist has a fake plastic gun in their mouth. There’s a vibrant, graffiti-style acrylic on canvas piece with the word “WOMAN” spelled out over and over, dedicated to the song “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. There’s a white cotton dress on a mannequin with one in the pocket, which is, you guessed it, dedicated to Alanis Morissette’s “Hand In My Pocket.” There’s a piece of stained glass depicting the earth being engulfed by a fireball, dedicated to Smash Mouth’s “All-Star.”

“Made You A Mixtape” is all over the place, and full of surprises, which is what makes it special.

“I think people just love the idea that you can take one creative medium and make another creative object out of that medium,” said co-owner Alexandra Rumsey. “I think people are drawn to that. And music makes people feel.”

“Mixtape,” runs annually, starting each year in February. After all of the pieces are chosen and hung, gallery staff create a Spotify playlist of all of the songs, so people can listen along as they browse.

Rumsey, who has a piece on Puscifer’s “Apocalyptical” in the show, said the magic of the project is how inclusive it is, and how that diversifies the results.

“It’s a pretty simple premise, but I think what makes it special is because of that simplicity,” Rumsey said. “You make a piece of artwork about a song. And they can take that however they want. And I think that’s lovely.”

Art on a wall.
Scott Recker
Each visual artist contributed one piece inspired by a single song at “Made You A Mixtape.”

“What it made me feel”

“Made You A Mixtape” was conceptualized by Aurora Gallery co-owner Lyndie Lou, who drew influence from her early trips into the Louisville music and arts scene from her home in rural western Kentucky.

Lou, who now also owns Mama Tried Tattoo Parlour in the Highlands, said those initial dives into the art scene had a significant impact on her career and perspectives on life, and she hopes the show helps open the floodgates for others.

“I really wanted something that was a love story to music — what it had done and how it had changed my life,” Lou said. “What it made me feel. And getting to see other people’s songs that they chose and why, and what those songs meant to them and their lives, or how it brought them together with somebody, or how it was there for them in a time when they didn’t maybe have anything or anybody else, but it made them feel safe or secure or not so alone, is really beautiful every single time.”

While the exhibition contains work from numerous veteran artists who have created for years, it’s also fostering some from the next generation.

A 7-year-old has a painting in the show that interprets a Jack Harlow song. A 6-year-old and their mother both have pieces in the exhibition.

“The kids saw me putting up the dot, and they were like… ‘My painting sold?’ And I was like, ‘It did, it means you’re a professional artist,’ and one of them was like, ‘Mom, I’m a professional artist!,’” Lou said.

Having so many artists at different points in their journey allows people to let loose a bit, and take chances. Even Lou worked outside her comfort zone for the exhibition, contributing a mixed-media piece revolving around a glass-encased acoustic guitar covered in stickers, flowers and butterflies, dedicated to Rancid’s “Radio.”

“It is vulnerable to put your artwork out there, no matter how deep you are into the art world,” Lou said. “It’s vulnerable, but if it’s a big, huge group show, and when it’s fun and everybody seems positive, it doesn’t seem as scary. You’re in it with a bunch of different people, it’s not just your piece on the wall. It allows that inner voice, which I have, that says, ‘everyone is looking at it and judging it,’ to quiet down. And just enjoy being part of it.”

Visual art in a gallery.
Scott Recker
Jessica Chao’s pink opossum painting about the song “Lipstick” by Ariel Pink (upper left), and a white cotton dress by Briana Frederick dedicated to Alanis Morissette’s “Hand In My Pocket” (center).

Creature of the night

Sometimes music inspires us to do even deeper dives into the topics we’re already fascinated by, which is the reason behind artist Jessica Chao’s pink opossum painting — made with gouache on wood — in the show.

Chao moved to Louisville from Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2019. She didn’t see many opossums out West, but here she started noticing several, including one living in her backyard. She became “fully immersed in this exploration of this particular animal,” doing research and listening to podcasts about them.

The mention of an opossum in the song “Lipstick” by Ariel Pink caught her attention, but when she researched the track, it was much darker than she anticipated.

The song, in which an opossum witnesses a murder, is about the Lipstick Killer of Chicago in the 1940s.

Chao said if she initially would have known the story behind the song, she might not have picked it as inspiration, but as her research unraveled, it made her interested in the connection.

“Opossums are just very important creatures of the night, and they probably witness a lot of mysterious, crazy things that happen in the night, and it’s just crazy that they go about their lives and scavenge for dead things and food,” Chao said. “They’re actually cleaning the environment. I guess the song was interesting to me, because it made me appreciate some of the creatures that are overlooked.”

Each of the many pieces in the show holds its own unique short story, shared in a communal way that merges a universal common interest.

“It’s just another way to let us all know that even though we all have different tastes in music and different styles, we all came together for this really great show,” Chao said.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Great Meadows Foundation.