by Violette Skye
I'm always impressed when artists become curators. It's a major
step to go from hustling your own work to putting thought into designing specific shows.
There is an old-school graffiti artist from Arizona who moved to Portland, Oregon, last year. He came to attend college, but never quote got there. Demecio “Dre” Sierra decided early this year that he was going to curate the ultimate show. He partnered up with another younger cat from Arizona, Fernando Barajas, and they developed Portland's first pop-up gallery called Oregonized Gallery.
They spent about two months prepping for a themed show called “Take A Walk In Our Shoes.” They created more than 100 plywood-box canvases, primed them and screen printed the image of a van on the structure. The reference was to VANS shoes, notoriously worn by skaters, punk rockers and graffiti artists. They sent out a call to artists, and the response was massive.
The night of the show I showed up but wasn't sure what to expect. The show’s facility was easily 2,500 square feet, made up of a series of small business offices around the perimeter, with a large conference space in the center. Every inch of wall space was covered in art. They had 10 4-foot-by-8-foot panels by different artists, including Davey Cadaver and Skam. They had three DJs spinning from behind a custom cardboard sculpture of the front end of a box van. Some of the names of artists that showed were Kanye, Chris Haberman, Hunter Armstrong, Sam Arneson, Christine Bailey, Drop, and Olin Unterwegner.
Admittedly, I was sure it would be a “street art” show, but was surprised to see so much variety in the work. Each artist had his or her own interpretation — an extraordinary sight.
Sam Arneson's “Shanty Van” was an interesting mix of pirate and Mad Max elements. Drop brought humor to his piece “Mistaken Drop Lizard,” showing a giant green lizard doing the back of a green van doggy-style. Christine Bailey brought her signature gothic doll-style to two different pieces. Hunter Armstrong showed a classic stylized graffiti city which seemed to engulf the van. And Chris Haberman rocked out a cartoon illustration called “Roaring 70's.”
One of my favorite pieces in the show was simply titled “Write On Everything.” It captured the essence of Portland's indie subculture by turning the van into a representational Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy in a paper sack, replacing the PBR logo simply with the word “Hipster.”
After talking more with Dre, this show was about proving to all the naysayers that he could do it. He and Fernando had pitched the idea to another gallery in Portland first. The curator liked the idea, and then, basically, told them they would have to wait six months so he could focus on some of his projects first. They decided waiting was not in their best interest.
So, on a budget of zero dollars, they went to work trying to find a space to host the show. They ended up renting a space on Hawthorne for $1,000 so they could have an office in the show space. Originally, the two men asked artists to buy the canvases to get into the show for $30.00, which would include get a swag bag. It didn't fly. They found the majority of the artists were broke. Afterward, they ended up asking for donations from artists to cover their cost on materials.
They thought they had three corporate sponsors lined up, but each, one by one, fell through. Still they pushed on. They were able to find funding to get their flyers printed up and the posted them around town.
They were still hanging the show an hour after opening because artists who were supposed to drop off work days in advance waited until the last minute. But every piece was evenly spaced at the correct viewing height, which most curators get wrong their first few times out. I saw two of the volunteers using a 6-foot bricklayer's level to ensure everything was the same.
To be honest, I used to represent Dre's work, so it might come off as bias when I say, this was the freshest idea for a gallery show this year in Oregon. Since then, they have hosted two other shows in different locations, with a fourth on the way. Oregonized Gallery is serious about giving emerging and outsider artists a chance to show their works. And that is what the arts are all about, in my estimation.