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4rms, party incl.

In a small Somerville apartment- turned-gallery, three guys are serious about art, but low on pretense

From left: Stefan Scott, Scott Mullen, and Johnny 'Vu' Reilly at Stoodio 53.
From left: Stefan Scott, Scott Mullen, and Johnny "Vu" Reilly at Stoodio 53. (Globe Photo / Wiqan Ang)

On a Friday night this fall, about a hundred revelers gathered in a small apartment on Beacon Street in Somerville near Inman Square. Through a set of windows in the front of the apartment, the crowd was visible as a giant, unruly tangle of bodies -- half the men were dressed like women, some of the women were dressed like men, and the art, which covers the wall of the place, was obscured by painted faces, hands, and bright costumes.

And that was just the pre-party.

The setting is Stoodio 53, an upstart gallery that has become something of a focal point for Somerville's burgeoning art community. And the recent scene -- an event for a nearby urban cycling race where all participants would dress up as the opposite gender -- was nothing out of the ordinary.

''There are dozens of bush-league artists and musicians in Somerville alone," said Scott Mullen, a founding member of Stoodio 53. ''We're all creating great art, and we recognize our collective talent. You can't gather a group like that and not generate a buzz."

Mullen's contribution to that buzz is, in essence, the apartment he shares with friends, Johnny ''Vu" Reilly, and Stefan Scott, both local artists. Last year, the trio, two photographers and a penciller/inker, respectively, decided that the art scene in Boston -- particularly art for the off-Newbury crowd -- needed to be brought down a notch.

''Most people see that art shows involve wine, cheese, and some semblance of solemnity," Scott explained. ''It's snooty 'artistes' and patrons mumbling and 'herming' at paintings [that] have been arranged in a sterile environment. A quirky, atypical forum is more appealing."

In 2004, Mullen, Scott, and Reilly cleared out their apartment, did a bit of sweeping, and began hanging their work across the three long, white walls of the living room. The idea was to create a gallery devoid of pretension, where their friends -- and friends of friends -- could look at art, and also hear locally produced music, partake in various local events, and watch locally produced films. And relax.

''We created some flyers, called [acquaintances], musicians, and artists," Mullen says. ''We made CDs of local music to pass out to guests and got a projector set up in my room to show locally-made films. It came together quickly -- we were serious about the art, but we were having fun with it too."

Before the first show, a thorough inventory took place: What kind of people would come? Where would they all fit? (The apartment is relatively small.) And would anyone even look at the work? The answers, as it turned out, came naturally -- the soundtracks were assembled, the art was priced and hung, and a pair of small events was staged. People began to spread the word. Then, one evening this spring, the crowds really started coming. Nearly 150 revelers all told. And there was nowhere to put them.

''They were in the backyard," Mullen remembers. ''But they were also in the front, in the kitchen, in my room, in the bathroom. But that's what we wanted, we wanted people to feel welcome, for the place to feel accessible."

Photos from the grand opening of Stoodio 53 show an eclectic mix of patrons -- mostly young -- jostling elbows in the living room, talking, laughing, dancing to an invisible beat. CDs of local music were handed out at the door. A specially made soundtrack, courtesy of Vu, blared over strategically placed speakers. In Mullen's room, a local indie film was screened. And the on the walls, the art was starting to get examined, and sold.

''There is something about low-pretense art, put on in an comfortable environment," Scott said of that evening. ''[It's] not about class."

''This was tactile, visual, and aural," added Mullen.

It may have been more than that. In a Somerville art scene that seems to grow exponentially by the year, Stoodio 53 is something of an anomaly: an art gallery that takes itself seriously enough to not take itself seriously at all. The focus, Mullen and Scott say, is on balancing the demands of real art with real fun. Hosting events is part of that balancing act. And people are responding, so much so that Mullen muses later that Stoodio 53 events may soon have to move to a different (read: larger) location, one that can easily accomodate throngs of revelers and art.

''You get people who are just there to party and you expect that," Scott said, on a walking tour through Mullen's bedroom -- the center chamber of the Stoodio -- to the kitchen, where some of his art is displayed. ''And that's fine. The fact is that you're getting people to look at the art -- local art -- in the first place. Getting them interested."

The founders of Stoodio 53 have also dipped their hands into the local music scene, running digital hook-ups with River Gods, in Cambridge, and offering specially produced mixtapes of local bands on their website -- stoodio53.com -- which Mullen hopes no one will steal for ill use. Next on the horizon is tomorrow night's New Year's Eve event at River Gods, where Stoodio 53 DJ-at-large djBullitt will be spinning. And after that, more art and music events, which will be staged, in the laid-back spirit of the Stoodio itself, as demand presents itself.

''We're always here," Mullen laughs. ''I mean this is our house. People are always coming by, and looking in the windows because we have [no curtains]. We're happy to do this, this is our art, and we do take that seriously." Later, Scott added, ''Keep coming. It's too good a time."

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