by Rachel Hoskins Last month, works by Banksy, the English-based, internationally recognized graffiti artist known for his iconic street art and the cult film “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” were featured at the William Rupnik Gallery in Cleveland — an unheard of feat outside of New York or Los Angeles. If you were one of the more than 500 people who saw the exhibit, you can thank Bill Rupnik curator and owner of the William Rupnik Gallery. Street artists like Banksy are starting to infiltrate the mainstream consciousness. Hailed as the pop artists of this generation, it is not out of the question to foresee a name like Banksy becoming as recognizable as Andy Warhol. “But if you’re sitting around waiting for [these artists] to exhibit in Cleveland, you’re going to die waiting,” said Rupnik. Rather than accept that fact, he took matters into his own hands, consigned pieces from private collectors and put together his own major street artist show. It was hosted as the first exhibit in his sparkling new gallery space at 1117 Euclid Avenue, down the street from Playhouse Square. Labeled “Private Eyes,” it featured pieces by Banksy along with renowned street artists Invader, Vhils, Blu and Shepard Fairey. “I doubt [the artists] even knew about the show or will ever know about it,” said Rupnik, exemplifying one of many ways the William Rupnik Gallery is changing the rules in the Northeast Ohio art scene. As you may have noticed, street art is a big deal and not only on the streets, according to Rupnik it’s also now a big deal in the gallery. During a long economic downturn, the business of art invariably suffers. However, Rupnik said he still regularly sells four-figure pieces, the proceeds of which keep the lights on and the rent paid. Although, not entirely dedicated to street art per se, many if not most of the artists who exhibit at the gallery come from a street art background. And while many galleries are playing it safe these days with group and themed shows, Rupnik is stalwart in his dedication to solo acts and even exhibiting new artists with no previous showings. “To give the artist the opportunity to just take over a gallery and transform the space into what they want it to be,” he said. “That’s when you’re going to see something truly prolific and unique.” It’s an appropriate action for a gallery that is itself a one-man-show. Rupnick single handedly runs the gallery he opened in 2007. He even patches and paints after each installation — all on top of a day job as vice president of product development at Cleveland printing company, Jakprints. A high school drop out with no formal art education, Rupnik first became enamored with street art as a child watching paint-riddled trains roll through town. “I didn’t know where it was from, or who made it, I just knew I was ecstatically into it,” he said. Rupnik later would spend entire days in a lawn chair next to the tracks photographing the “art” that rolled by. “It caused me to find legitimacy in the form,” he said and he knew he wanted to document it. The gallery’s latest installation “Box of Fun” is a show of new works created exclusively for the William Rupnik Gallery by artist Ales Bask Hostomsky of St. Petersburg, Florida. Bask said he drew inspiration for “Box of Fun” from the current social and economic climate. “Whether it’s the Occupy movement or revolts in the Middle East, there is this air of change that’s happening right now,” said Bask. The metaphor, he said was in his process, which involved following a cartoonist’s how-to book to create animal characters that he cut into pieces then re-combined to create new and bizarre characters, topped with painted details and 12-coats of shellac. “It’s a statement about the way the times we’re in, they’re reshaping us,” he said and that we don’t always come out of situations the same way we went in. In comparison to what they used to be, they may not be as beautiful, but he said, “They’re still pretty.” His fourth time showing with the William Rupnik Gallery, Bask said Cleveland rates as one of his top U.S. cities for shows. “It’s just incredible,” he said. “In music and art, Cleveland has an underbelly of support that is just unmatched in other cities.” Come be a part of Cleveland’s newest gallery and experience the forefront of street art at “Box of Fun,” which is running through December 11.