Gluten-free, Loves Rabbits, Plays with Knives.

by Nicholas Heller, February 1, 2010

Jacob Hewko: gluten-free, loves rabbits, plays with knives.

Jacob Hewko is gluten-free--but he's also one of the Mendocino Coast’s most talented and provocative young artists, breathing fresh life into the local art scene and creating images on paper that rival your most bizarre dreams.

After a few years working as a bike messenger in Portland and San Francisco, the corn chip-munching minimalist recently moved back home to the Mendo Coast to focus more on his art. You can find his work at Odd Hours Gallery in Fort Bragg and Frankie’s Pizza and Ice Cream Parlor in Mendocino, as well as on Etsy. I sat down with Jacob and talked about art, rabbits, and the lack of open dental offices on Sundays.

Why did you move back to Mendocino recently, blessing us with your presence?

I’m glad you think it’s a blessing! As long as that doesn’t change, it’ll be smooth sailing.

I was getting by, but I wasn’t making any headway in San Francisco. I was kind of treading water. I wanted more time to finish projects and I was living in a closet. Literally. So that was kind of boring after a year or so. I wanted to get back to my roots and surf.

How would you describe your art?

I try and choose the subconscious. It’s open to interpretation. There’s a certain ambiguity to it, sort of like when you’re dreaming and you wake up and you think, “What the fuck was that all about?” Most of the time that’s the thought I have when I finish a painting, but I’m still trying to figure things out.

Do you love making art?

I’m not sure I love making art, but it’s a process that kind of opens doors that weren’t previously opened. It makes you question a lot of the different ways we perceive reality.

Rabbits seem to be one of your favorite subjects for your pieces. Why is that?

I’ve been asked that before. Of course rabbits are cute. They’re kind of interesting animals in a way. They mirror humans in a sense that, on a more rapid scale, they’re just reproducing and dying. They’re low on the food chain so they provide a lot of food for other animals. They live really close to life and death.

You’re pretty good at drawing scantily clad or naked women. Is this another of your favorite subjects?

Well, I’ve been drawing nudes since I was fourteen. I’ve had a lot of practice.

Why do you think more women buy your art than men?

Women have better taste?

When do you do most of your work?

I like working at night. It’s a quiet time. A lot of piece and quiet. The world is asleep. It’s also the time that I’d normally be dreaming, so, it’s cool to work through that time.

Is there a Mrs. Hewko?

No. Not at the moment. But I’m always looking for her.

What’s with that outgoing message on your cell phone?

That would be an actor playing an angry Kirk Douglas, working on the script for Spartacus II. It’s just something whacky…to flaunt my lack of professionalism.

You ride your bike and hitchhike. Do you have any interesting hitchhiking stories?

I’ve had a lot of really good hitch-hiking experiences. A lot of good times. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s good. It’s a great way to meet people in your community. One time I was hitch-hiking from Manchester coming back to Mendocino and I got picked up by this dude who didn’t have any shoes on. He didn’t seem that strange at first. Then he started talking to me. He asked me for money and I kind of brushed him off—told him I didn’t have any. Then he told me that all he ate that day was an egg some guy bought him at a truck stop. Then he proceeded to tell me that he just came from a mental institution. He was kind of taking the curves a little fast. I hopped out in Elk. I’m glad I survived that one. And yeah, there are drunk drivers, too. But mostly it’s been pretty good. That’s fourteen years of hitch-hiking.

Jacob Hewko is Gluten-free. Tell me a little bit about that.

Well, that’s just the way the Lord made me! Whatever that means. I’m allergic to gluten. I guess I figured it out when I was eighteen by process of elimination. If you’re feeling lethargic and you hate life, try not eating wheat for a little while.

When I first met you, it seemed as if you were always walking around with bags of broken chips. How is your corn chip supply now-a-days?

[Walks over to counter, pulls out clear plastic bag of crushed corn chips] Well, I’d say it’s pretty good. Chips are a delicious snack.

You used to live in Portland. What are your thoughts on that city?

I hate that fucking town. Specifically the police. They’re ridiculous with their attitudes against bicyclists. It’s quite true. Everyone thinks, “Oh, Portland’s the most bike friendly city in the U.S.” They have the most bike lanes, but they also have the worst cops on the West Coast. Worse than L.A. and San Francisco. Well, Seattle is pretty bad, too.

Did you live in Seattle?

I spent some time in Seattle—Port Townsend. Enough time to get a ticket.

So San Francisco was a better city to live in?

Way better than Portland. San Francisco is a real city. It doesn’t have time for all the little bullshit. It’s a big city and it’s got it all. It embraces itself and it has more range than Portland. There are a lot of things going on. In general, people are more driven and focused. It’s also a great bike city.

Would you consider yourself a minimalist?

What’s that mean?

Well, generally you don’t strive to own things. You live simply. Some people think I am, but that is not true.

Man, you are! I’ve seen where you sleep! You better put that in there.

I will.

Yeah, I try and keep it simple. It’s helpful, I find. Life’s a lot easier that way. You don’t need a lot of things to be happy. The less you have the freer you are. Although, I only have three pairs of pants right now. This kind of stresses me out.

There was a rumor circulating that you once pulled your own tooth out. Is that true?

That is true. I was an independent contractor, working as a bike messenger in San Francisco and I had no health insurance and I didn’t have much money. I woke up Sunday morning at about four with a horrible tooth ache. All the dentists were closed that day, so I figured just in case, while the hardware store is open, I’d go buy five inch locking pliers which cost $1.29. Maybe it was $2.19. By noon I decided that the tooth really needed to come out. That was a pretty ground-breaking experience.

I didn’t booze it up. I just went into the bathroom, leaned on my fore-arms and had to wrench the fucker out. It was crazy. You want any details?

Of course.

Well, half the root had died, so half of the tooth was dead and the gum was falling away. I knew the tooth was dead, so it should’ve been a root canal a couple years before. The first time I clamped down and locked the pliers I cracked the tooth in half. The foulest odor I’ve ever smelled came out. It was like rotten onion. I almost gagged, but luckily there was still enough root on the bottom of the tooth that I could get it to grip. I was able to work it back and forth. Blood started spurting. I got that fucker out.

No pain killers at all?

No. I don’t remember what happened after that. I might have passed out. I don’t really recall. I was pretty excited, though. It felt good once the tooth came out and my mouth felt totally different. Yeah. It was one of the better things I’ve done. I wouldn’t recommend it though.

What would you like to accomplish with your art in this area? Or just in general?

I’d like to be able to do it full time. I’ve been doing it the last few years and getting by somehow. I want to be able to continue to do that.

Do you think this is a good area for artists?

It’s hard to get people around here interested in art. Right now the art is basically geared toward tourists. But I think there’s a group of people who are trying new directions and new approaches to art, which is really good. There are a handful of young artists at Odd Hours Gallery in Fort Bragg. That group of people is trying to make art fun and interesting.

Who do you have in the Super Bowl?

Janet Jackson?

What’s next for Jacob Hewko?

Dinner.

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