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Loren Naji

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When the Loren Naji Gallery was shut down a month ago, Domain Cleveland was on the scene to see the events first hand. Then, just this past weekend, when the fire marshal shut down the gallery for a second time, we knew there was more to the story. Loren Naji was kind enough to break it down for us.

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Douglas: I was at your gallery for the opening that was shut down a few weeks ago. The night is still surreal when I think about how it was all handled and how rude the cops were. This past weekend, when you were shut down again, I was dumbfounded and curious as to the circumstances. How did it all play out?

Loren: Well, again, the police came in that day, looked around and I assured them we weren’t serving any alcohol. The event was to launch the new CAN Journal (Collective Arts Network), which is a great resource for the community, edited by Mike Gill, as well as a closing event for the three artists hanging on the walls. The police said everything was fine, that we wouldn’t see them the rest of the night, and then they left. The event started with no music or alcohol. About an hour into the event the fire marshal came in and said he needed to talk to me privately. He asked if I had an occupancy permit. I explained I am in the process of getting one and that I have been working with Joe Cimperman (Ward Three Councilman) who said everything was fine. The fire marshal said no that’s not true, you do not have the piece of paper that says you have an occupancy permit, so we have to shut you down. So we asked everyone to leave and closed the event.

Doug: Saturday you had another event scheduled at your gallery. Tell us about the event and the change of venue.

Loren: The event was called “Drawn and Quartered”. I reasonably said that if I was going to be shut down for no occupancy on Friday that I’d be shut down again on Saturday, so I suggested to everyone involved a change of venue. We held it at Great Lakes. There was beer and everything was fine, but unfortunately it wasn’t at my gallery.

Doug: So where do things stand now?

Loren: Well, I’m closed. I can’t do any events, right this minute. We have meetings coming up to discuss legalizing beer at galleries. We also have a meeting to change the use of the property. Steven Litt just wrote an excellent article (Cleveland.com) about the situation, have you read it yet?

Doug: No, but it seems every time I go on facebook, there is a bit of news, an article, a cartoon, or even the piece I saw today that said you had been flogged by nuns and branded public enemy number one. So, obviously, this is causing an uproar.

Loren: Yes, that was a good one. I’ll send you the article.

Doug: For those outside of the arts community that might not have heard about the 2 events at your gallery over the last month, tell us a bit about how it all got started. I had heard there was one man complaining about code violations on the first go round with the police. Is that true and do you feel it was a personal targeted attack?

Loren: Yes, the man you are speaking of is Henry Senyak. He is a local vigilante that likes to make sure that all ordinances are followed by everyone. He doesn’t like loud music or parties. He lives a mile away, so he’s not even in my neighborhood.

Doug: How did he even get put on your trail from so far away? Why would he care?

Loren: There used to be a bar next to me called Envy that he had taken down. It was sort of a troublesome bar. They even had a shooting there. Henry is very proud and many people like that he got it closed down. An analogy for this guy is he is a robot programmed to kill the bad guys, which he does, but he also kills the good guys in the process. He only sees in black and white. He can’t see that maybe this guy was trying to do something good in the area, all he sees is the guy didn’t have the proper permit, so we need to shut him down.

Doug: For people reading about this story that are as outraged as I am, what would you suggest they do to get involved and help out?

Loren: Letters to councilman are great, letters to the mayor, maybe even letters to the police. Let them know you support me and think maybe they could give me a break, I mean, I’m trying to do the right thing. If I have court dates, come out to the courtroom and support me.

Doug: How do you see this shaking out?

Loren: I don’t know. It depends on what kind of hoops they make me jump through. I do my gallery as a service to the city. I love art and I love artists. I think more art is what the community needs and I want to encourage that growth. That’s my real reason for doing this. I am not making money doing this. Artists go in to communities at their worst and help them grow. It’s happening over in Collinwood right now. My prediction is that in 3 or 4 years you’ll see Collinwood looking lively. It already is much safer than just 6 months ago. There’s lots to do. It looks lively. Art is my focus. I got a place in Collinwood. They gave me a grant to do it. They like my energy over there. A bus that I designed is going to be taking people to art galleries and shows. I’m just trying to create excitement in the community. If they want to shut me down for that it’s sort of like buying someone a gift and they try to punish me for it I’ll just take the gift back to the store. If they don’t want to play ball, I’ll take my ball and go home.

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John G

Doug recently spoke with local artist John G, who does a lot of the covers for “Scene” magazine and has a new Cleveland-based comic book called “The Lake Erie Monster” out now!

Doug Esper: John, before I start shooting questions at you, I want you to know you need to raise the ad prices in The Lake Erie Monster. I stopped in a comic shop out in Sheffield and the guy working said he already had several people stop in after seeing their ad.

John G: (Chuckles) Well, we set out to break even with this issue. Jake Kelly and I sat down and mapped out the first year and a half to two years of issues and hopefully by the end of the first year we can be financially stable. We don’t expect to be making a living from this comic or other comics, but, who knows, maybe we’ll fucking sell the rights to it and make a movie.

 

Doug: In The Lake Erie Monster we see a 70’s era Cleveland. How did you choose the time period?

John G: Well, it was mostly Jake (Kelly), actually. The idea came from 10 fake movie posters he did for an art show he and I did. The posters were homages or tributes to the schlocky horror movies from that time period. Cleveland had hit its peak in the 60’s and is definitely on a downward spiral during the events of these stories. Economically, environmentally, and culturally it’s an interesting time in Cleveland to set any story, but it’s perfect for a horror story that is a borderline parable about pollution and big business.

 

Doug: How did you and Jake Kelly hook-up and decide to do this project?

John G: I’ve known Jake since high school, so over the last 16 or 17 years we’ve been on this weird parallel career trajectory that came together a couple years ago. We do a lot of the same things like posters for shows, fliers, comics of our own, or oddly enough, he does the murals for Melt and I do the monthly posters for them.

 

Doug: Recently you and your artwork appeared on some posters for Invacare. How did that come about?

John G: I was at a party and a woman asked me about my wheelchair. It was an old, beat up A4 and I was pretty disparaging. It turns out the woman worked at Invacare. Through her, I met a guy who was in development over at Top End, which is Invacare’s line geared more toward athletic, light chairs. He was looking for a different way to market the Top End brand. He asked me to come up with a pamphlet of art to go along with this medical jargon he had come up with called, I think, Rollability. Through that, they used one of my drawings for a poster. Then, they started a campaign where they photographed people in their wheelchairs that are quote/unquote successful people. They asked me to do one and, I did it. That’s how that all came about. I hope I can do more work for them in the future.

 

Doug: I can say that you are the first artist I have a poster of on my wall that isn’t a poster of their art. So, did you guys design all the ads as well in The Lake Erie Monster?

John G: Yeah, we tried to give the ads a look that represented the ads in comics at the same time in the 70’s.

 

Doug: What, the Sea Monkeys ad wasn’t available? I remember those ads in every comic I read as a kid.

John G: Actually, you can look for a Sea-monkeys-type ad in issue two. They will definitely make an appearance. For the next issue we’re going to switch off some of the ads we each worked on. I’m excited to dig into a lot of those old ads and to come up with ads of our own.

 

Doug: Who are some of the artists that influenced you and helped develop your style?

John G: I’m way into comics. Especially those coming out during the time that Jake and I are trying to appropriate. I love classic horror comics. My favorites were, Creepy and Eerie. A lot of people that worked on them are influences.

 

Doug: Like Bernie Wrightson?

John G: Yeah, like Bernie Wrightson, and Richard Corben, who is one of my all-time favorites. I don’t think my work is as illustrative as Wrightson, but the influence can be felt in my work. Recently, (Mike) Mignola with his Hellboy stuff is some of my favorite stuff. There is a lot of influence in my stuff from Jake and other local artists as well. Not as much in how things look, but in concepts and ideas. I feel like I’m always in this game of one-upsmanship with my friends. When I see their work, I’ll think “I can blow that out of the water” or “man, I wish I would’ve thought of that”.

 

Doug: What’s your favorite thing about Jake’s art?

John G: Jake has a very natural style. I’ve seen his art in every stage, from doodles to the final immaculate pieces of art, and it always feels natural. It has an old craftsman feel to it. Too many artists rely on Photoshop and digital production. He doesn’t even know how to use Photoshop. I do, so I know how to cheat. (Chuckles)

 

Doug: (Chuckles) What do you want to accomplish with your art? Where is one place you’d love to see your art hanging?

John G: Well…

Doug: I hope your answer is on my wall.

John G: At the end of the day, it’s cool to make a living and to be able to contribute to the visual dynamic of my environment here in Cleveland. But, I think my theme or the driving force behind my art is to be as honest and as thoughtful as possible in each poster or piece or whatever I’m working on. That’s what keeps me interested, but, yeah, it would be cool to be on your wall. (Chuckles) It would be the ultimate honor. In addition to that, part of the reason we’re doing this comic book is, just like every other artist, I have these secret dreams or lifelong dreams I’d like to fulfill. There are two comic books I’d love to contribute to the canon of. I mentioned Hellboy earlier, and whatever work I could get contributing to that is a lifelong dream of mine. I don’t know how realistic that is. In addition, and probably even less-probable career goal, would be to work on Hellblazer, or some deviation of the Hellblazer canon. Both those books have had a profound influence on my life, not just my work.

 

Doug: So, what our telling me is that as long as the comic has “Hell” in the title, you want to work on it, right?

John G: Heh, yeah why not do both books. We can do a crossover.

 

Doug: So, I have to ask, what is your favorite sandwich at Melt?

John G: If you eat meat, The Big Popper with the bacon add-on is an awesome sandwich. I recently stopped eating meat and dairy, but The Big Popper is the jam.

 

Doug: This was a bad question because I’m stuck on 480 in traffic and now I’m getting hungry.

John G: Yeah, I might have to get some Melt take-out.

 

Doug: Where is the best place for people to view your work, and what do you have coming up?

John G: You can check out www.ninepanelgrid.blogspot.com. There is also a link to that site at our comic book page, thelakeeriemonster.com. As far as shows, the only one I have scheduled right now is at a tattoo/art gallery in Cleveland Heights called, “Kollective Gallery”. I’m not sure exactly what I am going to do for that one. I have a few ideas, but I’m not sure which I’m going to run with, yet, but it should be fun because they are very cool there. We will also have a release party for the second issue of The Lake Erie Monster at Blue Arrow Records in late July.

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