By Ryan Smith

Werk Out Gallery Experience All Artists

The most worth-the-trip summer music and arts festivals are always all about the music, and all about the art.

Bryan Stacy at Werk Out 2017. Photo by Keith Griner.

But the best of the best are the ones that take those elements and — through the magic of community, hard work, and full-hearted intent — create a happy marriage, in which the Love can be seen, and heard, and deep-felt by everyone involved.

Photo taken at Werk Out 2017 by Bradford Watkins.

The Werk Out Music and Arts Festival is without-a-doubt one of those festivals, and its ‘Arts’ component — a living, breathing, working gallery featuring some of the most intriguing and talented artists in and around the scene — is one of the most beautiful and finest effects of that labor of love.

The Beauty of the Beast, collaboration by Bryan Stacy and Gavin Gonzo.

As the 2018 Werk Out approached, I recently took some time out of Werk Out Art Gallery Director Elise Olmstead’s busy summer schedule (I nicely asked if she’d take her Jamwich editor cap off for a few) to talk about what will be happening at the gallery.

Julie Young, Gavin Gonzo, Mike Hancock, Johnny Stinson.

We also heard from one of this year’s featured artists, the amazing Gavin Gonzo, who gave his take on the event as a longtime Werk Out veteran.

Gallery curators Taco and Elise Olmstead with Werks fans Melissa Williams and Andre Soussan. Photo by Roger Gupta.

Here’s what they had to say: 

Ryan Smith: Hey there, Elise! Let’s start by hearing a little about the core essences of this year’s Werk Out Art Gallery. Who, and what — and where, even — makes the space what it is, and how does it evolve each year?

Elise Olmstead: Taco [Olmstead] and I are very proud to have been curating the art gallery at Werk Out for the past four years. We have always tried to bring a mix of artists from different regions, bringing people that we meet along our travels, from North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and beyond.

The number of artists that we bring has fluctuated over the years, starting out with around 20 and maxing out at about 40. The year that we brought 40 artists was fun, but that experience taught us that less is more. We are now bringing only 11 artists in order to give them each more special attention, and to allow the patrons that explore the gallery to really get to absorb these artists’ visions and carefully select the art they want to buy and take home with them. When there were 40 artists it was too overwhelming for the patrons to really take in.

This year, the artists will each have a theme to their gallery showing, and will be completing a couple of pieces never seen before the Werk Out, so we urge attendees come see these special pieces and buy an original or a print to hang in their home.  

RS: Talk a bit about what it’s like, from a festival organizer’s perspective, to cultivate a set and setting that nurtures and encourages the creation of a mountain of beautiful and weird and wild new art. How do you do it?

EO: Having as much art as possible and getting the artists to create live art in front of the patrons allows all of the energies to co-mingle and start to become one. The artists are influenced by the music, the dancers in the crowd are influenced by the beautiful art being created, and the wallflowers are being jazzed by the dancers. Sometimes — when it’s headliner time and the lights are shining and the guitar is shredding and the artists are slapping the paint — I can tangibly feel the electric energy moving through every one of us. If we allow our hearts and our eyes to be open, we can tap into that magical energy and get truly weird and wonderful!

RS: Thanks so much for making the time, Elise. What else would you like everyone to know about this year’s Werk Out featured artists and their works?

EO: I have to say that it was so difficult to choose only 10 artists this year. We got a lot of great applicants.

My ‘core four’ of artists who I invited first were Bryan Stacy, Mike Hancock, Gavin Gonzo, and Abbey Aura. They started a mural at Domefest that they will be continuing at Werk Out. Bryan Stacy in particular is an artist who is just down for anything, never complains or moans and groans like a lot of people — just does the damn thing. He always impresses me. I am also very excited to bring Will Shanklin from Baltimore for the first time. Almost all of his art is already themed with an original science fiction story (333), so I urge you to come delve down his rabbit hole for a little while.  He will be helping us with the gallery and I’m just really happy to have him.

I am also very happy to be bringing back Harrison Lance Crawford, who we haven’t had in the gallery since the first year we curated the gallery at Werk Out.

Like I mentioned before, these artists will have a theme for the gallery showing and will be creating a special, exclusive piece never before seen the Werk Out, so there’s going to be some really special stuff for you to feast your eyes on in that gallery.


Abbey Aura and Gavin Gonzo. Photo by Aaron Bradley

Now, let’s hear from Gavin:

Ryan Smith: Hey Gavin! Let’s start by just talking a little bit about the act of live painting. How does that action — especially in a setting like the Werk Out — differ from creating in a traditional studio or other work environment?

Gavin Gonzo: For me, live painting is an act of capturing energy, capturing a moment in time and space and making it tangible. Especially in a charged space like a music festival, a moment of the magic can be made eternal in the form of pushed pigments.

Werk Out has an incredible energy that I’ve been blessed to be a part of for the last seven years, and by creating a work of art there, each attendee becomes a part of a creative process that will create a final idea that may be seen by thousands.

By being a part of the live art experience, one can see all that goes into a creative endeavor and become a part of it in the process.

RS: As an artist who’s highly recognized and respected within the live-art culture, give some words of wisdom to those who are just starting out in this particular iteration of the field. And, beyond that, any nuggets of knowledge for all of the festival-goers who will be taking it all in?

GG: Always rise, never peak.

Being a creative means always pushing the limit of what you can do. It’s important to never get too comfortable and to always try new techniques and mediums. If you think you’ve mastered something, you’re kidding yourself because there is always more to learn.

One of my favorite things about art is that the limit does not exist. This is really applicable in all things in life.

RS: It’s really amazing to eye-witness (and ear-witness) the play between live music feeding art, and live art feeding music. Share some of your take on that phenomenon.

GG: The interaction is all about new inspiration, emotion, and energy for me. When music is playing, the crowd is raging, and the artists are flowing, there is so much to draw from to charge a painting. It creates the perfect universe for that moment in time with music to decorate the time, art to decorate the space, and the people … because who wants to enjoy all that without their best friends to share it with?

RS: Thanks again — so much — for sharing your time with us, and your talents with the world. Anything else you’d like to add?

GG: Come check out our art gallery and hang with us!

There is a really special group of artists among us this year and the gallery will be something unlike any other festival gallery I’ve been a part of. I hope everyone is as excited as I am — but how could you not be?!

The 2018 Werk Out Music and Arts is Aug. 2 through 4 at the historic Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio. For tickets, directions and more information on everything amazing happening there, visit

Ryan Smith is a music-and-art-loving, work-happy family man, cook and freelance writer/photographer focusing on arts and live music culture throughout the region.

Abbey Aura

Bryan Stacy

David Pontoja

Gavin Gonzo

Gordie Morton

Harrison Lance Crawford

Johnny Stinson

Julie Young

Mike Hancock

Ryan Byrd

Will Shanklin