NoName is finding the artists you haven’t yet seen

by Francesca Chapman
Posted 1/11/24

Jonene Lee, of Chestnut Hill’s NoName Gallery, curated this show using a different principle – if you’re a local artist, you’re in!

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NoName is finding the artists you haven’t yet seen


Jonene Lee was hanging the works to be shown at Chestnut Hill’s NoName Gallery last week, contemplating the theme for the venue’s January exhibition. 

Most of the works offered this month are a departure, she said, from NoName’s usual theme. “I specialize in urban, street, contemporary art,” she said, “and a lot of this isn’t that.” 

Instead, she curated this show using a different principle – if you’re a local artist, you’re in!

“The Artists of Northwest Philly,” which opened Jan. 5 and runs through the month, reflects the open call Lee held for area artists. She accepted virtually all comers, so there are 28 artists represented in the unusual show. The gallery, a warren of six small rooms at 8127 Germantown Ave., is filled with a diverse range of works in a head-spinning range of styles: paintings, prints, photographs, ceramics and more, from large, abstract canvases to small, whimsical watercolors. 

This past fall, Lee launched a call for submissions from area artists on NoName’s Instagram page, thinking the sometimes sleepy month of January would be a good time to offer space to up-and-coming artists. 

“I wanted to leave it open for people who are scared” of the gallery scene, or who have only shown their work at festivals or in coffee shops, Lee said. Some artists in the show told Lee they’d never shown pieces publicly at all, and Lee, impressed by the quality of the work, could only gasp “Are you … kidding me?!” 

NoName’s more typical roster of artists has attracted buyers from beyond Philadelphia, and includes important collectors such as filmmaker Spike Lee and musician and producer Questlove, Lee said. Purchases from well-known collectors can instantly boost an artist’s profile and the value of their work.

Jonene Lee, who worked as an artist and photographer before opening NoName, remembers the challenges of trying to make a living as an artist. “Now when I can do things for people, I’m happy to help,” she said. “I try to find artists who I can help grow and give opportunities to.”

Chestnut Hill artist Sarah Jane Timmons, who has five watercolor-and-ink scenes of Philadelphia on view at No Name, has participated in small gallery shows before, but mostly shows her work at area art festivals and pop-ups. 

“Both are great, but looking for gallery opportunities can often feel more about knowing the right people than the quality of the work, with some of the best galleries in Philly right now for contemporary artists being booked months in advance,” Timmons said.

“I’m glad NoName is offering space to local artists who aren’t yet in those larger galleries. We have so many talented creatives in this area who deserve a spotlight.”

Mari Lowery is a Mt. Airy artist with several collage and mixed-media works in the show. Like Timmons, she sells much of her work online and at art fairs, and jumped when she saw Lee’s call for artists to participate in the January show.

“I had been to the gallery before and thought I had some work that would be a good fit,” she said. “So when I saw the open call, I knew this was my opportunity. I’m extremely honored to have four pieces in the show, and especially happy to be starting the year with something this special.”

The “Artists of Northwest Philly” label is a significant one for both artists. 

Timmons often features the region in her work, with both Center City and Wissahickon scenes included in this exhibit. “I think the pieces really balance each other out nicely, and pay tribute to that real-life, bustling city versus the slow nature feeling we have here,” she said.

For Lowery, it speaks to the community of artists and patrons she found in the area. 

“I’m originally from New York and moved to Mt. Airy six years ago. It can be intimidating to move to a different state without knowing many people, so it’s been meaningful and validating to be welcomed at many events all over Northwest Philly,” she said.  

“The Artists of Northwest Philly” continues at the NoName Gallery through January. The gallery, at 8127 Germantown Ave., is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m., and Sundays by appointment only.