Chalkboard drawings rest behind a crocodile—scaled, green, with crooked teeth. She is dressed in a cotton-candy pink school dress, complete with starchy collar and puffed sleeves. Outlandish, yet the details of her portrait are warm and familiar. She encapsulates Dori DeCamillis’s style of oil painting, one that flows with surrealism and interiority.
Dori’s paintings collide with sculptures by her husband, Scott Bennett, inside Edgewood’s Red Dot Gallery, where their students’ work is also displayed. Much of Scott’s work takes the form of decorative, non-functional vessels “where Wedgewood meets Harley Davidson,” in his words. Orange-glazed flames meet curved blue edges. At the end of the long opening, Dori displays her recent exploration into circular paintings, large and small, filled with shiny goblets or raw fruits and vegetables.
Sitting just behind Homewood Antiques, Red Dot Gallery opened in its current location over 10 years ago. Dori and Scott first opened gallery in Pepper Place in 2004, but they soon outgrew the building and found their quirky destination in the heart of Edgewood. The gallery, doubling as a studio and exhibition space, was born when their independent careers as artists came together.
As kids, both Dori and Scott attached quickly to their artistic talents and the joy of making. “I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was in kindergarten, and I never changed my mind,” Dori says. She knew she would dedicate her life and career to making art, and she succeeded, clinging to oil painting early on and traveling around the country with her work.
Scott remembers an early realization of his creative interests, too. He began drawing with his brother and developed a skill in creating. “I never really thought about the label of being an artist until high school, probably (not) until I decided to go to college,” he says. He also traveled around the country with his pottery, where his path converged with Dori’s at an art festival in St. Louis in 2002.
When they decided to collectively open Red Dot, the name a combination of their first names into “dot” plus a reference to the red mark of a sold gallery piece, Dori and Scott needed a space to make and show their work. However, as they began to also use the space to take on students, Red Dot molded highly successful artists into teachers.
Both Dori and Scott teach with high technical skill, similar to a college-level studio course. Each student begins with a series of projects that develop basic skills before jumping into their own personal fascinations. Red Dot also takes on students whenever a spot opens up, so each new student joins an existing class and learns from Dori or Scott, as well as all the other students.
But, without grades or other college-level pressures, students at Red Dot can take their time with building technique and style. “Everyone has a different way of learning, speed of learning, different level of talent they come in with and a different personality,” Dori says. As they’ve both built up years of teaching, Dori and Scott have polished their classes to tailor to every individual. “Everyone makes a different mark. We have to help them be confident and accept their individual style,” Scott adds.
With this relaxed and personal structure comes the community of classes at Red Dot, something much different from that of a strict college course. “We didn’t think everyone would become friends and eat dinner before class. They come here to learn from us and to hang out with each other,” Scott says. When Dori’s students meet, their work and conversation fill the mirrored room. She goes around to guide each student, and then, every so often, returns to her own canvas in the studio. “I feel like I’m hanging out with my buddies for a living,” she says.
The high technique marries with a community focus, making Red Dot lessons something completely dedicated to the art of making and creating. “Most people come here because of the curiosity or the romance of the potter’s wheel,” Scott says about his own students. Throwing clay often takes time to develop, especially compared to hand building, but his students have the freedom to go between styles and develop skills at their own pace.
That goes along with painting too, or any sort of artistic exploration. “You never know when a person will hit their stride or figure it all out. Those things don’t always take one semester. It could take 10 years,” Scott says. Red Dot frames classes to be like independent research, where students take the fundamental basics and apply them to their own movement and creative process.
Along with their pursuits of teaching and community, Dori and Scott have discovered the peace that comes through this kind of art making. “A lot of people come in here because they’re suffering. Something bad happened to them, they’re going through a big change in their lives or they’re bewildered about their next steps,” Dori says. “You can do no wrong here, which is the opposite of what I got in college. People figure out that they can relax…Making art’s just good for you.”
To learn more about Dori’s and Scott’s work and classes at Red Dot Gallery, visit reddotgallery.com.
New Children’s Art Classes
Though Dori retired her children’s classes a few years ago, her daughter Annabelle DeCamillis has now brought them back to Red Dot. A recent UAB graduate, Annabelle too fell in love with art-making as a child and showed her art in multiple galleries. Her classes, one for 8- to 12-year olds and one for teenagers, focus both on the basics of academic drawing skills and the joy and fun of creating.