We feature Grass Hut Gallery in Portland, OR here on PopDrawer quite a bit. And for damn good reason. Grass Hut, owned and operated by artists Bwana Spoons and Scrappers, Grass Hut has one of the most diverse programs of intermingling nationally established artists and regional stars with up-and-comers in the country. If that ain't enough, they have some of the most uniquely themed shows around. So we got together (virtually-speaking) with Bwana and got the low-down on the past, present and future of the outstanding Grass Hut Gallery. So without further delay, and for your reading and viewing pleasure (hopefully), here is what we found out...
PopDrawer: Can you give us a little Grass Hut Gallery history and background to start things off?
Bwana Spoons: I have wanted to open a shop for years, but knew i would be getting myself into some trouble. So I didn't pursue it too heavily. Things just happen when they are meant to be.
there was this fellow Tony Nguyen who was interning for me. Young and excited he took the plunge and opened up his own limited shoe shop, Renowned. Only nobody knew who he was so nobody would sell him any shoes, so he went with his backup plan. A Gallery. Tony had great taste and was starting to get a good rep for good shows, but a bad rep for never being open on account of that he still had a regular day job. He was going to close the doors... So I stepped in and helped him stay open. I put my studio in the back of the small space, and all my goodies along with a few other peeples zines and minicomics. I kept one small wall for all my art, and the rest was still dedicated to Tony's shows. It was then renowned/Grass Hut Shop. Six months later and he really quit for good. I took over the space, but still wanted a partner. So I asked my friend Scrappers, and he went for it. From then on we were just Grass Hut, and curated our own monthly shows, put more goodsies out, and by then I had a few toys out too. We stuck with the space until we had an opportunity to move one door over to a space almost triple the size back in march. Craziness, because we had the balls out show and I don't know how we would have fit the art in the old space.
Before "Balls Out" show
During "Balls Out" show
PD: Grass Hut is one of the most original galleries in the nation: the group shows are creative, the participants are diverse, and even the solo shows are incredibly unique. You find a great balance between introducing up and coming artists and at the same time showcasing established artists in new and interesting ways (the Tim and Tigerlily Biskup father-daughter show, the Seonna Hong/Yosemite studio-mates show, and the Andrew Brandou Funk Drawer show all come to mind). Do you have a mission or an overarching ideal that encompasses this diversity? Or are you just out to show your favorite stuff?
BS: the simple answer- Yes, a collection of our favorite stuffs and artists. There is a goal though. We want to show the Pacific Northwest originals that they might not have a chance to see otherwise. And on all levels... it's very exciting to discover (like columbus) and show off a new artist. Taking something we love and to say- hey, looksie at this. Can you believe how rad this art is. With more established artists it's very similar. Peeple [sic] drove for miles just to see our one little James Jean piece, and the folks that came through that had never seen his work before freaked too. It was so fun to sit and watch peeple stop when they got to that Jean piece and wonder what the f was up. So nice and lucky when we can get amazing art up on our walls.
A lot of peeple think GH is a collective. But really it's more like a little family of artists. I think of it as a home. A home for radness and good vibes. We like to show off amazing art, and occasionaly just have a good time. This summer at the gallery we had BBQ, ping pong, a waffle breakfast, and even a summercamp complete with merit pins and a patch. All were free. you just had to show up and have a good time.
PD: Do you think you have an advantage over other galleries in getting established artists like James Jean, Tim Biskup and Seonna Hong because you are a well-known artist yourself?
BS: I think being an artist and knowing these other artists has helped quite a bit. Really from the heavy hitters, only the peeple i already know said yes. If they didn't know me or grass hut they declined.
PD: I have been hearing from various gallery owner friends that times are tough in the art world. I assume the economy is the primary reason. Have you been seeing this at GH or other galleries around Portland? The art at GH is so often ultra-affordable. Do you have any specific guiding theories about the price of the work represented at GH?
BS: Yes, these summer months have been a little slim for us at grass hut. I think it's a combination of things, peeple worried about the economy, but mostly i think it is cyclic. In the fall peeple begin to nest again and start looking at and buying art. In late spring they start to travel and take vacations and break up and go swimming. There is also a gigantor flippin amount of art, artists, galleries, and various places to spread ye olde money pretty thin. There was a time not too long ago whe nthere was only La Luz, and then Tin Man. Now every second and third teer city, Portland included has so many places to view, show, and purchase art. Just here in town we have us, together gallery, Compound, Moshi moshi, and a glutony of other places that could fall into the same frame, all with their works online.
J. Otto Siebold
PD: What the hell is it about Portland that attracts or creates so many fantastic artists?! Is my perception that Portland has way more than it's fair share of artists incorrect? Is it the moist mountain air? The perfect soil for pot growing? What is it??
BS: Portland has def become a Mecca for artists of all types. It's just a nice place to live. At least half of the year. The other six months blow. But really... easy public trans, good bike lanes, lots of trees and greenery, and a fair amount of fun things to do. This was the first place where I saw lots of peeple in my own age range with their own business'. Now i think it would be a little harder (to make it as a local artist or business), just cause there is so much already here.
Grass Hut Gallery Feature, Part Deux!