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In the dead of winter in 2009, Marcus Wise opened the doors to his new art gallery at 464 Amherst St. and hoped for the best.

“I didn't really know anything about running a gallery,” said Wise, whose 464 Gallery is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month. “My background is not in fine art.”

That very do-it-yourself, learn-as-you-go spirit is what allowed Wise to transform the former hardware store on an up-and-coming block of Amherst Street into one of the busiest and most buzzed-about art spaces in Buffalo.

Within months of launching his first exhibition, word got out to Buffalo's creative community about Wise's come-one, come-all arts space. And before he knew it, an entirely new grass-roots community coalesced around the gallery.

The artists who worked, exhibited and hung out at 464 during its first months eventually formed Emerging Leaders in the Arts Buffalo, a group of young artists and arts supporters that went on to launch the popular “City of Night” festival at Silo City.

Many popular local artists who were unknown quantities five years ago got their start at 464, using the gallery as a place to wade into the area's vibrant visual arts scene and break as many rules as they wanted in the process.

“We've kind of developed a sense of community and a sense of family because we've all been learning together,” Wise said. “We've been through so much together and we've learned so much together, done our first shows here. I've helped them figure out how to break out beyond 464, because I don't want it to be too insular.”

Walking into 464 has always felt more like stepping into your friend's living room than into the white-walled, antiseptic surroundings of some higher-end spaces. Wise can usually be found sitting behind a large wooden kiosk and tapping away at his computer as visitors make their way across the venue's creaky wooden floors to look at paintings or flip through plastic-sheathed prints in bins along the wall.

That comfortable vibe is part of the 464 ethos, Wise said, and it's what has helped the gallery attract new artists and audiences into the city's visual art community.

“I know a lot of people can have the perception that art galleries can be stuffy and pretentious and things like that. I don't know if it's more of an extension of my personality and what I like, but when I go to places I like to have a good time,” Wise said. “We want a welcoming vibe here because we don't want people to be turned off by artwork or scared to look at art. Yeah, it's a cool place where we can go hang out and there's artwork there. And if they become engaged with it through the process, that's awesome.”

That vibe is in full effect during “Evolution,” an exhibition celebrating 464's role as a launching pad for Buffalo artists. The show, which runs through Monday, features work by nine artists who had their first local solo shows in the gallery and have each gone on to wider recognition in the city's art scene.

Dana Saylor, an architectural historian and central member of ELAB, created a moving mixed-media piece called “Dear Sir.” Saylor made tracings of the house's original plans and drawings of its former incarnations as a tailor's shop and hardware store, which hang from an old window frame taken from the 464 building itself. Viewers are encouraged to flip through the sheets, in effect peeling back the layers of history to reveal the building's physical evolution as well as her own artistic one.

The photographer and wheat-paster Max Collins, whose work has been all but unavoidable on the local art scene during the past several years, shows two photographs of his work – a characteristically hopeful portrait of a skyward-gazing boy on the side of a dilapidated building at Silo City.

Rich Tomasello, whose growth over the last five years as an artist concerned with the effects of bullying and the residue of violence has been fascinating to watch, has an allegorical piece on view that depicts a pile of severed cartoon heads surrounding a tall guillotine. Matthew Grote, the artist known as OGRE, created a fun portrait of Charles Darwin for the show that demonstrates his skill as an illustrator and the inspiration he draws from the fine art and graffiti worlds.

Chuck Tingley, another artist who launched his promising career at 464, produced an alluring, surrealistic mixed-media piece that depicts a gun-wielding young man zip-lining over a wrecked passenger train and into an abandoned station. It's a weird fever-dream of a painting and a promising new direction for his work.

The show also features new work by the gifted draftsman Thomas Webb and sculptors Tara Sasiadek and Marissa Lehner, among others whose work still has plenty of room to evolve.

At 464, the motivation has never been to produce slick, museum-worthy shows curated to within an inch of their lives. Rather, it's been to invite in new or freshly minted artists, give them exposure and push them forward in their young careers.

As Wise wrote in his introduction to the show, “Buffalo's art community is overflowing with undiscovered and underexposed artists and we look forward to many more years of helping them to emerge and evolve.”

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com