These are the wonderfully twisted sights that will assault your eye holes when you step foot into Bill Shafer’s beautifully macabre Hyaena Gallery. As owner and curator, Bill has assembled (and supported) some of the most bold, thought-provoking, and cutting-edge art and artists that you’re bound to find under one roof. Part art gallery, part Hell’s gift shop, and all badass, you’ll find Bill’s Hyaena Gallery standing out like an infected, smashed thumb, in beautiful and sunny Burbank, California.
Bill Shafer is helping to make the world a better, more interesting place. What are YOU doing?
What is one thing you know you do differently than most people?
I don’t know if it’s one exact thing that I do differently, but I know I think in a different manner than most and find value in places others would ignore. It’s hard for me to explain, but I’d rather champion the outsider than celebrate the mainstream; in music, in literature, in art…in life, really. I mean there’s a definite place for pop culture and all of the 50 Shades of Grey, Harry Potter, Bieber, Twilight nonsense, but I think the stuff really worth discovering falls just outside the awareness of the general human population.
I like the people who create their own reality, on their own terms, in spite of the consequences. “In spite of” is wrong actually, what I really mean is because they have faith in what the consequences will be. Musicians like Scott Walker who reached a Beatles level of fame and dropped out of the music industry completely because he simply wanted more. Decades later he emerged again on his own terms with the most incredible experimental albums. They are amazing. And there’s Stanislav, a young Ukrainian artist with Cerebral Palsy and a degenerative eye condition which renders him partially to mostly blind at times. He creates the most hauntingly emotional line drawings I’ve ever seen. Gut wrenching portraits that practically scream from the paper. His work is pure and embodies his pain and fear so perfectly. I don’t see that in a Mark Ryden painting. In someone like Ryden, I see a technical mastery that is mind blowing and beautiful for other reasons, but I don’t walk away with the same emotional response. Albrecht Durer had both in his art, I think, mastery and the ability to directly imprint emotion onto the viewer.
Eric Pigors and Rick Dienzo
Other art galleries will play it safe and show only the artists that they know are easy to sell to the public. They make a great deal of money doing this. They try to regulate an artist’s content so as to not be controversial or upsetting in any way. I’ve never done that with Hyaena. I want to see the dirtiest, most raw side of an artist. I want to see what’s really in their head, not just what will sell. And that’s a hard balance to strike, maintaining a gallery with integrity and yet still paying the bills to keep the doors open. But honestly, how many fucking Big Lebowski art exhibits can you have before people realize there is no substance behind the work you show? Sure it will sell, but is that the legacy you want to leave behind? So with Hyaena, I always try to show the work that I believe is important for whatever reason. I want to highlight what I think is truly valuable, not just what is perceived as valuable because it is a current trend. Of course, you have to pepper in artwork that will just sell because it works on a base level, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead of taking the lazy (and more successful) way, however, I work to show people the importance that I see in these other things. So far my faith in my own ability to illustrate this to folks has kept Hyaena alive for over nine years.
Is there a person, dead or alive, that you would love to see vanish? Why?
I have to say no on this one. All of the people you hate, all of the rivals who try to tear you down, all of the historic figures who’ve done horrible things…I think they are all archetypes that are eternal. Make one asshole vanish and another will rise to take his place in your life. They’re like a Hydra or a worm, chop off the head and it will regenerate with one or sometimes two more. That magazine publisher that you think is pure lowlife bottom-feeding scum, there are hundreds more out there just like him. Maybe, just by the fact of that turd’s existence, he’s stopping ten more from crossing your path. It just seems like an exercise in futility, contemplating who should be eliminated. I’d much rather bring some of the good ones back for another go at things.
What is your biggest fear?
Mayonnaise. I can’t stand the look, smell, taste, or feel of it. Mayo is probably the foulest thing on the goddamn planet. When I was a teenager, I worked in a grocery store stocking shelves. Whenever I had to do the mayonnaise aisle, I would actually pay one of my coworkers to switch with me. The thought of having a jar of that shit break and having to clean it up was, and still is, just too much for me to deal with. Seriously, fuck that emulsive bullshit. I won’t even touch a jar of it to this day. If I need something that is behind a mayonnaise jar, I will simply go without.
I’m also afraid that one day everything I’ve done or have ever tried to do will either be irrelevant or ignored.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Life, man. I mentioned earlier about how my heroes are these people who managed to create their own reality. Well, I’ve tried to follow that path and make my world what I want it to be. The gallery is a constant source of inspiration for me. I get to meet incredible people, both collectors and artists, and these cats make everything…all of the suffering, all of the sacrifices, even all of the disappointments…worthwhile. I’m surrounded by what I love, doing something I believe in, right outside of Hollywood (a city that is at the same time the filthiest and most glamorous place to be), where literally anything can happen at any time. There is a real freedom when money isn’t your top priority. Would I like to be more successful with the gallery? Of course, but my measure of what success is might be much different than the next guy’s…unless he’s a Scotch drinker, too.
What the hell is wrong with people?
The Cramps said it best, “People ain’t no good. They never do what I think they should, so people ain’t no good.” Honestly, though, I think people are alright in general. We’ve all got our own personal bullshit and the best among us keep it to themselves. The others try and tell the world how to think with fear and hate tactics. When you do have to open your mouth to try and initiate change, there’s a huge difference between influence and imposition.
People also feel the need to fit into categories. I don’t know if it’s for security, or peace of mind, or out of a fear of being outside the norm. No one wants to be the outcast, but what do you really gain by fitting in all of the time? So they inevitably classify themselves, “I’m a metal dude. I’m a horror chick. I’m a Christian. I’m the movie guy.”
We all have interests and passions, but I’ve never understood the need to compartmentalize it on a personal level. Sure, people will see you and immediately go, “Oh, that’s a 50’s retro guy,” but that’s on them not you. Why do it to yourself and limit the possibilities of what you can experience, enjoy, and learn from. I know a lot of people thing I’m “the fucked up art guy,” and that’s cool. If you took the effort to know me, you’d see me as “the blaxploitation/horror/outsider art/misfit/poet/comic book writer/Tuvan music/joker/serial killer/carnivore/animal lover guy.” Or whatever…the point is I think we limit ourselves too much and miss out on great things because of that fact.
Who does the world need to know more about?
I always piss people off when I answer a question like this because it is impossible to make a short list of everyone I think people should be paying attention to. For a comprehensive list of artists that I think are important, hit the Hyaena website…they are all right there. Otherwise, here are a few folks that are on my mind right now at this moment:
Lou Rusconi – Fearless underground pop artist who pulls zero punches and gives even less fucks. Lou tells it exactly like it is and is willing to point out bullshit without flinching. Underneath the satire is a brilliant mastery of color, rendering, and painting chops.
[ Note: Look for Lou Rusconi in a future “6 Questions with…” –Mitchell ]
Lana Gentry – Outsider artist whose work is part snake-handling Baptist tent revival, part voyeur/archivist, part murder investigation, and all pure Southern poetry. At her best she is charmingly disturbing…at her worst she’s a fantastic artist.
Nicolas Caesar – Outsider/underground artist who channels B-movies and circus sideshows into art for the everyman. The man is a machine with a unique style, and his creative output is insane. He’s my go to guy whenever I have a dumb idea I want translated into something awesome.
Mark Bode – Underground comic book/graffiti legend. His father was one of the greats and he unquestionably carries the torch.
Steven Johnson Leyba – A ritualistic, shamanistic painter of Mescalero Apache
ancestry. His art is equal parts satanic, holistic, radical, political, and an extremely personal celebration of the sacred and profane. He’s hung with the likes of Anton LaVey, William S. Burroughs, and Genesis P’Orridge.
Kat Philbin – She’s like a modern Edward Gorey, creating sweet, yet sinister artwork with a very sublime touch. There is a twisted fable injected into every piece of her art, always making you want to see more and more. She is a favorite of cats like Guillermo Del Toro.
Gidget Gein (1969-2008) – The late bassist/songwriter of Marilyn Manson and cornerstone of the UnPop movement. His art was simultaneously self-deprecating and a scathing critique of celebrity culture. Fearless, unrepentant, and brilliant…his friendship and inspiration fueled Hyaena in our early days and it’s still present in what we do today.
Visit The Hyaena Website!
1928 W. Olive Ave.
Burbank, CA 91506
Hours of Operation
Tue – Sat = 11am – 7pm
Sun = Noon – 5pm
Mon = Closed or by appointment
Buy Mitchell Boone a beer!