The relationship started as nothin' but a "g" thang. "G" as in "graphics," that is. "I needed an automatic weapon or something that looked liked an automatic weapon," Wes Winship recalls, half-sitting on a ledge in the tiny, well-appointed book, toy, and objet d'art shop that occupies a corner of the new Ox-Op Gallery. "I was mainly looking for an Uzi for a photo shoot, to recreate the Ice-T Power cover for issue number seven of LSD. A friend said, 'maybe you should talk to Tom'"--that being Grumpy's proprietor, Amphetamine Reptile brain trust, and firearms enthusiast Tom Hazelmyer.
One phone call later, and Winship was driving around with a Tek-9 in his front seat. "He seriously did not even know me all that well," the elfin co-producer of the Life Sucks Die hip-hop and graffiti zine, and ardent celebrant of "Dre Day" notes, chuckling at the memory. "It was like a Godfather-type thing. Now I'm indebted to him forever."
Look where it got him--to "g" as in "gallery." When the time came to enter a new game, Hazelmyer made Winship an offer he couldn't refuse. Or, as Winship puts it, "He knew I didn't have a day job."
On a recent Saturday night, Hazelmyer anchors the entrance at his new art venue, Ox-Op, greeting the artists, musicians, and other assorted misfits arriving to check out the work of James Marshall--better known as Dalek. Winship, the underboss, works the room proper, casually circulating as he provides information and trades jokes with patrons.
The Yogi and Booboo act seems a natural fit for the pair. Both Winship and Hazelmyer are accomplished graphic designers and avid admirers of the type of art they refer to as "visceral." Hazelmyer sparked the popular Flame Rite series of designer Zippos more than a decade ago, now chronicled in Scorched Art, a handsome hardcover tome available at the gallery shop. And as a result, he maintains working relationships with artists ranging from lowbrow pioneer Robert Williams to bachelor-pad rhapsodist Shag, who'll be showing at Ox-Op later this year.
"The idea for the gallery grew out of doing shows in the bar," says Hazelmyer, who sports a sharp butch haircut, sculpted goatee, and black horn-rimmed wraparounds. "We did a couple of shows there, but it just wasn't practical. It's too easy for the art to get damaged. Besides, who wants to buy expensive stuff at a bar called Grumpy's?"
He might have easily said "relatively expensive." Prints by Marshall/Dalek go for 40 bucks, while framed pen-and-ink originals of the stylish biomechanical critters that the graffiti artist calls "monkeys" start at $250 and go up to $600. The most expensive piece in the house (assuming Hazelmyer isn't harboring any exotic weapons), a sumptuous triptych on canvas, is priced at $1,500--hardly cigarette money, but not bad at all for a substantial work by a young artist with a group museum show already under his belt. And, indeed, from the action at the cash register, it appears that people don't have any qualms about buying stuff at a squat, black cinderblock structure behind a bar called Grumpy's. (Ox-Op is attached to the bar's Washington Avenue location).
Marshall's work, like that of Shag, Gary Baseman, Jeff Soto, and the other artists showing at the gallery this year, seems an awfully wholesome choice for the creator of the Dope, Guns, and Fucking in the Streets compilation series and the man Giant Robot magazine called "Larry Flynt Junior" not too long ago. Ox-Op is a gallery you could bring your children to, assuming they were well-behaved and far enough along to rhyme "cat" with "gat." Hazelmyer and Winship aren't getting soft, though. They're simply letting their own inner kids shine through.
"This is what I wanna see." Hazelmyer declares. "I opened the gallery because I got sick of waiting for someone else to bring the shit in."
Winship adds, "This is the art that interests me."
Could this be a case of natural-born curataz?