“Not Just Something You Stand in Front of Then Walk Away From”

by Nicholas Heller, July 28, 2010

Studio Odd Hours, which you may or may not remember, has ceased to exist.

For those of you who did not know of the “intelligent, New American Art” displayed in downtown Fort Bragg, or who refused climbing the flight of stairs leading to the second-story exhibition room on First Fridays: shame on you.

The norm-bending gallery was an experiment. It deviated from the dominant Fort Bragg tourist inspired, predictable art and displayed works that ignored seascapes and lighthouses. It’s now caput.

Instead of catering to out-of-towners’ tastes in landscape art, Odd Hours, which opened its doors in August of 2009, tried to appeal to those who appreciate bizarre, imaginative, and unique works. Largely unsupported by the community of Fort Bragg, owners and operators Jason Cowan and Inga Peterson were forced to shut down one of the hippest, pure-art driven joints on the coast, claiming that the studio was too expensive to maintain. “I’m not selling any art work,” Cowen said.

It’s unfortunate that a supposed artistic community was unable to accept this project, as it was your best opportunity to be dreamily inspired by young, local, and uncommon artists and their works. It is a sad day for Fort Bragg, and a blow to Odd Hours’ supporters and artists, who were excited to have an opportunity to relish an intimate, different kind of creative experience.

I braved the stairs earlier this week and found Cowan helping Odd Hours’ artist Jubal Stedman remove some of his last remaining paintings inside a once vibrant, cozy, four-roomed studio. Cowan and I sat in the middle of a bare front-room, face to face, and talked about the closing of Odd Hours, the upcoming finale in Mendocino at Odd Fellows Hall (which you should check out), and inspirational high school art teachers, all the while our voices echoing in the unfamiliarly bland and vacant space.

AVA: WHY IS STUDIO ODD HOURS CLOSING?

COWAN: “I’m not selling any art work. I can’t afford to keep operating this space under the pretense of being a gallery. People aren’t coming up here on their own. I have to send out party invitations. Even if that happens, people enjoy it and love it, but they’re not helping to pay the rent.”

WHAT WAS HAPPENING ON FIRST FRIDAYS WITH BUSINESS?

“I’d end up so depressed after the First Friday events. The invitation parties were pretty cool. A lot of people were really receptive to what we were doing here. Some people were fairly supportive. Both these things are great, but it just wasn’t enough. There were a small percentage of people that were really great. A fair amount of people were happy we were here, but they didn’t do anything tangible to assure that continued. That speaks volumes to me.”

WHAT WAS THE INITIAL GOAL OF STUDIO ODD HOURS?

“I was fairly positive all along that this would not be successful. I didn’t expect to make money. I knew that was probably going to happen. I personally feel like I produced pretty decent work—work that I’m proud of. That was a large part of my goal—to produce work of a certain quality and appreciate the value. We did actually do something. We got people interested, it got people involved and a little invested, and that’s cool—that’s great. But I can’t carry it any further. No one is stepping up. Maybe someone else will pick up where I left off.”

WAS THERE NO EMBRACEMENT FROM FORT BRAGG?

“I’ve heard from a lot of people that finally something interesting is beginning to happen here once again artistically and creatively. If people love this kind of stuff they have to take some sort of responsibility to assure it continues. Lip service does not do much. Talk is cheap. Rent is high. This is what kills me. We have original work here that a lot of people liked, and it’s very cheap. People spend money where their priorities are. They say this is important, but clearly it’s not that important.”

WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN WITH YOUR PERSONAL ART AND THE ART PRODUCED BY THOSE AFFILIATED WITH ODD HOURS?

“I’m going to continue to produce work and try to increase the quality and conceptual level of the work. As far as what we’re trying to do with Odd Hours, we’re developing our website, which is pretty nice. I would like to maybe maintain a physical viewing space by appointment. We’ll promote the website. People are going to have to call me or send me an email. It’s a lot to ask, but if they want to see it, that’s what they’re going to have to do.”

WHAT IS GOING ON AT ODD FELLOWS HALL IN MENDOCINO JULY 3OTH THROUGH AUGUST 16TH?

“The Odd Fellows Hall in Mendocino runs more than a dozen art shows annually and we have a slot coming up that we have been preparing for for four months. It’s going to include five people who are involved in Odd Hours plus 13 others. Most are local, but there are three from out of the area. We’re going to put on a show that entire period of time and try to get this stuff seen and seen by people who are tourists in Mendocino. We’re going to see how successful it is. We’re putting on a show the quality and caliber of which I don’t think has been seen around here in quite some time. I want people to experience what we’re giving them, and experience a different part of their life. Not just something you stand in front of and then walk away from. We’re trying to create some energy and some interest.”

IS THIS THE FINALE FOR JASON COWEN? WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

“It’s very important for both Inga and I to keep working, and always increase the caliber of our work creatively and conceptually. It’s something we’re both driven to do. I like this idea of trying to work with people with similar aspirations.”

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO SAY ON INGA PETERSON’S BEHALF, SINCE SHE WASN’T ABLE TO JOIN US TODAY?

“She cut back her own hours at work. I see the quality and caliber of her work, and I’m looking forward to seeing where she takes that now that she has more time. That’s important: more time and all of your heart. People need to do that. I started drawing when I was five years old, and I’ve never had any training. Richard Hamilton, my high school art teacher, Ukiah High. That’s the only training I’ve ever had. He’s the only guy that ever consistently encouraged me. But that guy was great. He meant a lot to a lot of people.”

The Studio Odd Hours Summer Group Show at the Historic Odd Fellows Hall in Mendocino begins July 30, with an opening reception Saturday July 31, from 6-9 p.m. The show will be open daily through August 16, but make sure to stop in Saturday August 14 during the 2nd Saturday Art Walk. Visit studiooddhours.com for more information.

2 Responses to “Not Just Something You Stand in Front of Then Walk Away From”

  1. Chubby Gray Reply

    July 29, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    i braved the stairs; twice. must not have looked avante garde enuff. owner cowan seemed aloof and was hard to engage about the work.

    gray-haired chubbier type

  2. Jason Cowan Reply

    August 2, 2010 at 11:19 am

    If you are interested in the Mendocino Coast’s Art scene and particularly in its future … in the prospect and promise that is held in the works created by some of the areas finest emerging and alternative talents, then I would like to invite, and strongly encourage you to visit the Odd Fellows Hall and experience the show we are currently presenting there (thru August 15th). 
     
    The 18 artists involved in this project have worked extraordinarily hard to put on what amounts to, in the words of one recent attendee “One of the finest gallery shows in the region”. 
     
    Individually the works are; beautiful, introspective, simplistic, elaborate, dark, meditative, humorous, intelligent, analytical and crude. Taken as a whole I would describe them as significant. 
     
    On a personal note to “Chubby Grey”, I do appreciate that you ventured (twice) up to our little studio, I hope that you found the artwork to be worth the effort, regardless of the personalities that created it. As for your assessment of me as being “aloof and hard to engage”, I would say that is a reasonably accurate, and polite portrayal of me… on a good day. Given the level of stress I was usually operating under during those 1st Friday events, your characterization might even be generous. So in other words, I apologize if I put you off. 

    One final thought, which I didn’t convey very well during the interview with Nick – I know that times are tough… we all feel that. However, I see projects like ours as being cultural investments in this region’s future. If you want to change things, improve them, or even add additional dimensions to what currently exists, then you have make the effort, make the commitment, and make the investment. I believe it is worth it. We can do the work, but we can’t make it successful, or make it pay dividends without strong initial support from those who can see its ultimate value.

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