Arthur Lindsey, Founder of AKA Gallery
WORDS BY: ARIELA KOZIN
Also Known As… Gallery is rewriting the rules of the Portland art scene. If you love art, Arthur’s color-drenched space is open, no experience required.
Interview: AKA Gallery is Art with No Boundaries
Arthur sits down with WestwoodWestwood to talk about inclusiveness, battling art industry stereotypes, and how skateboarding and art fit together.
What inspired you to start the gallery?
I’ve been working with artists and curating shows for over 10 years. I’ve run a couple of spots here in town and have worked with other galleries curating shows, but the opportunity came up for me to move into this space and it was pretty serendipitous. It was time for a change and it was a really fortunate series of events.
Can you elaborate on the Portland art scene and why you chose this city?
For me, it was appealing to be located in the St. John’s area since it’s not historically an art hub—there’s maybe two or three other galleries out here. I’m totally secluded from the more insular Portland art community which is downtown, and that world just doesn’t really interest me. Sometimes I feel like there’s a bit of an elitist inner-circle community of Portland art-types that I’m not impressed by, but that’s just probably my tastes. By being out St. Johns, I like the idea that I’m not part of a set community and that if people want to come to the gallery to see the work, they’re going to have to put a little effort into it. Ideally, the work that I show is going to draw people out here with the quality of artists and work.
You said you like being, for lack of a better word, the “renegade,” and doing something a little bit different, a little counter-cultural?
Yes, to a certain extent. My needs weren’t really being met in Portland with the shows and the work that I was seeing. I would go to see these shows and events—a lot of times I was just not impressed, but that’s fine. I have found a pretty diverse community of artists that I’ve worked with for a long time and that I’ve maintained relationships—some for as long as 25 years—and they’re not showing here and I know they’d like to, so it’s a really easy resource for me to tap into.
Can you talk a little bit about your artists? What do you gravitate toward?
This past year, we’ve really tried to have the most diverse programming possible. Our first show was David Allan Peters, who is an artist who lives in Los Angeles via San Jose. It was a real honor to show his work because he’s been a very successful contemporary artist for at least a decade now. He takes layers of acrylic paint and carves in these geometric patterns. Essentially, he creates these borderline sculptural, abstract paintings that are really colorful. He’s amazing. His work is very sophisticated and he’s the kind of artist that any serious gallery would want to show, so that was a real honor. That show was really heavy, but then we followed it up with Jay Howell, whose work is figurative and borderline cartoon illustration. The juxtaposition was a nice palate cleanser. The idea is, I keep the programming really fresh to broaden the type of clientele who frequent the gallery. Part of being out here in a blue-collar neighborhood is to have this space accessible to people who typically wouldn’t go to a gallery for whatever reason. There’s a lot of preconceived ideas when it comes to a gallery—that it’s an elitist, upper-crust environment. It can be pretty intimidating, so I try to make sure we’re very welcoming. Art should be for everyone.
It can be pretty intimidating, so I try to make sure we’re very welcoming. Art should be for everyone.
That’s the beauty of it, there’s something for everybody.
A lot of people don’t realize that. Once you can get them in the door and interacting in the community, like anything, you start learning. Just being around any type of art form, if you keep exposing yourself to it, you’re going to learn. Once you start learning you’re able to appreciate more and have a deeper understanding of process and technique. You don’t have to have an MFA, you don’t have to have an art history degree, you can just go and appreciate art. I’ve had some opportunities to work with different places, more established galleries here in town, and I got to the point where I realized I’d rather use my own resources to create my own brand because I have some really exceptional people that I get to work with. I don’t mind helping other people, but I figured if I’m going to do a show with David Peters or Jay Howell or Christine Shields, I’m doing it in my space.
How has skate culture influenced your aesthetic?
I grew up a skateboarder. It still is, to this day, a huge part of my life. The generation of skateboarders that I grew up with were a very marginalized, sub-sect of the community. In order to skateboard back then, you had to deal a backlash as a skater. You had to be ready to defend yourself or take off because you didn’t want to get jumped by some meatheads. I think having to go through an era of skateboarding like that really galvanized a lot of people in my peer group and the skateboarders in that era. Back then, you’d see another skateboarder on the street and you’d immediately connect with an unspoken bond. Every skater I knew was an artist of some sort, whether it was music or visual art. Around the early to mid 90s, some of my friends started getting noticed by the contemporary art world and made a name for themselves. That all reached a peak probably with Beautiful Losers, the traveling show that Aaron Rose and Christian Strike did. The X Games along with the exhibit and documentary sort of validated what skateboarders went through and I’m very fortunate to have the group of artists that I can draw on to show with me.
You don’t have to have an MFA, you don’t have to have an art history degree, you can just go and appreciate art.
How did you come up with the name Also Known As?
My friend Dan Garland had this idea for a skateboard company for a long time and he thought that’d be a great name for my gallery. He also helped me with the logo. I’m very lucky I have friends who are infinitely more talented than I am and willing to do all the things that I can’t do.
A testament of who you are is who you hang out with.
I’m all about community. I really think that says a lot about a person, not to be too judgmental. A friend of mine said to me a couple years ago, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room.”
I’d love to try to get through this next year. We have a bunch of really interesting artists that we’re showing this year. Sumaya Agha, who is of Syrian descent, is a photographer for Mercy Corps, and she would spend a lot of time in Jordan and in Syria and the Middle East documenting the refugee crisis. We will be showing her in April and she’ll be up here giving a lecture. A local artist named Wendy Given is somebody that we’re looking forward to showing, as well as Manya Shapiro, Joseph McVetty, and a few more are also in the works. One element of the big picture is that we’d like to have residency programs. We’d like to have a residency program situation where different artists would come and be here for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, and we’d have school-age kid programming too. That’s the dream.
A Few of Arthur's Favorite Things
Though these three pieces are by different artists using unique mediums, they all manage tug at Arthur's heart strings.
Johanna Jackson & Chris Johanson's "Resting"
Casey Brown's "Untitled"
“This is one of my favorite works I have come across.”
Tobin Yelland's "Untitled"
“Before 1995, if you were a skateboarder, it meant you had to fight for it because it wasn’t so well-received by society. Being a skateboarder took a lot of commitment. My skate photographers were chased in the streets like the rest of us, but they carried their camera bags to document it all.”