A Tuscaloosa native as returned home to plant roots with his new art gallery ten years in the making. He hopes that this gallery will become a hub for local artists and art connoisseurs alike to come together.

Fool's Gold Gallery, located at 2424 6th Street in Tuscaloosa, is a place to house all the work done by Andrew Swartz. Swartz got his start over 10 years ago under the name "Skull Garden." The Thread asked why the name of his first brick and mortar location was so different.

"I wanted a slight departure from what I was already doing.. If it sucked it'd be best not to have my brand's name on it," Swartz said, laughing. "The new name actually comes from the name of the first fool card in a wooden tarot card pack I designed. It symbolizes new beginnings, exuberance and joy, know knowing where the future will lead."

Most of Swartz' other projects are usually on wood. He explained he hated working on canvas, and he doesn't have to frame his wood paintings. He uses the woodgrain to inform how paintings will go, and he often highlights it in his finished products.

Swartz was born and raised in Tuscaloosa. He didn't always have the same affinity for art, however. He told The Thread that he didn't start drawing as a hobby until he was 16 years old.

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"I was an average C-student, even through college," Swartz said. "I couldn't quite get my brain and hand to work together on the art either. I had ideas I wanted to get out, but I didn't have the skill to do it. And so I just kept pushing myself."

He ended up graduating just after the April 27, 2011 tornado, and had a lot of difficulty finding any sort of job. He joked that he couldn't even find work cleaning up after dogs. However, Swartz started dedicating more time to his art - he took commissions for pet portraits, paintings, and started displaying his work at coffee shops, single day markets and started a following.

"There was this early, scrappy nature to everything. One of our first outdoor shows was at Kentuck, and we held up the art on chicken wire," Swartz said. "I'm surprised we sold anything at all."

With Swartz through all of this, working behind the scenes was his now husband Johnathan Lucas. The two first met in 2008 when Swartz briefly attended the Art Institute of Atlanta. When Swartz moved back to Tuscaloosa to attend the University of Alabama, Lucas followed him at the start of 2009 and they pursued a relationship.

"I'll tongue-and-cheek call myself the 'Booth Babe,'" Lucas said. "I'm the one to go out to the art shows if Andrew is staying in the shop. I sometimes see something in a piece that's different than what Andrew thought when he was painting it, and so I help give our customers a different perspective I guess you could say."

They both agreed the moment they realized they could pursue art full time was at Birmingham ArtWalk in 2012, when they made their first $1,000 in a weekend. Despite the amount of time spent on the pieces in comparison to what they made, the pair saw it as their first true case of success.

And so, Lucas and Swartz fully committed to Skull Garden as an art business. Swartz explained the name "Skull Garden" was derived from exactly that - at the time he was painting animal skulls in combination with flowers, nature and gardens. He used his collection of real skulls as inspiration, including a black bear, ram, domestic cat, beaver and a warthog.

However he's since broadened his subject matter, with his new biggest inspiration being travel. Some of his most popular pieces are inspired by trips the two have taken either for fun or when traveling to different art shows.

(Noah Lueker | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Noah Lueker | Tuscaloosa Thread)

One piece features a giant jellyfish in the night sky over rolling sand dunes, and was inspired by the pair's trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park, an area of the country that used to be largely underwater. Swartz explained he was interested in the astral, spectral imagery, a strange dichotomy.

"Even now, I try to make art that raises more questions than it answers, where people almost grasp what's going on but not quite," Swartz said. "As the business has expanded, my worldview has expanded."

Swartz and Lucas travel largely around the south and midwest, but have gone as far as the Utah, Arizona, and California. In between art shows, they go RV camping nearby to find more inspiration.

Now that they've settled and opened a gallery, Swartz feels like he's at the right point in his career to slow down and build up a business in his hometown. The front of the store serves as the main art gallery, with every piece either in rolling displays or on the walls. Swartz will be behind a small partition where patrons can see him work in real time.

Although they'll still be traveling to shows, Lucas said they would likely be scaling them back from roughly 20 shows a year to 11.

The store features paintings of all shapes, sizes and prices. Many pieces are on Swartz' signature wood canvases and some are shaped in specific cutouts, like a bottle-shaped piece containing a night sky and a vibrant full moon. Swartz lovingly calls the piece "Moonshine."

Some of the gallery's larger pieces can cost upwards of $6,000 for a painting half the size of the room, while some smaller prints make great Christmas presents without breaking the bank at a $50 price point.

In the future, the two hope to feature other local artists and friends they've met over the years that don't come to Tuscaloosa by hanging their pieces in the gallery.

They already participate in Tuscaloosa's local Art Night, where several local artists open their businesses after hours on the first Friday of each month, and invite patrons to enjoy drinks, food and art.

The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays on a home game day. To see for yourself what the gallery offers, visit Skull Garden or Fool's Gold Gallery's official websites.

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