They hung sound tiles from the ceiling, built a stage leaning against the front windows of the bar, bought comfortable second-hand furniture to create the lounging areas, and brought bar stools from the Sun Prairie Salvatore.

They hope the space they have created will be a “living gallery”, as DePula puts it, rather than following the social patterns of a typical art exhibition, where most of the action takes place first. day or during an overnight reception. .

“It’s more of a meeting place, where people can have a drink,” says Johnson.

They also removed a row of booth seating that was in the Star Bar to accommodate comfortable chairs and a sofa. Johnson didn’t want people eating or drinking in a cubicle to have people looking at them to see the art on the walls above them, and wanted to make sure there was space for people come close to art.

“They can spend time, immerse themselves in the art, relax, order food on the side,” added DePula.

A French horn with a shiny pink globe placed in the bell, an illuminated snare drum, and a vintage media console with lamps provide lighting centered around a musical theme.

Behind the bar are silkscreened wooden skateboards by GETBENTpress with a Mexican-style calaca or skeleton and a few esoteric-looking symbols, in a pen and ink design. But the diamond plating lining the bar leg and windows, along with an exposed ceiling, add an industrial touch to the space.

There are also traces of graffiti on some of the walls inviting artists to come and tag, and Johnson has a vision for one of the gallery walls to conform to the concept of “living space” – which different artists could. repaint the wall to better match the colors or themes of their art.

“It might end up turning hot pink at some point, who knows? ” he says. “It will evolve with the shows and the artist. I asked an artist if he could design the whole space.”

Each month, different works of art will be displayed on the walls, through individual and group exhibitions organized by Johnson. The first one, The art of sound, ran through November 9, and featured screen-printed concert posters of Johnson and six other Midwestern artists, including Madison’s Rob Oman.

Some of the posters of The art of sound had a folk texture, like the poster by Milwaukee artist Carolyn Adkins for Madison Armchair Boogie, which showed an owl perched on a banjo in a square of pumpkins, rendered in an autumnal mix of gold and brown tones.

The work of Minneapolis artist Ben Nylen had a metallic feel, with skulls forming from smoky tendrils, a bunch of rats emerging from what looked like intestines or worms, and Batboy’s iconic hissing face. .

Johnson’s own artistry in the show captured a variety of aesthetics. A poster for a Bongzilla show at the High Noon Saloon was dominated by an Art Nouveau-style wizard in earthy, mossy green tones. Another, for an English Beat show at the Majestic, attracts attention with its use of just three colors – black, red and white – to illustrate in pop art style a woman lying on an electric scooter with a flowing scarf and tights. checkered. .

The second exhibition of Dark Horse, a showcase of the work of members of the Madison Polka printmaking collective! Press, open November 12 and lasted until November 29.

Nine members participated with at least one piece of art each, Polka! Press Secretary Benjamin Pollock said Tone Madison.

“It’s a pretty wide range both in terms of the skill level and the art style we do,” he says.

The exhibition featured various forms of printmaking, ranging from screen printing and typography to lithography and etching. Bernie Witzack’s abstract color arcs made one corner of the bar particularly bright. James McKiernan’s fishing lure prints captured the rich textures of attached feathers and carved wood. One of Pollock’s works depicts the wings of a bird as a series of radiating, overlapping planes.

“Some people have a more fine art style, some more graffiti, it’s a diverse group of talented people,” Johnson said.

The collective has a cooperative print environment where they build on each other, Pollock says. Members of the group include self-taught artists like Pollock and more formally trained artists like Dave Stuber, a retired instructor from Madison College.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to show what we’re doing,” says Pollock. “We haven’t had an art-only exhibit on Polka! For several years.”

The next show, Holiday home, opened on December 3 and features three pop artists: Donald Topp from Madison and David Mueller and Luckystar Studio from Milwaukee.

“These are the kinds of things that get us excited,” Johnson says. “To promote shows and be part of the community.”

When deciding where to place on the walls, he says he likes to first arrange all the pieces on the floor where he can best visualize the arrangement, moving the art before hanging it. But after curating over 100 shows to date, he said some of that layout was intuitive to him at this point. He likes to keep all of an artist’s works hanging together on the wall rather than mixing the artists together, to be less confusing to viewers.

When asking for art, one thing he looks for is the “right kind of gift,” he said. He’s always trying to get art to sell, and it’s marketable. The stream Holidaze the show, for example, offers “cool and collectable items at a fair price to give as a gift.” He said Dark Horse had already sold “a lot” of artwork in the first two months of opening.

Also coming on December 11 and 12 is a craft sale where eight local artists will showcase their handmade creations.

In addition to the rotating thematic art exhibitions, Johnson also plans to schedule a few live shows per month, ranging from performance art and live painting to spoken word and comedy. (If you’re a musician, performance artist, or just have an idea for a show, you can contact Johnson at [email protected])

The Three Hours duo performed in space on the first and third Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. On the heavier side, bands from Madison All Meridians and Daughters Of St. Crispin are scheduled to perform on Thursday, December 9th. DePula looks forward to being able to take risks when booking shows. And more music is planned for the future, from Brazilian music to punk rock.

“We don’t need to have 200 people to make it viable, only 40 or 50,” he says of the intimate space. “It can be fun, experimental, unusual. “

When DarkHorse (the restaurant) first opened, DePula decorated the ceiling with shredded CDs from the hapless digital music service Murfie. DePula has already injected his strong feelings about music into his restaurants: In 2015, he published a “blacklist” of “sad hipster music” that he didn’t want staff playing at the Sal’s East location. Johnson Street, including Bon Iver, The National, and Phoenix.

“The idea was to create a great space,” says De Pula. “Sal’s ceiling soffit shredded compact discs that resemble a giant disco ball aesthetically,” although he admitted that sometimes people compare the restaurant’s ceiling to a broiler, rather than a disco ball. .

Johnson plans to use his past experience and contacts to bring the Dark Horse vision to life. From 2004-2008, Johnson and his friends operated a co-op workspace called Firecracker Studios, which was a screen printing store that held pop-up art shows in bars and clubs across town.

“Me and my friends have put on art shows that we weren’t seeing here,” Johnson said. “It was a pop art gallery, basically, with all kinds of friend stuff that had never been shown on the local art scene. It was a hit, there weren’t any others. galleries like this. “

He already knew most of the six artists who had joined him for the Sound art Pin up.

“I work with a lot of artists that I already have contact with, a lot of people that I have met,” he says.

While DePula says he really wants to stress that the bar is a way for people to keep hanging out after seeing the art, instead of being the main attraction, the drinks menu is not a reflection. afterwards.

Beverage manager Aaron Rostad and bar manager Lisa Rogers have offered a range of deals, from a Manhattan dive bar-style ($ 5) to a more chic pre-prohibition style ( $ 15) – and source seasonal ingredients from farmers. markets for cocktails. There are a variety of draft beers and ciders on tap from brewers in Wisconsin, with a few from Illinois, Michigan and Ontario. Beer, cider and seltzer are also available in bottles or cans, and wine by the glass or by the bottle. Salvatore’s pizzas and other entrees next door are an option for hungrier visitors, while Madison-made snacks including Slide chips and NutKrack candied pecans offer lighter fare for others.

DePula says he’s still researching what times work best and how to deal with the ebb and flow of traffic from other nearby venues and events, such as a recent influx of people from Gojira’s sold-out show on November 5 at Sylvee. .

Beyond solving the initial issues, Johnson and DePula have an enthusiastic vision for the future of space.

“Space is alive. It will be a living thing,” Johnson says. “I like that very much.”