Rather than suit jackets and hors d'oeuvres, the artist's exhibition at MPACC Gallery on Saturday, Aug. 17, will feature live DJs, interactive exhibits and, perhaps, cornhole

Less than a week before Hakim Callwood’s first East Side exhibition, “Duality,” the artist was up until nearly 4 a.m. spray painting cardboard boxes white in the poorly ventilated confines of the basement art studio he shares with fellow artist Bryan Moss.

By the time the show rolls around at the MPACC Gallery on Saturday, Aug. 17, Callwood’s plan is to have used the boxes to create a giant, interactive puzzle of his comic strip characters, Spaceboy and Spacegirl, for younger attendees to play with. In addition to the eight to 10 larger works Callwood intends to display, he’s also bringing 15 to 20 postcard-sized, hand-drawn pieces, which he plans to sell for around $15 each.

It’s all part of Callwood's drive to make the art world more accessible to residents of all stripes — particularly those who live in the types of neighborhoods in which he grew up on the East Side. So for this homecoming show, rather than suit jackets and hors d’oeuvres, there will be live DJs and interactive exhibits. On Thursday, he even posted a request to Facebook asking to borrow someone’s cornhole setup for the event.

“A lot of my friends, their first time coming to an art show was one of my shows, and they wouldn’t know what to wear or how to act,” Callwood said in an interview at his Downtown art studio. “I’m like, ‘If you come to my show, don’t worry about that. We’re just going to hang out and see some quality work,’ and quality work doesn’t mean it has to be super formal.

“That’s how I got into art. I was hanging at 129 Studios with my homies, and we would throw a show every month where we would let everybody in, and a lot of people would come and buy art, because it was in their price range. Then there are things like Urban Scrawl, which is one of the events that really showed me that art doesn’t have to be stuffy. Art can be alive.”

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Though Callwood took art classes at Columbus Alternative High School and during abbreviated stints at the Art Institute of Cincinnati and Columbus State Community College, he doesn’t view himself as formally trained. Rather, Callwood’s still-evolving style, which often features bold, magical-realist portraits painted in vivid color with loose brushstrokes, has been developed through hours of intensive exploration and experimentation, driven by a relentless work ethic the artist said he inherited, in part, from his late father.

“[My dad] was tenacious, a real go-getter, and I think he taught me from a young age to handle a lot of things I didn’t really want to handle,” Callwood said. His father also didn’t suffer excuses, which used to irritate a teenage Callwood, but has served him well as a 26-year-old. “I feel like he knew I was going to be running into situations where I needed to be mature enough to handle things on my own … so shouts to him for that.”

Callwood's relentless nature revealed itself fully once he decided that art was his calling, beginning somewhere around 2012 or ’13. At that point, he went online to see what places came up when one typed “Columbus art” into search engines, and then he set off to ingratiate himself into those scenes.

“After I hit up Google, I went and involved myself in everything that popped up on the list. It said ‘Franklin Park,’ and I lived across the street from Franklin Park. It said ‘COSI,’ so I went and got a job at COSI,” said Callwood, who left his job there two years ago and has since made a living doing art full-time. “It said ‘the Short North,’ so I started hanging out there. I just went down the list one by one and made myself a presence.”

At times, this would mean taking more than hour-long bus rides to COSI, trips for which he’d often pack both his bike and a garbage bag filled with paintings, so that he could pedal direct from work to various Franklinton galleries to show his wares.

Earlier this year, Callwood tested both his work ethic and his artistic skills, completing a campaign where he created and sold 50 paintings in 50 days — a challenge that he said has helped him reach unexpected new heights as an artist.

“I learned you can’t afford to wait for inspiration, because I gotta eat, I gotta buy used anime DVDs,” he said, and laughed.

But Callwood’s work has also taken on added dimensions. His assortment of magical characters — informed by anime, comic books and literature — are augmented with rich landscapes and painted cutouts that zoom in on specific scenes. In one piece, for instance, a planet is overlaid with a close-up of a forest, which is overlaid with a close-up of a single leaf, as though a microscope has been turned on the canvas.

“I changed my style a lot after that [50-in-50 experience] because I realized I didn’t want to do the same things over and over,” Callwood said. “People like to be comfortable, and I struggle learning new things and new techniques, but once you get through it, it’s so rewarding. ... It's like I've always had these ideas in my head, but now I have the ability to make them happen."