Scrappers is his name, and making stuff is his game. Some say he created the Grand Canyon by dragging his ax behind him, and made Mount Hood by piling rocks on top of a campfire to put it out… wait— that’s Paul Bunyon. Sorry. Although, Scrappers is a kind of frontiersman, pushing boundaries with his bioregional-savvy art & design that emphasizes Northwest culture. Scrappers wears many hats: painter, designer, professional thrift shopper, co-curator (Grass Hut Gallery), publisher (Old Growth), writer, wildkeeper. Sometimes he wears all these hats at once, which is easier than carrying around a hat rack. But no matter how many hats he wears, he only has one priority: to stay wild. And inspire others to do the same.
JR: Do you still have hope?
Random Acts of Kindness (RAK). Have you been on the giving or receiving end of any lately?
I try to carry spare change, just so I can give it as folks ask for it. Shit, twenty-five cents is a small price to pay for street music and chipped tooth smiles.
Agreed. If you could transform into any animal, vegetable, or mineral for 24 hours… what would you choose, and what would you do while transformed?
A spotted owl. I would fly through old growth woods and feel the untamed wilderness engulf me. That or a dog cuz I could shit on the sidewalk and watch my owners pick it up with their hands. Dogs have trained us to do the weirdest things.
If you could have one of the following:
a) a magic belt buckle that would make your biceps as thick as coconuts
b) a talking globe (that would tell bedtime stories of faraway lands)
c) a gnome assistant that would follow you everywhere and draw maps of where you’ve been
d) a bicycle that would find its way home if lost or stolen
e) a Bigfoot-summoning whistle
f) the ability to walk and dance like a 1930s cartoon character
The Bigfoot whistle would be too dangerous. Think of that stark wilderness running full speed at you. Scares the jerky out of me just thinking about it. I would probably go with the talking globe. Everyone likes a good story.
The first issue of Old Growth included details for building one of your projects, TRWEGS (The Rain Water Electricity Generation System), a set-up that would generate electricity from the water flowing down thru roof gutter spouts. Do you have any other inventions up your sleeve?*
Well, I’ve made plans for a crossbow made of old bike parts, but it sounds too Burning Man meets Mad Max. I think I’ll just make some small wooden crossbows for kids to play with at the park.
Every park is incomplete without at least a couple of kids running around with wooden crossbows. Okay: what term best describes you?
d) Bigfoot enthusiast
e) mountain man*
All those are pretty good. Here’s a couple more though: writer, cyclist, environmental restorationist (wildkeeper), student, professional thrift shopper, thief, liar, recovering alcoholic, family man, and road-tripping hippy.
Wait, back up— wildkeeper?
A wildkeeper tries to keep things wild. So that covers everything from removing invasive plants and replanting natives to running around naked in the woods and chewing on leaves.
Sounds glorious. Do you think it’s possible there is a kind of wildkeeping in graphic design? That might involve preserving vintage typefaces (I’m envisioning Piet Schreuders in knee-high rubber boots), preserving vernacular sign-painting styles, weeding out the ubiquitous invasive helvetica, replacing it with whimsical indigenous hand-lettering?
Heck yes! Folks can keep all things wild, especially creative work. It’s obvious that untamed passion keeps work fresh.
How long have you worked with Grass Hut Gallery? How do you keep it fresh?
Grass Hut is Bwana Spoons’s corporation. I’ve been inspired by Bwana’s work for about as long as I’ve been painting and doodling (only 3–4 years). I met Bwana in Chinatown; he was having an epic art show at Motel Gallery and I was selling paintings on the sidewalk in front of the gallery. As it turned out, we both admired each other’s work. Bwana has helped me out a bunch; he’s gotten me into a lot of big art shows that I wouldn’t have had a chance to be in otherwise. He’s also volunteered to remove invasive ivy from Forest Park with me. ¶ So when Bwana needed a partner to run Grass Hut, I jumped on the chance. We turned it into a studio / gallery / shop. Grass Hut is a sort of shelter for folks who can’t stop making things. Mostly all the products (zines, books, prints, t-shirts, and stuff) were hand-delivered by artists who happened to walk in at the right moment. We curate gallery shows for our friends and folks who are doing over-the-edge work. The studio is right up in the front window, so when Bwana and I are working people often stop at the window and watch. ¶ We owe everything to the artists who show work at Grass Hut: Apak, Le Merde, Martin Ontiveros, Evan B Harris, E*Rock, the Junktown crew, Tim Biskup, Luke Ramsey, The Hibert Familia, and more. ¶ Bwana and I make choices based on instinct— that sucks for boring business stuff, but it keeps the luck strong; it keeps the dust from settling; it keeps the Hut tasty and fresh.
Which is good. Once the dust settles, you might as well lock yourself to a chain & ball, no?
I don’t have anything against a ball or a chain… it’s numbness I fear most. Once you’ve stopped noticing the tiny things in the gutter, once you can’t feel the wind in your hair, once you stop swimming in the freezing cold river, once you think you know it all— that’s death. When you fall out of love with adventure & discovery in yourself, it becomes a problem that effects us all. We need you to stay wild inside.
I think we’ve all seen the automaton zombies who are no longer wild inside… yikes! Can you list 10 Scrappers-endorsed activities that might act as a tonic for staying wild?
1. Run around naked in the pourin rain.
2. Read books that get bad reviews.
3. Eat mushrooms and wild berries from Forest Park.
4. Climb a tree with an ice cream cone in hand.
5. Build a raft out of garbage and drift down the Willamette River.
6. Play random sports like kickball with strangers.
7. Ride your bike everyday.
8. Make some art or write without a plan.
9. Work for trade.
10. Realize, there are no rules. There are only natural laws.
And maybe ride a wild elk sculpture every now and then, hmm? Speaking of flora & fauna, what was the impetus for the publication you’ve started, Old Growth?
I don’t know what impetus means. Old Growth was started as a project for my friend Sky, who lives in the deep dank Redwoods. He wanted an opportunity to write and express his thoughts on life. I wanted to start something that would reflect the cultural significance of the Pacific Northwest; I wanted to remind you that we have something special here, something bioregional. I was studying history at the time, too, and wanted to write about NW native lifestyles, early logging, and how folks have found ways to live within Nature’s bounty for hundreds of years. I also wanted to turn depressed folks on to uplifting art and music makers.
I feel you succeed on both counts: emphasizing bioregional culture, and inspiring folks with kick-ass stuff. Living in the urban core of Portland, it’s easy to forget about old(er) world stuff like logging and fishing and sailing and trading (and, yes, Bigfoot). It might seem self-evident, but why is it important for people to be reminded of these things?
I grew up in the plastic landscape of Los Angeles county, where there was only strip malls and depression. I needed to remember that I was born on Vancouver Island, B.C. I needed to remember the whole time growing up that the world wasn’t simply MTV, K-Mart, Denny’s, and Blockbuster. By remembering the romantic Pacific Northwest and the childhood I should have had, I always had hope to return and live up to my full potential. Maybe when I remind folks that the NW is special, I’m reminding myself that I’m special.
I can relate; I spent 8 years in a small strip town along a highway, where the WalMart was the de facto local community center. When I migrated up to the Northwest, I spent the first year wandering around ogling all the fauna. The NW does have a certain organic magic. But what it’s rapidly becoming known for: “cheap” real estate. The average house price in LA hit $500,000 recently(!), and we’re seeing a flock of upwardly-mobile SoCal’ers heading up the coast to Portland. Do you think Portland’s immune system (and urban ecosystem) can handle this kind of hypertrophic growth?
Nope. But if you want a real answer, ask an urban planner. But as far as I understand it, Portland has an urban growth boundary that’s intended to protect farmland and forests. That means we will have to grow up instead of out— more skyscrapers. ¶ I heard that Portland is planning to have all new buildings built to meet the highest LEED (green) building standards by 2030. These new buildings are supposed to generate their own power and give back to the grid. ¶ I trust Portland’s urban planners and green builders to keep the growth smart. It’s the culture I worry about. These new folks ought to know about the spotted owl, totem poles, the end of the Oregon Trail, salmon, and regional feelings. I’m all for cultural collisions and hybrid conclusions (read about the Mestizo), as long as we don’t forget our roots.
Do you ever put too much on your plate? If so, what’s the remedy?
Yeah, all the fuckin’ time. It’s idiotic to take on so many opportunities that you only see your friends and family when it fits into your multi-tasking. My personal relationship with the world is retarded by ambition. I don’t know the remedy. ¶ Check this out: I have felt the deep nothingness of death; I have had very close family and friends go away forever. They will be a part of me forever in my mind and fingertips, but they can’t feel the world anymore. The same thing is gunna happen to me, so I want to do as much as I can before my time is up and I have to go away forever. This motivation to create and enjoy is in my voice every time I say “Yes” to more servings on my plate.
Reminds me of a bit from a poem I just read (David Berman, NOW II): “Everything strains to be inevitable / even as it’s being killed forever.” What I hear you saying is that heaping as much as possible on your plate is pretty much your way of saying YES to life.
It would be disrespectful to say no when all those who came before us who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get us this far. We are living for the dead. We are saying yes in their names. We are also saying “Pull my finger” for them too.
If you could sit down and have a burrito & some horchata with any figure from history… who would you pick? what would you ask them? and, ultimately, would you pull hir finger?
In all honesty, I would like to talk to my family and friends who have moved on. I want to know why the Morrisons moved to Canada from Scotland. I want to know why some friends and family killed themselves. I want to know what was most important to all the people who directly got me this far in life. I want to know how best to honor them. ¶ That said, I bet John Coltrane could fart out some pretty distinct sounds. I would totally pull his finger.
Speaking of distinct stuff… part of what I enjoy about your work is that it’s such sheer fun to look at— and it very much looks like you had fun making it. Don’t you believe in suffering for your art?
Pure joy does not exist without suffering. I think I have a pretty firm grip on both, so it’s effortless to express either. Maybe my work looks silly and fun because I’m trying to remind people to not die on purpose. I want to remind people that they are good, that there are reasons to stay good, that all the trouble is worth it. You suffer enough, I trust that. When I have your attention though, I want you to feel good so you can be good.
In general, I think it’s fair to say most people suffer enough. And it’s nice to see some playful art that doesn’t take itself too seriously. For example, the whimsical sidewalk sign you made for Half & Half Cafe (which seems to pay some homage to Teddy Roosevelt)…
There is a stretch of Hwy 101 in the Redwoods that Roosevelt Elk cross back and forth on all day. These elk stop traffic on one of the west coast’s most traveled highways. The elk inspire me to enjoy life despite mainstream obstacles. Teddy Roosevelt also seemed to be the kind of guy that would’ve liked Half & Half’s hip pickle shop environment.
Okay. We’ve entered the “Historical Figures & Non Sequiturs” portion of the show. So. Melville Dewey is a demigod to some. Even despite (or because) of his advocacy of the Ro language (“simpler spelin”), in which you might say:
“All shud see the butiful after-glo on mountains to the east just befor sunset”
“All should see the beautiful after-glow on mountains to the east just before sunset.”
If yu cud talk to Melvil Dui thru an ouija bord, what wud you ask?
Why cum i gunna wanna go campin all’a tha time? An whuts wit all tha trawma? Iz it wurth it?
Indeed it is. Believe you me. Now, if the Dewey Decimal System and Library of Congress
Classification were luchadors…
…they would be built like brick shit houses and would be way more romantic.
My thoughts exactly. Speaking of money, fame, and glittery gimp masks: what’s your definition of selling out? Trying to nail down the criteria for “selling out” seems about as easy as wrasslin’ a greased pig in a vat of Astroglide™…
Oh come on, it’s easy! Just listin’ to the little punk rocker in you head. Are you working for the Organization? Is your work faceless? Are you doing it for money or power? Is it only decoration for plastic crap? Is your work being used to sell something? That shit is obvious. ¶ Ask yourself though if you are sellin’ what money can’t buy. Artists can subvert money and power to ring clear messages, messages greater than material trophies. We can use Starbucks to tell folks that home-cooked meals are good for you. We can use Nike to remind parents that playing sports will make their kids more confident in personal relationships and less likely to get involved in abusive relationships. ¶ I say: sell out, but do it for a damn good reason. Know your intentions. Use the Organization as it uses you.
Do you think there’s any danger of mixing commercial messages with social issues? For example, let’s take Colors magazine. Tibor Kalman used corporate resources to raise awareness about issues like HIV, deforestation, recycling, racism, monoculture. Of course, with United Benetton footing the bill, some folks just dismissed the whole thing as a giant ad campaign exploiting graphic images of AIDs victims to sell expensive sweaters.
Cynical bullshit goes nowhere. What Colors continues to do is what AdBusters’ limp voice can not. It’s not positive or negative, it’s just interesting and informative. The power structure is just a tool, we can use it however we want to. If we want to use it to sell plastic junk and make money, or if we want to use it to remind folks that they should say hello to each other on the streets, that’s fine. I just think we can do both.
It’s not uncommon to hear designers talk about being thwarted by DBC (Design By Committee). Is there any jujitsu available to the designer feeling smothered by the dutch oven of DBC?
DBC can learn a lot from DIFY. Do it for yourself. Stay personal. Ironically, it’s easier for strangers to relate to sincere personal intentions. Design is just intention, right?
Sure. You’ll also (typically) hear design defined as problem-solving. Others will say, pah, it’s just a trade service that would be nothing without clients. On the other hand, there’s folks like OrangeFlux (“We feel design should inspire and entertain, not just sell”). Does it have to be either/or? Can design be both— client-based service or DIY art, depending on the circumstances?
The best work does both things. Look at bike messengers for proof. They get to dress in their outfits, they love to ride their bikes, everything is custom DIY, yet they serve clients with switchblade speed. You can do both, but it takes a real frontier mentality to make it happen. You’ve got to blaze a trail and have faith in where you’re headed.
You’re part of the current WK+12 team (each year, the Wieden+Kennedy firm takes on 12 student/interns for a course in design & advertising). So, naturally, I’m going to ask you a long-winded ‘art vs ad’ question:
The boundaries between art and advertising have been blurred. Artists are taught to promote themselves as consistent brand experiences. Large corporations are directly commissioning art. And you might see a commercial that’s so fantastical you can’t believe it’s selling something (or maybe can’t even figure out what it’s selling). Like Sony’s Bravia series: 10,000 bouncy balls shot out of a canon down a hilly street in San Francisco, in slow motion, set to a Jose Gonzalez song… what’s your take on all this?
This is such a big juicy topic. Can I narrow it down to a sharper question? Let me turn the tables for a second here. Why would you pay to work for an Organization? Why would you do that?
I’m not quite understanding what you’re asking…
Well, I guess I’m asking you why you would volunteer. In WK12, the other students and I are paying to work. It’s like a big “fuck you” to money-motivation. We are trying to use the advertising industry to communicate or sell ideas that go beyond the typical slogans and product relationship. I blame advertising for watering down culture and smothering diversity. Instead of bitchin’ about it, I’m tryin’ to fix the problem from the inside. It’s like volunteering to plant trees— nobody gets paid, it’s really muddy, and there’s no promise that the tree will grow. WK12 is an experiment; we make good ads for good clients, and although it’s too early to tell if our little experiment is having any affect on the industry, it has certainly affected Wieden+Kennedy.
There have been several designers (Tibor Kalman comes to mind again) who have espoused ‘working from within’ and using design & advertising as a tool (or Trojan Horse) for communicating socially-responsible messages. What are some ways in which you’ve seen design & advertising used for positive ends?
Those yellow rubber bracelets that raised awareness and money towards cancer research, were, believe it or not, a fucking ad campaign for Nike.
Well. Enough idle chit-chat. Let’s move on to the real meaty issues. Esperanto. What’s your stance on it?
It’s cool. It’s distant though. Kind of reminds me of a secret handshake.
What projects shine like double rainbows on the horizon for Scrappers & Co?
— Old Growth #3
— Campin’ on Ross Island to make art and raise awareness on Willamette River issues
— Archery in Forest Park
— Grass Hut art openings every first Friday of the month
— A live musical play about wild boy scouts and girl scouts who are engaged in a bloody tragic war with well-intentioned loggers. They both have impossible obstacles to overcome, and they do learn from witnessing each other’s struggles, with the help of the spotted owl as a narrator.
— A belt buckle with antlers that can hold a beer
What excites you most when getting up in the morning lately?
Walking the dog with my wife. We found a hummingbird nest blown down from a tall Doug Fir the other day. To hold that precious tiny thing made of feather, moss, and twig was pure joy. ¤