Thomas Kinkade Haters Unite! A Q&A With Hibbleton Curator Jesse LaTour


hibbleton_exterior.jpg
Courtesy Hibbleton Gallery

It's no secret that I tend to get a case of the fanboy drools every time I think (or write) about Fullerton's Hibbleton Gallery. I'm certainly not alone in that regard: The OC Weekly awarded it Best Art Gallery-2009 in our yearly Best Of issue, saying "You'd be hard-pressed to find an Orange County gallery that's smarter than this year-old gem."

As the Gallery is about to celebrate its second birthday, we emailed the Hibbleton's co-owner, Jesse La Tour, a trouble-maker and fellow Art Whore, about the space, fanzines, art to avoid, Nerdy Thursdays and even a bit o' politics.
OC WEEKLY (Dave Barton): Tell our readers a bit about how the gallery got started.
Jesse La Tour: A couple years back, my friend Anthony and I noticed a "for rent" sign on the window of the photo studio we lived above, and thought, "We should rent that and do something with it."
Anthony is an artist/designer, and I am a writer/English teacher. We brainstormed for a while what we could reasonably do and, after talking with some other creatively-minded friends, we decided to open an art gallery.
 None of us had done anything like this before. We just thought we had decent taste, and that Fullerton needed a cool art venue.

Where did the name come from?
The origin of the name is a secret I am too embarrassed to tell.

Talk a little about your background and aesthetic as a curator.
I have ZERO background as a curator.
(Interviewer's jaw drops in amazement.)
I took some art classes at Fullerton College, and started painting maybe 10 years ago, but the stuff I was doing was not contemporary. I have a particular interest in "outsider" art but I'm also really obsessed with Byzantine iconography and Star Wars. My fellow students thought I was weird. Much of the curating credit should go to Ben Pham and Anthony Bach, two of my co-owners, [and] Landon Lewis and Chuck Oldfield, [who've] curated some shows. We are a collective of minds. Our main criterion is that we have to like the art, which means NO seascapes (a la Laguna Beach) and absolutely NOTHING even remotely resembling the work of Thomas Kinkade. We all hate that prick.

Name your top five favorite artists.
In no particular order: Howard Finster (He's this old wacko who started painting when he was like 60, and pretty much embodies "outsider" art), Daniel Johnston (a musician/artist whose life and work is beautifully captured in the film The Devil and Daniel Johnston), Chad Eaton (aka Timber. He makes lumberjack-themed art that we have shown twice in our gallery. We love love love Chad Eaton), Steve Elkins (a filmmaker who has dedicated much of his adult life to making this incredible documentary called The Reach of Resonance about experimental musicians around the world. It should be released soon. Look for it.), and Reena Makwana, a young British artist who makes lovely stitchings.

You're also involved in politics as an activist, holding fundraisers, getting in the face of local politicians. What drives that?
I have lived in Fullerton for most of my life, and I have a real affection for this place. There are so many creative and passionate people here. I dream of Fullerton blossoming into a real arts center. Right now it's dominated by bars and restaurants. But there is so much potential here. I sometimes feel like Fullerton City Council has backwards priorities--they seem more interested in real estate development and money than things that really benefit the community, the things we care about--art, community, preserving open spaces, etc. So I've started going to City Council meetings and speaking my mind. Maybe I'll run for city council some day.

Do you feel Orange County is open to the more alternative style of art that you focus on?
I think there is an audience of people who really like what we are doing. We aren't showing landscapes. We are showing art that we feel is relevant and thought-provoking. Unfortunately, that audience is mostly younger and just as poor as we are, so it's hard to sell art.

It seems like the wealthy in OC only invest in the art institutions that don't really need their money, as opposed to helping out the suckers that work hard, have vision and struggle to survive.
There are some REALLY wealthy people in Fullerton and Orange County who could be supporting the arts, but they seem more interested in buying huge houses, a new Mercedes and fancy home security systems.

What's the best thing about running a gallery?
The community it creates. I love that every month we get to showcase good art, and we get to hang out with people who love art as much as we do. Once you put something creative out into the world, if it is sincere, people will come. And that is a beautiful thing.

What's lousy about running a gallery?
The lousy part is the fact that we make almost no money. We are six relatively poor guys paying money every month to do this, just to keep our doors open.

Talk a bit about Hibbleton Independent, the magazine you recently started.
I like making "zines"--low budget, arty magazines. Pretty soon after we opened the gallery, I came up with the idea of putting together a magazine that showcases the artists we show, and also includes writing--another art form. We just came out with our second annual issue of Hibbleton Independent. This year, we teamed up with the Cal State Fullerton literary journal (DASH), and put out a split issue. Thank you, Cal State Fullerton, for covering our printing costs.

On Thursday nights at 10 p.m., the Hibbleton hosts (of all things) a variety show at Mulberry Street Ristorante, called Nerdy Thursdays. What's that all about?
I started Nerdy Thursdays a little over a month ago. I got the idea from my friend Derrick Brown, a poet out of Long Beach, who hosts a weekly variety show called "The Lightbulb Mouth Radio Hour" on Wednesdays at the Basement Lounge. I went to a couple of these and thought they were pretty fantastic--kind of like A Prairie Home Companion for a new generation. So I thought I would try a similar thing in Fullerton, and the Nerdy Thursday variety show was the result. We feature poets, musicians, lecturers, filmmakers, etc.

What's the connection between the Gallery's mission and this more theatrical venture?
I am interested in all forms of creative expression: visual art, music, film, writing, etc. I thought Nerdy Thursday could expand our effort to promote creative expression in our community. It's mostly just local people sharing their creativity with others, and it's a lot of fun.

Any last thoughts you'd like to leave our readers with?
Art needs patrons to survive. To any readers who are want to support the arts, buy from your local galleries, attend local theater--we need you now more than ever! An art gallery cannot survive without consistent community support. Let's work together to make Orange County a great--and creative--place.

The Hibbleton Gallery is located at 112 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton. For more information about their exhibitions or Nerdy Thursdays, call them at 714-441-2857.
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