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Q and A Chris Haberman

by: ANNI TRACY, Artist Chris Haberman’s works, including this mural on an abandoned building across from Pizza A Go Go on North Williams Avenue, are all over the city.

Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.

Chris Haberman is all over town these days. More accurately, his artwork is all over town.

Haberman, a Portland native, figures he's sold 1,500 paintings here over the past six years. His mural on North Williams Avenue is hard to miss, but his smaller works can be found on the inside walls of some of the finest restaurants in town, as well as what he calls 'the worst dive bar on Burnside Street,' which we will leave unnamed.

Haberman says he's proud to have his work in such a variety of settings. 'Art crosses all walks of life. That's the point of it,' he says.

Portland Tribune: You use some unusual materials, right?

Chris Haberman: I paint only on recycled stuff. I'm a Dumpster diver.

Tribune: That's odd. You're the second Dumpster diver I've written about in Q and A this year.

Haberman: Well, there are a lot of Dumpsters. I think everything I use as art is going to end up in a landfill. And it's pretty sturdy. And it's going to last. And it's free.

Tribune: What do you use to paint with?

Haberman: I've used makeup. I've used blood. I didn't find that in a Dumpster. I was walking outside the old KATU studio, and I found the old 'Town Hall' letters attached to a backboard they used for a show. So I took them and I'm totally going to use them.

Tribune: There are so many starving artists with second jobs, but painting is all you do. What's your secret?

Haberman: I don't eat that much?

Tribune: You don't look like you're wasting away.

Haberman: No. I call myself the not-so-starving artist. Six-foot, 240 pounds.

Tribune: What's the weirdest thing you have seen at a Portland art show?

Haberman: The police raided an art show because of all the punk bands there. There was a noise violation and a scuffle. All of a sudden all these police came in, and they ended up Tasering somebody right in front of one of my paintings.

Tribune: Do you think it was in any way symbolic that the Tasering took place right in front of your painting?

Haberman: No, but it's cool to see that art is still dangerous.

I've had someone spit on my painting. It was an older man, he kind of walked by and just spat on it. And my friend said, 'Are you going to do anything? He just disrespected your art.' I said, 'No, at least he was looking at it.'

Tribune: You have no idea why this man spit on your painting?

Haberman: No. I never talked to him. I thought it was great because he had a reaction.

Tribune: Assuming you haven't already described it, what was your low point as an artist?

Haberman: I remember stealing road signs and taking them back to my half-bedroom apartment, where I slept in the corner surrounded by paint. I painted them in three hours and put them right back where they were. You could still see the words. I just considered them superdecorated. That was a low point. It was vandalism and childish, and I couldn't sell it.

Tribune: What's the most you've received for a painting?

Haberman: Two thousand dollars. It was an 8-by-4-foot crate that I did the history of Burnside (Street) on. I did two months of research, then I spelled out Burnside in 40-ounce beer bottles on top of it. And here's the clincher - four of them were filled with beer and four of them were filled with urine.

Tribune: Why waste four bottles of good beer?

Haberman: It's the alchemy of Burnside. Henry Weinhard was on Burnside, and there's a river of beer underneath the street. I think the urine came from the homeless population.

Tribune: Are the beer and urine still in there?

Haberman: I kept the beer and the urine. I think the buyer just went with all beer afterward.

Here's another story. One of my collectors who owns a pretty big business in Portland was at my show the other night. He saw a piece and wanted it, and I said it was already sold.

I said, 'The only way you can get it is if you steal it,' and we both laughed.

Then he asked to hold it, and I said, 'You have to put it back.' I went outside and all these people came out and said, 'There's this guy who's putting a painting down his pants.' And the collector who'd bought it went inside and just tore it out of his pants.

Tribune: So does this make you proud that somebody wanted your work so badly they'd steal it, or disgusted by the fact that collectors are putting your art in their pants?

Haberman: I'm kind of proud about both things, really.

- Peter Korn