I’m in this group show with my friends and it reminded me of how this
whole art-making business started for me. Continue reading if your
interested. Or just go here to check the art out.
Way back at the turn of the century (2001) Portland’s monthly Last Thursday art walk was in it’s early days. There were rarely fire dancers, clowns riding tall bikes, adults hula-hooping, and the sort of annoying things Last Thursday is know for today. It was just local artists carrying their art to Alberta street to share what they’d made with the neighborhood. Most of the businesses were light industrial and were closed by 5pm, so it was super easy to hang art right on the buildings. I started going because an artist friend I admired a lot went, her name was Janet Julian and she was a Portland legend even back then.
Janet would make art out of all sorts of reused materials and it was beautiful. I wanted to be just like Janet. I was in the middle of gutting and rebuilding my home and had a bunch of scrap wood and salvaged house paint, so I started making art with it. My wife Amy used some of the scrap wood to collage images she cut out of old children’s books we’d found at the bins. We’d go set up with Janet every Last Thursday and because people kept buying our art we kept making it.
After a couple years we got to know the other regulars, some were crafters, some were screen printers, some sold cookies, and a lot just had garage sales. The people we would go talk with and set up next to were artists who worked with reused materials. The most famous where Brett and Whitney Superstar (legally changed their last names to that after getting married). Their painting styles were solid and worked seamlessly together. People loved their work and once the Superstars got people laughing they had no problem finding homes for their art.
The Reverend Benny Bob, would drive all the way to Alberta street from Lincoln City to set up next to the Superstars. His rusty truck would be full of art and smoked salmon. His ceramic dolls were the creepiest and cutest nightmare fuel I’ve ever seen. He always told the craziest stories and was a real ass-grabber.
Down the street from the Superstars in front of a dumptruck company parked a vintage turquoises econo-van with surfboards strapped to the ceiling. With the side doors fully opened to the sidewalk exploding with old velvet tapestries carpeting the parking strip. Steve and Meredith Mathews ruled this stretch of Alberta since they lived a couple houses away (we all used to use their bathroom). Meredith would paint little circular birds on salvaged wood and thrift store finds. Steve could paint anything on anything, and it was always amazing.
One night this freaky guy by the name of Tripper Dungan #* (yeah, number star) with frizzy hair and big glasses came up to check my art, he liked it a lot and wanted to trade one of his postcards for it. Normally trading art among poor artists doesn’t help anyone, so I would pass, but Tripper’s art was in 3-D! Tripper eventually set up with the Mathews and they carved out a little world together.
There were a lot of artists who would come and go. We’d connect and disconnect, but the ones I mentioned were the ones who were at the core.
The only problem with Last Thursday was the winter. Despite our lantern and tarps, it got too cold and wet for us to continue selling art. So I called a meeting at my house and invited all the artists I admired who made art with reused materials. We came up with the name Junktown All Stars and a plan to continue to make art, money, and have fun throughout the winter. One of the meeting attendees stood up towards the end of the meeting and said he didn’t want in because he only saw “walls” in our future. We was wearing a utility kilt, so we didn’t take him seriously or mind his departure. He was right about the walls though. We needed to build free-standing walls in order to set up and sell art the way we were used to.
The Junktown shows were always one-night-only because we couldn’t afford to have our art tied up in a month long show where sales weren’t guaranteed. We’d do a Junktown show at Holocene one night then take the unsold art to another pop-up art fair, or art walk somewhere else in Portland the next day. The Junktown shows were always fun, Janet would play music, Tripper would DJ thrift shop records, and we’d all get crazy, like “crazy” crazy.
Over time Junktown did month long shows at coffee shops, bars and other local businesses people don’t typically go to for art. We’d invite other artists to show with us too. However, the shows eventually became less important then our friendships and we stopped doing them.
I must have missed it though because when Bwana Spoons asked me to team up with him I jumped on the opportunity and helped start another artist collective called Grass Hut. This collective didn’t revolve around selling art on the side walk or even making art out of reused materials, it was a different beast entirely and it came with it’s own studio and gallery space. For me personally the story of Grass Hut began with Junktown.
Junktown defined who I am today, it is the Portland I fell in love with, it represents what I value, it created my artistic point of view, and most importantly Junktown showed me who my friends are.