Artist Opens “Weirdo Art Gallery” December 9
interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
For decades the storefront at 2925 Lincoln Avenue, half a block west of 30th street and one block north of University Avenue in North Park, housed a sedate little violin making and repair business. That all changed in late November, when the space was taken over by local artist Kelly Hutchinson for a business he calls the “Fish Out of Water Weirdo Art Gallery.” Hutchinson, a tall, gangly — too tall and gangly to agree to be photographed for this story with his shirt off to show off his tattoos — young Navy veteran originally from Cheyenne, Wyoming, seems to regard “weirdo art” much the way the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously spoke of obscenity: he can’t define it but he knows it when he sees — or makes — it.
Hutchinson’s gallery has been attracting goop-eyed spectators since he opened its doors, but his official opening celebration is on Saturday, December 9 from 6 p.m. to midnight. Its centerpiece will be an actual gas-chamber chair from Salem, Oregon, and he’s anticipating that works by at least nine “weirdo” artists will be hanging on the gallery walls for his event. Zenger’s interviewed him one unexpectedly busy Monday afternoon, when he was working on a painting of two chickens dressed as Batman and Robin — “the Caped Clucker and Chick Wonder,” he calls them — and receiving potential customers and at least one artist who’s going to be showing at his opening.
Zenger’s: Kelly, why don’t you just tell me a little about yourself, what your background is and how you got into art.
Kelly Hutchinson: I’ve always been drawing since I was a little kid, My background with art, I think, probably started out in desperation. I was working a graveyard shift at a gas station, and I just felt like my life was going nowhere. I picked up a paintbrush and started experimenting and painting on a lot of found objects. I used to sell a lot of weird junk at the swap meet, and I started selling some of my art because people were getting into it. I’m completely self-taught as an artist. I haven’t gone to any type of school. It’s all experimental.
I got tired of the cost of living in San Diego and thought the grass would be greener on the other side. I met my wife, Crystal, and we both moved to my home town, Cheyenne, Wyoming. We lived out there for about three years and practically froze to death. So we came back here and decided to start all over again. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been back.
Zenger’s: You call this place the “Weirdo Art Gallery.” How do you define “weirdo art”?
Hutchinson: To define “weirdo art” is almost like trying to define “art.” What I’m referring to as “weirdo” is anything unusual, anything bizarre, outsider art. I have a particular fondness for surreal art. I want to create a gallery where, when you walk into the door here, it just blows your socks off with pure insanity and madness, with a bunch of outsider artists and outcasts that have bound together and put something together. So far the neighborhood has reacted pretty positively. I’m excited about where we might go.
Zenger’s: Can you tell me about some of the pieces, particularly the Wal-Mart on fire?
Hutchinson: It’s funny you mentioned that, since there are two or three other people who’ve just walked in the door who’ve loved it. When I grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, it was full of mom-and-pop stores and restaurants. It felt like a weird Leave It to Beaver-land type deal. When I joined the Navy, I left Wyoming for four years and traveled the world, and did my thing.
Then, when I got out of the Navy, I came back and Wal-Mart had moved into town. It was a complete culture shock. They had really wiped out a lot of mom-and-pop organizations and businesses over there. The mentality of the people who shopped at Wal-Mart and promoted it was kind of sickening, because it’s like the loss of any culture or any independent business whatsoever. So it’s on fire, and I call it, “Let It Be.” Let’s just leave it at that.
Zenger’s: I’ve also noticed a definite political streak in some of the pieces. Do you want to talk about what about current politics inspires you, and why these particular images?
Hutchinson: Our current state of affairs right now scares the hell out of me. Someitimes I paint out of frustration. The painting right here, “Having Your Cake and Eating It, Too,” is a portrait of George W. Bush sitting on the back of the blue-collar working class. He’s got a slice of cake and he’s eating it, with the American flag sticking out of the cake. The sheep in the background are a portrayal of the people that voted for him and had faith in the Republican Party. The blue-collar man is shoveling crap, and it’s almost like he’s been stuck in a world of crap. The cut-down trees represent the Republican party’s disrespect for the environment.
Zenger’s: How did you get such a political orientation? I mean, you’re a nice, white straight boy from Dick Cheney’s home state, or one of them.
Hutchinson: Yeah, it’s funny. When Dick Cheney was governor, I actually met him. I was about 16 and I was doing the lawns, mowing the Capitol grounds out there. He was a really nice person, but his wife used to yell at us for stepping on her flowers as I was trying to pull weeds out of the flowerbeds.
When I got out of the Navy I started working at a gas station and took on odd jobs. I started being a shuttle driver over at the airport. I did that for about two or three years and really got involved in listening to talk radio. In between my rides, I used to doodle, and a lot of it got inspired that way. I still love listening to talk radio and hearing different aspects of everything.
Zenger’s: How did you listen to all these Right-wingers and not become convinced they were right?
Hutchinson: I don’t know. It’s a good question. It’s just that they sound so silly. I can’t explain it. I don’t want to put people down because they are Republicans, but I’m not, no question about it. There are too many stances they take that scare me about them. But the gallery is not about being Right-wing or Left-wing. The gallery is about being weird and having a place where people can interact with strange and unusual imagery.
Zenger’s: Who else is exhibiting your gallery, how did you get in touch with them, and what makes you decide, “Oh, yeah. That stuff belongs here”?
Hutchinson: I’m particularly proud about the artists that are being involved with the December 9 show. The headliners include Extremo the Clown. He lives in Portland, Oregon and he is a professional clown. He’s run for mayor. He’s just great and hilarious. He does sign painting, and he creates art cars. And he has a Mazda that’s maybe 14, 15 feet tall, and it’s a sculpture of strange demons and skeletons and everything else coming out of his car. On top of his car, he’s got a working fountain. Right now he’s working on a van on which he’s creating a Never Never Land.
Extremo the Clown takes his car on the freeway and does puppet shows for people. I think that would be the most hilarious thing. Every town should have a jester in that sense, someone who does that, who breaks up the monotony. I’m excited to have a lot of his work here, just because of who he is and what he’s all about.
Zenger’s: So he builds a car that’s 15 feet tall and then he actually drives it?
Hutchinson: Yes, he actually drives it, and he has these strange, unusual puppets. He does puppet shows for people. Another artist that’s participating is R. S. Connitt, who runs vomitus.com, formerly known as vomitusmaximus.com. A lot of his work is really out there. It’s a lot of demon work. It’s hard to explain, but it’s colorful, surreal and almost perfect for the direction in which we want the gallery to go.
Another artist that we’re featuring, Mitch O’Connell, lives in the Chicago, Illinois area, and is very prolific with tattoo flash designs. I believe he’s done two Newsweek covers and tons of other various publications with his artwork. He’s pretty amazing.
There are literally 17 other artists, a total of 20 artists combined for this show. There are quite a few local artists, including Kelly Orange, David Russell Talbot and myself, dark vomit or Kelly Hutchinson.
We really want to be a fun gallery. We don’t want people to come and be snooty. The only thing I want to be taken seriously on is the purchases that can be made here. Everything here is a sincere investment. We wouldn’t carry it if we didn’t believe that in five or 10 years you could double your money.
Zenger’s: That’s one of the things that attracted me: the work is a lot of fun. Some of the pieces remind me of the old Famous Monsters covers, that sort of thing. I can see we’re both wearing T-shirts in that vein.
Hutchinson: Yeah, Rat Fink. I guess I came out of the Mad magazine generation, inspired by old Looney Tunes.
Zenger’s: So what is the obsession with the superhero chicken?
Hutchinson: It’s funny that you should mention that. The first one was Superman turned into Superchicken. I like how chickens walk with their chests poked out. It makes them look so proud when they walk around. It almost reminded me of Superman, the way he poses himself, so I think it was a funny mix.
I liked the way Superchicken, came out so well that I’ve already gone on to the next painting, which is the Caped Clucker and Chick Wonder. I’m starting to think of doing others. I think chickens are cool. Chickens are fun.
Zenger’s: I noticed that for the chicken superheroes you created a digital image to use as a model. Do you ever paint someone from life?
Hutchinson: No, I can’t say I have. I’ve drawn people from life, but in this day and age with modern technology it’s much easier to take a digital shot of someone rather than have them going through the painstaking process of having them sit there for four or five painstaking hours while I whip out a painting for them. But I do like doing portraits. Once I get a little bit settled here, I want to start offering weirdo portrait services, and also pet portraits, in which your animal can be dressed up in a three-piece suit, or as a joker, or whatever his personality would be.
Zenger’s: Aside from the ones we’ve discussed already, what would you say your inspirations and influences have been?
Hutchinson: I like to bounce off a lot of artists. I guess what inspires me, in so many ways, is seeing where other artists are going, more or less their attitude. Not necessarily their technique or what they’re putting out. I’ve been painting for eight years, and I think I’ve molded my own technique at this point into a recognizable style. I’d like to stick with that and experiment with that, but I don’t know.
It’s partly the neighborhood. There are a lot of weirdos in this neighborhood. Right down the street — I could keep going with these stories forever, all the craziness. It’s funny to bounce off of that, and a lot of modern pop culture.
Zenger’s: Would you tell me about the event on December 9?
Hutchinson: On December 9 we’re going to do our grand opening, from 6 to midnight. We’re excited to have a chair in here which came out of the gas chamber in Salem, Oregon’s penitentiary. Eighteen people have been executed in this very chair. It’s going to be displayed in the middle of the room, and patrons are welcome to sit down in it if they like. Part of the weirdo experience.
One reason why we have that chair and are bringing it in for this particular show is that in October, we had a show called “Fear of Clowns” over at the Art of Framing gallery in Normal Heights. We displayed an original John Wayne Gacy painting which went along with the theme for that show, “fear of clowns.” So it’s ironic that we get the chance to open up our own gallery with a show right after, and get to put in an execution chair.
Zenger’s: How’d you get it?
Hutchinson: From the twilight zone. I’d like to leave it at that. I think it was just a person who was at the right place at the right time.
Zenger’s: So what else is going to be here on the ninth?
Hutchinson: Hopefully, lots of people. Lots of people will buy lots of artwork to help us put. One thing that we’re very proud of is nothing here is going to be above $300. Everything here is below $300. There’s stuff as you walk in the door for five bucks, on up. We want to be fun, but affordable.
Fish out of Water Weirdo Art Gallery is located at 2925 Lincoln Avenue, just off 30th Street one block north of University, in North Park. Kelly Hutchinson can be contacted through his Web site, www.darkvomit.com, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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