Interview :: Meet Chris Bentzen of Hot Art Wet City

This is Chris Bentzen. Chris Bentzen is the founder + owner of Hot Art Wet City, a Vancouver art gallery featuring art that’s weird. I was eager to meet with Chris after hearing about his gallery’s Hot Talks at Creative Mornings a couple weeks ago. So, last week, we discussed art, cycling, and a little bit of burlesque over tea at Kafka’s. Here’s a snippet of our conversation ::

Meet Chris Bentzen of Hot Art Wet City

1. Tell me about why you opened Hot Art Wet City.

I was visiting galleries + seeing great art in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco and the galleries in Vancouver were all missing something that those other galleries had. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. They weren’t having the same shows all the time, they were letting artists experiment more rather than just commissioning what would just sell. I wanted to give artists a chance to show something that no one else was seeing, plus just have a cool place to go. A big thing about those galleries was that they were smaller and more intimate, I liked that.

2. Tell me about the artwork you choose to showcase in your gallery.

I think in Vancouver, art is predominantly abstract landscape and I didn’t want to see any more of that. I also didn’t want to have a high end gallery. I didn’t feel comfortable with that. As far as the art being made, it’s just the weird stuff. People who are kind of bordering illustration, or maybe they’re just illustrators and want to shift a little into fine art. Or taking their illustration and putting it in a fine art context. And then, more figurative work, more narrative work. Or just crazy stuff. Like “Boobies + Wieners,” for example. There’d been serious nude shows in Vancouver, but I wanted to see that weird, “what is going on here?” show. That’s what I’m looking for.

3. And, how did the events Hot One Inch Action + Carded come into play?

Hot One Inch Action started in 2003. So, I was doing an art show in 2003 with large paintings and one inch buttons, and Jim, the guy I do the button show with, met me there and saw the buttons and saw how well they were doing and said to me, “oh we should do a show” but he wasn’t sure what. So we met and discussed the details and out of that discussion came the idea of selling the buttons in batches so that people would trade them, and so that we didn’t get stuck with a bunch of buttons because there’s always gonna be that one that nobody wants. We did the first Hot One Inch Action a few months after my show, and we were really excited about it and the interactive part really added something, so we just kept doing it. Around year five, we started Carded because we wanted to do more of the shows but didn’t want to be doing the same show twice a year and it also gave artists a bigger surface area to work on and also we were able to put their information on the back, like a regular trading card.

4. So, Hot Talks! What are you looking for when you pick someone to speak?

I have a volunteer who chooses most of the speakers, I’ve given her suggestions, like the one in May was Danielle Krysa, The Jealous Curator, she did a book signing + talk. But most of the time I let her choose with the guideline of interesting people, with interesting things to say. It’s currently inspired by Pecha Kucha talks. Also, there’s a gallery called Hand Eye Supply and they do a talk called Curiosity Club that I originally wanted to brand Hot Talks after. It’s where people talk about what interests them, like one guy talked about lock picking. It’s a hobby of his, I don’t know what he does with that hobby, but it was really interesting. People discussing things that they’re passionate about. There hasn’t been one yet, but I’d like to see interactivity too. It’s really 20 – 30 minute talk with a Q + A, and sometimes we go out for drinks after to keep the conversation going.

Me :: It’s nice your space is smaller, so you can have a more intimate conversation. Whereas Pecha Kucha is in a theatre basically, so you don’t really get that same chance to interact with the artist.

Yeah. And, we can seat about 50 people, maybe a bit more if they’re standing. It’s fun having the different people there too. The next one is dancers/choreographers. I don’t really interact with that side of the arts community, so I think that will be interesting. It’ll be a change for me. Meeting new people in a different part of the arts community. Also, bringing people into a gallery who don’t normally step into a gallery. Which is also why I do the comedy shows.

Me :: Okay! So you do comedy shows in the gallery? That’s yoga, comedy shows…

…talks, and workshops. Anything I can do that gets people into the gallery and interacting with the art. And just having a good time.

5. So going back to having sort of different art up, why do you think there’s a lack of interest or a lack of exposure for that type of art? Why does Vancouver stick to the more traditional pieces?

Traditional sells. People like it. Tourists like it too. And, what I’m finding is tourists who are looking for the type of stuff that I’m doing, are finding me on Tourism Vancouver and then coming just to see me and leaving Main Street immediately. I think it’s challenging for a lot of people to open a gallery, like what I’m doing. It’s hard to find a spot that’s cheap. I’ve seen a lot of galleries that have opened and closed in Chinatown and Gastown. You don’t see that on Main Street unless it’s part of an organization or a coffee shop. And it’s too bad. I wish more people would take that risk. They may even have a better idea than me, but I think they’re just a little afraid.

6. Do you have any advice for artists who are just starting out?

Put all your time into it. Put all your time into making art. Put all your time into going to shows to meet other artists, to meet curators, to meet people who are interested in art. Put your art in as many group shows as possible. If you feel like you’re ready, do your own show. Get your art in coffee shops and stuff. There are lots of great places to hang art in Vancouver if you’re just starting out even if galleries aren’t willing to take a chance on you. Take all your time to practice, practice, practice.

Oh, and never compare yourself to other artists. So many artists get discouraged comparing themselves to other artists. There’s always somebody better than you. You’re never going to be the best. No matter how big you are there’s always going to be somebody better. So, don’t compare yourself. Just do your thing and try to experiment and put your time into it. And, maybe you never really make anything of it or you never get any recognition for it, and it becomes something you just do, but you should still do it.

Me :: Totally. And, you can’t compare yourself to others because everything is different. I mean there’s always something similar, everything’s been done before, but the way you do it is your own way and you can’t compare that to anything. If you’re doing something good, there’s not going to be anything really like it out there.

Yes. And there’s always going to be people who compare you to others. There’s always something similar out there and you build off those people. There’s a guy who has a series on Vimeo who says everything is a remix. I find that very interesting. We think we’re creative and unique individuals but really we’re just remixing what everyone else has done before.

7. What’s in the works for you in the near future?

More comedy shows. I’d also like to find a theatre group. There’s a back room at the gallery and I’d like to see that used as a really tiny theatre, even a movie theatre. There was a place in Gastown, I can’t remember what it was called, but it was a theatre, and they could sit about 50 or 60 people, and they’d show not even indie movies, but things that people made on video. So it’d be cool to do that in a gallery. Have 20 people in the audience and have the performance like as far away as you are (a coffee table away). It changes the dynamic.

Me :: You could do a burlesque show. With that proximity it would be really intense.
Yes. There’s something similar to that right now, Dr. Sketchy. She’s a burlesque model for life drawing. There’s a range of dressed to undressed depending on the night you’re in. It’s three hours with a burlesque performance, just one song, and you’re life drawing for three hours. And, yeah, the burlesque performance would be really intense.

Me :: It’s an experience for the audience, but also an experience for the performer too who’s not used to being so close.
If it’s somebody like Lola ( Lola Frost ), she’s very expressive, so it’d be a very sexual experience too. Whereas a regular burlesque show is sexy, but not necessarily an experience of sex.

8. Are there any upcoming events or shows, not necessarily that you’re organizing, but something you’re excited about in Vancouver?

I kind of go night to night, but I’m excited that The Sunday Service, a local comedy group, is at Fox Cabaret. They started there this past week. Actually, anything that they do! And also, Ryan Beil, who is part of the Sunday Service + owns Little Mountain Studio, that used to be a gallery, then Ryan Beil took it over and is now more of a comedy school. They do shows there regularly. Anything he does. Especially their show Rapp Battlez. I’m also excited about the comedy that’s coming into Hot Art Wet City.

9. When you were first starting out, do you have any interesting stories or mishaps that you can share?

I was always worried that there’d be more street people coming into the gallery. Or, maybe not worried, but more wondering how would I deal with it. I’ve worked in retail and was always just able to call security to solve the problem. This one guy, the first week the gallery opened, came in and he just reeked. Just reeked! He smelled so bad. And I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. He was carrying this table and he was talking to me about this table. He was obviously from the street, he was dirty and smelled so bad and just kept going on about this table. But then he saw the art on the walls and he just immediately relaxed and he started looking at everything. Then it shifted from this moment of what’s he going to do, thinking that this could go really bad because he was just gripping this table, then he just relaxed. For me it was the relief that I wouldn’t have to deal with it and for him it was the realization that this is a safe place and interesting.

So, that’s Chris Bentzen! If you want to learn more, head on over to Hot Art Wet City at Main + 6th any Wednesday to Saturday. The next Hot Talks is on April 24th at 6:30pm and the next Carded is April 26th at 7pm. Go!

*** Vancouver Neatos is a weekly series where I interview neat people in Vancouver. If you know of someone doing something neat in Vancouver, email me their deets + I’ll add them to my list.

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