on Chris Hlad, and First Fridays

October 5th, 2012 · 3 Comments · By

There’s a ton of noteworthy and promising stuff happening this evening, so you’re going to have to make some tough calls about what to check out:

Among the most surprising is an art opening by Chris Hlad, a notorious local character whom many longtime Charlottesvillers will recognize (and possibly have fantastic stories about).  I knew Chris’s name long before I ever met him; I’m pretty sure every used CD in Charlottesville passed through his hands at some point in the 1990’s, and like all of his material possessions — worthless or valuable, common or rare — he marked them all with his last name in fat all-caps sharpie; *HLAD* is tagged on a significant number of the CDs I bought in high school, and probably on some of yours as well.

I got to know Chris in the early 2000’s when he was living in the abandoned third-floor balcony of the Jefferson Theater (which at that time, was still a second-run movie-house). I never journeyed up there — reportedly he’d filled the entire balcony (in-between the old theater seats, which were still in place) with rock posters, weird collages, LP covers, bizarro arcane memorabilia, photographs, dozens of Steve Keene paintings, milk crates full of CDs, cigarette butts, empty bottles, and vintage pornography. Chris was always a man-about-town in those days, a weird character who was more or less unavoidable if you spent a lot of time downtown. He was a major fixture at the Pudhaus, the MudHouse, at Plan 9 and the Corner Parking Lot. He was a WTJU DJ for a decade, and he’s worked at the C&O since 1990. He’s one of those Charlottesville characters.

Chris has grown both more reclusive and more focused in recent years, applying his not-inconsiderable skills and enthusiasm to things like the The Parking Lot Movie (in which he began as an interview subject, but eventually became co-producer and editor) and his work for Monkeyclaus. I’ve gotten to know Chris very well since I moved into the Belmont house where he lives; we’ve been roommates for over four years now. Our house is a shabby, fucked-up falling-down wreck of a building (and thus cheaper than any other spot this close to Downtown), and for a number of years the house was in the habit of renting out the kitchen’s sizeable pantry as a cheap sixth bedroom; Chris was the latest and final tenant in that space, and soon his compulsive packrat tendancies overtook every other room in the downstairs. Our house is filled with fascinating and bizarre shit: multiple photos of Patti Smith, antique iron Buddha statues, 48-star American flags, dozens of postcards of Thangka paintings, Black Sabbath 4-tracks, signed Elliott Smith 7’s (“To Chris, black hats, ♥ Elliott”), 70’s Marvel Comics action figures, a collection of framed Grateful Dead tour tickets, a wizard puppet, a stuffed unicorn, a half-dozen Uncle Sam paperweights, three paintings of Jesus, a Golden Lion representing Jah, the comprehensive Blue Note catalog, pages ripped out of Mojo and Rolling Stone, pages ripped out of coffee table books on renaissance painting, dozens of jazz and metal and classic rock boxed sets, the aforementioned Steve Keene paintings (all from ’92-’96, all great), a surprising amount of memorabilia dedicated to the obscure SF punk band Crime, coffee table books on Hendrix and Fugazi, original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons sourcebooks, printed-out Elton John lyrics from now-defunct Geocities pages, cracked soul and disco 7″s, Pavement memorabilia, Misfits stickers, high-end fashion magazines, the largest collection of neckties I’ve ever seen, and the last photograph of Houdini taken in his lifetime. From where I’m sitting right now, I can see two copies of Jack Kerouac’s Dr Sax (different covers, both from the 60s) and three copies of the Doors’ LA Woman (all reissues, all in different formats.) It’s not just our house; Chris has storage units full of this stuff out in the county, and no matter how much he impulsively throws out, drunkenly gives away, burns or sells, he’s still got mountains more.

So, Chris has a lot of stuff. It’s not just that he’s a hoarder, or crazy; his stuff is legitimately interesting and strange (especially when it piles up high enough for the wild juxtapositions to take place), and represents the fruits of a life spent obsessing over culture and art. Chris makes no distinction between high art and low; loves everything he likes with passionate enthusiasm, and obsesses over this stuff 25 hours a day. He’s told me countless hilarious stories, of growing up in Farmville listening to hardcore punk in the 80’s; of his many strange encounters with notable indie-rock musicians (he’s a notorious backstage-party-crasher and autograph hound, though he does it with such zeal and enthusiasm that most everyone is charmed by it), and I myself have more than a few tales of Chris doing things like waking me up at 3am to insist that we do shots of whiskey and listen to Fun House at top volume. Chris is an irrepressible enthusiast and obsessive; his tastes are both omnivorous and idiosyncratic.

What’s easy to forget or overlook is that Chris is also a talented artist himself; he’s a photographer, a poet, and a performer. He’s taken literally hundreds of thousands of photos over the years, of musicians, friends, and himself. He’s published several volumes of his inconsistent and sometimes wildly amusing poetry through Matthew Farrell’s local Hypocrite Press. He and one of his best buddies from high school (whom he still takes monthly hunting trips with) have practiced in guitar/spoken-word duo together for twelve years without once making any recordings, performing live, or writing a song with a discernable melody in it. Chris has an immense amount of enthusiasm, and more of it manifests itself into creative endeavors than you might suspect.

So Chris Hlad is having an art opening at The Bridge PAI tonight.  It’s partly a showcase of Chris’ photography (carefully picked out and assembled by Davis and Rachel Salisbury), but partly also just the latest outpost of The Chris Hlad Experience. He’s been up all night filling the space with his collages and memorabilia, and he’s selling everything in the room this month (as a benefit for the Charlottesville chapter of the Make a Wish Foundation, believe it or not). He’s also made some new pieces specifically for the show; some collaborate art with Dave Berman of the Silver Jews is due to arrive in the mail in completed form this afternoon, and Chris will be performing a spoken word piece over a treated acoustic guitar recording made for him by Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance. There will be a video loop of a biographical piece made about Chris by his Parking Lot collaborator Meghan Eckman, entitled Dream on, Freak, Dream On. The guy who did all of the original tour tye-die for the Grateful Dead will be making and selling tye-die shirts in the parking lot. Colin Powell will be DJing deep soul 45s all evening, and Chris has asked me to host the event, announcing the evenings’ various activities and sales while he tells stories, gives away door prizes, and continues the ongoing business of Being Chris Hlad. You should definitely come check it out; it runs from 6 to 8pm this evening.

There’s some other cool stuff happening this evening too, which I’ll be sad to miss: former local Patrick Costello has returned to town with a touring DIY Theatre Troupe from Minneapolis called Eternal Cult, and they’ll be presenting an original theater piece at the Haven tonight at 8pm; (more info here, in my write-up for the C-Ville).

Also, Thomas Dean will be having another art opening, this one at The Garage (who, unfortunately, recently had their south-wall demolished by an elderly driver; there’s now a cartoon-looking hole in the wall which they intend to repair soon). The show’s called Grindin’: 434 Virginia (which I find wonderfully incongruous with The Garage’s unstated house aesthetic), and he’ll be selling his prints this time, rather than the t-shirts. I think they’re mostly a return to his illustrative stuff (after a lot of heavy recent collage work), but I haven’t seen the show yet so I can’t say for sure.

Tags: charlottesville · preview · rants & rambles

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 davis // Oct 5, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Just want to clarify that while Rachael and I certainly chose a set of photographs for this show, in true Chris Hlad fashion he swapped out a bunch of them for ones he felt better fit the moment (the moment of course ruling in Chris’s world). So, it is a mix of photos I chose, photos Rachael chose, and photos Chris chose (these are just the large scale works, everything else is all Chris). They are all cool and worth your time though, and make sure you ask Chris for a story while you’re there, though you tend to get one whether you ask for it or not.

    Chris is an unstoppable story all by himself

  • 2 carolyn // Oct 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    wow killer post james! really fascinating and well told mini-mytho-history

  • 3 Jim // Oct 6, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Sadly I didn’t see this until after 10. Any chance he will at the exhibit another day?
    Well written and engaging article.