Saturday, November 14, 2009

Exploring the Grass Hut

Justin Morrison was a fan of Bwana Spoons’ artwork, but he didn’t completely believe that “Bwana” was a real name.
Morrison was setting up an impromptu art sale outside a gallery where Spoons was having a show when the two met for the first time.
“I was like, whatever, this guy’s name isn’t really ‘Bwana.’ I said, ‘I’m Scrappers.’” Morrison was thinking, Yeah, I got a nickname too, buddy.
“Scrappers” was a nickname Morrison’s mom had bestowed upon him as a child. He resurrected it in the heat of the moment.
Later that evening, Spoons left the gallery riding a one-wheeled, wooden whale.
Morrison was left speechless, but knew he had found a friend when Spoons “biffed it” in the middle of an intersection.

“It was a big crash,” said Morrison.
They became friends and last year the pair opened the Grass Hut gallery and studio in Portland.
Grass Hut feels cramped and spacious in equal measure. It’s filled to the brim with Spoons’ and Morrison’s latest projects and an assortment of works by other artists from all over the globe.
Everything from shelving to seating was collected from second-hand shops. Most of the artwork is simply tacked on the walls, which makes it feel all the more accessible.
It’s a place you’re just as likely to find independently-made toys as you are a house made out of driftwood or the latest local zines.
When the gallery fills with people, it’s just as comfortable to stand outside the shop and chat while still feeling like part of the scene.
“We used to have the studio in a closet in the back of the shop – to keep the mess away from customers – but it seemed tragic to waste the natural light so now it’s all out for everyone to see,” said Spoons.
Their work pulls from a myriad of styles, but the title “urban folkart” is growing on them.
“The person who wrote it probably intended it to be insulting, but it kind of rings true,” said Morrison. “I’m trying to tap into our cultural identity. We have something different going on here in Oregon that doesn’t spring out of shopping strips.”
Mix some illustration with oil painting and a healthy dose of cartoons and you have the Grass Hut’s niche.
Each month, the gallery hosts shows featuring artists from the same background or a group of artists working in similar styles.
“We’re doing mostly group exhibits; showcasing artists who haven’t been able to get their own shows alongside artists we can’t give a full show to because they are bound by contract to other galleries,” said Spoons.
The thing that makes it all work is that the space itself promotes a desire to discover what’s in every nook and cranny. Something Morrison and Spoons do themselves each week.
“Because we’re never here at the same time, it’s a total surprise to see how his work is coming along. I also know that I’m going to leave him a bunch of new stuff,” said Morrison.
The weekly scavenger hunt for new things is what makes Monday one of Spoons’ favorite days of the week.
“New products mysteriously appear or there’s new music on iTunes, or maybe it’s just a new color of paint,” he said.
Visit the Grass Hut at 811 E. Burnside in Portland. Hours are Thursday through Sunday from noon to 7 p.m., or hit their web site,

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