For gallery owner Scott Harris, it’s all about bringing the unusual and the unexpected to his mainstream, suburban community.
Happy New Year! I start off every interview the same way, each time: Give me your thirty-second bio.
I studied painting at the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford and graduated in 1990. Then spent 20 years or so just bouncing around to different careers and ended up doing mostly graphic design work over the last 10 or 15 years.
About a year ago, my wife and I decided we were more interested in starting something, a local business, that would get us involved in the community, tapping into our passion for art, and bring what we saw was not existing in our little suburban setting – bringing more interesting art and a hangout place to our town. So back in April we started BLAST, an art gallery and also a store. And right now, we’re in the process of moving next door and changing that space into an art gallery, store and also a coffee shop.
Are you gaining some square footage, then?
Yes, a lot of square footage. The original space, part of what attracted us to it, is this super small building, just eight-feet wide—a long, narrow space. It was just a self-contained building squeezed between two others with a very distinctive round window in front. There were years of driving past it and thinking it was such a cool, strange spot. What could it be? What could we do there? And that drove the, “Ok, let’s start a business. What could the business be?” And it became an art gallery.
It was fun, but it was always tight. If we had 15 people in there it felt packed to the brim. And now we’re in a much, much bigger, comfier setting where there will be actual seats and tables. People can hang out, it’ll have Wifi, and we’re having really great coffee and pastries, but still treating it like a serious art gallery and having a full roster of shows lined up for 2012.
This coming Saturday [January 7, 2012]. The first show is Mark Mothersbaugh, the lead singer of DEVO, and we’re doing a show of these rugs that he does. For years, ever since he started the band, he’s always done this postcard art where he does illustrations and will do anywhere from 1 to 20 of them in a day, and then would send them to his friends and also just keep them going. Now, over the last 10 years, he’s mined that subject matter and blow them up into either rugs or larger-scale pieces. So we’re doing a show of plus or minus 14 of his pieces.
Yeah, welcome – mat sized rugs that hang on the wall but have these absurd illustrations of his made into the rugs. Because he lives out in California, and I believe might be on the road somewhere, he’s going to connect with us via Skype and do a little Q&A with the crowd at the opening.
I saw on your website where it said, rugs, and I thought there was some art terminology that I just didn’t know about!
No. You can buy them to hang on your wall, or you can buy them to use as a rug. I know that if I get one of his pieces, it’ll be on the wall.
Mark Mothersbaugh, that’s kind of a big deal, you know, one of the guys from DEVO. Who hasn’t heard of DEVO? And then I’ve seen that you’ve had some really great names in your space, having only been open since April. How do you find these people?
That’s been one of the most fun and surprising things about it. When we first started the gallery, we really loved the building, talked to the real estate agents and within a day, it was moving very quickly. We didn’t have a long, drawn-out business plan for what we were doing at all. So we had no idea, and we just had a certain number of artists on our wish list thinking, “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool…” I had no idea that if you track somebody down, just contact them, and try to arrange a show, often it’s been a positive experience. People have been willing, and we have been able to make these things happen where we thought we were shooting very high, but we were able to pull it off.
The first show we opened was Jad Fair from the band Half Japanese, and that was back in April 2011. I was always a fan of his music and his art, and found his contact information through his email. This was a week after we got the lease, and he was immediately positive and said yeah. Actually, he was about to leave on a tour of Europe and said it would be easier if he could just send the art. So we ended up having the art for the first show before we completed the whole space.
That’s how we’ve been going since. One has led to another, and then pursuing different people we think would be right for the gallery and would be really interesting to bring to the town. Because the other fun thing is, we bring these sorts of artists that are sometimes more on the eclectic side, or have more of a cult following, and bring them into this suburban town.
The last show in the old place was Daniel Johnston, and we screened the documentary about him at a movie theater up the street. It was just so great because we were really showing that movie to people that were being introduced to not only him, but really that whole world of cassette culture, indie, unusual artists. To a more mainstream audience, it was really eye opening, and everybody was just blown away by it.
You know, you mentioned your wish list of artists. Who’s number one on that wish list?
Well, in terms of people that we have not yet been able to book… I want to do a show of David Lynch’s artwork, and I haven’t yet closed that deal. Also, not for his art, but Russell Simmons runs the Rush Art Foundation, where they develop younger, inner-city artists, and we are trying to see if we could maybe offer our space…having a solo show here could be something that a young artist could win as a prize. I was pursuing Bob Pollard from Guided by Voices because he does this great collage art, but I think he’s busy with the band for 2012, so that didn’t happen.
When you originally drew up your wish list, did you already manage to book the person that was number one on that first list?
In all ways, we’re not nearly that organized. What I mean by drawing up a wish list, it’s just in my head and out in the ether, so it’s a constantly evolving wish list.
I hear you! What makes an artist really attractive to you, to invite them to come to BLAST?
I think Daniel Johnston and the last show would probably be a great example of an artist that creates and is living in their whole entire world. So rather than just saying, “Those are watercolor paintings,” or, “These are minimalist, geometric paintings,” you’re brought into a whole world where an artist has developed his own language, a history.
We also look for artists that are surprising within the setting that we’re in, because we’re just on a main street in a suburb, so we want stuff where people are going to come in and think, “Oh, this is art?” Because some of the art comes from people that are working in things that wouldn’t necessarily be thought of as “high art.” We got a show from a tattoo artist, and a comic book artist. A lot of times we’ve ended up with art from people that are musicians.
I saw that you guys also have a radio station BLAST LIVE!
We started that just for fun, and we still are building what that could be. We have a steaming radio station, and that has been a great way of collaborating with people from all over because to do the dj-ing, really anybody with a computer could do it. We’ve got one guy who we have never met face-to-face, but have only met through Facebook and through the gallery, who does a show every Tuesday and lives in West Virginia. We have another guy who runs a show from up in Maine. Once you have a radio station going, there’s 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to fill, so we program it with music, like an eight-hour mix, that’ll run any time that someone isn’t doing a live show.
When we were mounting one of the shows in the gallery, we had someone come in and sort of work as a dj and just talk to us for a few hours while we were there at night, hanging the show, talk about the show. We’ve used it slightly promotionally like that, but mostly it’s just an extension of trying to connect with people creatively and do something that is more…unusual.
So why don’t you have your own radio show?
When I first set it up, I thought for sure that I would, but then it was enough that other people were filling in. I’ve done shows, but I don’t have a regular show that I do right now. At some point I’m hoping maybe… but I feel like I’m always doing lots of stuff to keep the business going. I do dream of settling in and being able to do a radio show at some point more regularly.
Between the gallery and the radio station and the new café and all the expansion with BLAST, what’s your dream for the gallery?
Part of our hope for the next year is that it can become even more of a hub within the community. We have a lot more space to do other kinds of creative things. We can have some music happening in the spot and do screenings of different films. In terms of the art itself, hopefully we’ll just continue the conversation that we’ve set up where we’re bringing unusual and unexpected things and hopefully turning people on. That’s one of the fun things that I’ve always found. Whether it’s an artist or a musician or a writer, usually once you start to get in to something new, it always opens up another world of things to learn about.
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Jane Anderson is a marketing consultant and art enthusiast, currently residing in the ‘burbs of North Texas. A wannabe writer, you can check out her blog o’ randomness at NotPlainJane.Tumblr.com.
Images Courtesy Scott Harris