A source for interviews of established and emerging movers and shakers in the Northwest art scene as well as arts-focused articles and discussions.

Chris Haberman (Artist/Curator)

Native Portlander Chris Haberman is a painter, curator, and community arts advocate.  Haberman is a storyteller, melding myths and fables with real life grit in a flurry of marks and colors.  His studio is situated in a large warehouse space transformed into co-operative studios in the Troy Laundry Building in SE Portland.  He is one of the most zealous artists I’ve come across in the Portland art scene.  If you live in or have even just visited Portland, chances are you’ve come across Haberman’s art in mural form and in exhibitions.  If you haven’t yet, you will.  In thinking about Haberman, the R&B musician James Brown comes to mind, “the hardest working man in show business.”

Amidst a whirlwind of art making, Chris Haberman contemplates his next move.

Lorna Nakell: I understand that you left the corporate world to become an artist.  What was your career before, and what prompted you to choose the path of an artist?

Chris Haberman: Yep, I needed a job pretty badly, so I took an office job for an insurance company.  I told myself, “Well, Kafka worked in insurance and he was a writer, so I can do it too.”  It was great for awhile, but then I started selling a lot of art. I decided it was time to cut the corporate cord and do what I really loved.

LN: As a painter you have a distinctly outsider art style.  I’ve heard you referred to as an “urban artist,” “ghetto realist” and “urban realist.”  Do you mind having such labels?  How would you describe your art?

CH: I like labels, they help define things and give focus.  Really, every label has some truth to it or a lot of great hype—I like hype too, it helps create a mystique.  I define myself as a painter that works from an urban aesthetic.  My work is neither realistic nor classically artistic; it is more like cartoons with adult-themed word bubbles.  I can draw realistically, its just too much work.  I prefer to work with what comes out naturally. Which in my case, is the talent of a 10 year old with a 30 year old’s sense of humor.

LN: Possibly the most prolific artist of his time, Picasso created approximately 50,000 works of art before his death in 1973.  You are a prolific artist in your own rite.  How many works would you say you have created since becoming a painter?  Are there benefits to being prolific?

CH: I have created over 7,000 works in less than 9 years, so I am definitely on the Picasso path.  He died the year I was born by the way, so I hold Picasso very close to my heart.  My favorite Picasso statement is, “Paint

"French Or Homeless," acrylic and ink on board, 2010.

like a child.”  I hold that very dear and never forget it.  There is a whole world of subjects, people, landscapes, notions, etc., to pull from, and as an artist, it is your job to digest and redistribute these as your own.

LN: You are an unabashed self-promoter.  You leverage social media outlets as well as any marketing guru (Chris currently has almost 4k fans on his Facebook page.).  Do you think that’s one of the keys to your success?

CH: Sure, self-promotion is the key to success these days.  I do not have an agent or anyone to do this, so I do it myself. I also love people and many of those Facebook friends are really my friends.  Mark Twain became famous because he was a relentless self-promoter, self-publisher and self-critic.  I follow that school of thought but with a twist: I want to help others as well, and our community.

LN: Do you find that your master’s degree in literature plays a role in your painting process?

CH: I think everything I have digested as an intellectual and creature of study has helped my painting.  My studies in literature are very important aspect to my work in the form of storytelling and development of concept.  I do not sell pretty pictures, I tell stories in my paintings.

LN: You are involved in many local community projects like street fairs, fundraisers and Caldera projects.  What is the importance of this type of artistic outreach in relation to your work or art career?

CH: I am a community person; I enjoy people and helping to organize things at the grass roots level.  I never want to be “too” big to be part of a street fair, or to work with kids.  Those activities were the basis of my start in

"Restless Nights," acrylic and ink on record cover, 2010.

the art world and I never want to let go of them.  A few months ago I donated 7 paintings to different causes.  Its good for the cause and its good for me (cross marketing really, if you look at it).  I have spread my name out in as many circles as possible, and charity is just another circle, it just happens to have a worthwhile end.

LN: Are you represented by any galleries?  If not, what is your experience operating outside the gallery arena in the current financial climate?

CH: I have always operated outside that arena.  My best sales are in bars and restaurants (The true Portland gallery), which seems to serve many Portlanders.  People know me; know I just want to make art and sell it—to do so I have to fit the market.

LN: In addition to creating paintings for exhibition and sale you do curatorial work in local cafes and bars, and create murals independently as well as collaboratively.  What have been some of your favorite art experiences over the years?

CH: I have been curating as long as I have been painting, almost.  I curate bars/cafes because that is where I got my start and I’ve remained friends with the owners that first gave me a shot.  I am just trying to help new artists and give them some skills to help them figure it all out.

I love painting murals and they are always a challenge.  My first experience with Jen Mercede (Francis Restaurant mural, Alberta) was over 300 hours on one wall, on scaffolding, in the rain; it was a definite learning curve. Currently, I am enjoying working closely with Jason Brown, curator of the Goodfoot and Po’ Boy Art Gallery.  I respect him very much, as a painter, curator, builder and friend, and I think we make a great team.  The older I get, the less I want to tackle things on my own.  It takes a village….

LN: What are your upcoming projects?

CH: Jason [Brown] and I are working on a mural project right now, and we just finished working together to open the Po’ Boy Art Gallery in his frame shop.  We are gearing up for the Big 100 show (100 artists, 1500 works) at the Goodfoot for December.

I am curating a show for Portland Center for the Performing Arts for September, to open with TBA Festival, entitled “The New Brow of Portland.”

On a personal art level, I am working on a series of paintings for a book by K.C. Cowan (Oregon Art Beat) entitled They Don’t Call Them Saints for Nothing.  It’s a look at a selection of Catholic saints, where KC did the writing and I did the illustrations. [Haberman recently was an interview subject on Oregon Art Beat.]

I’m also working on a series due out next year called “Maiden Oregon” – where basically I paint one work for every song Iron Maiden (the British metal band) has written in the last 30 years (nearly 100 works) – pretty fun!  I love being an artist.


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