Story and photos by BENJAMIN ZACK • Standard-Examiner staff
Brek Townsend doesn’t give much weight to critics.
“I think when you’re doing something that’s just rebellious, certain people don’t like that,” says Townsend.
Townsend, an Ogden artist with constantly changing hair color and a small tattoo below his right eye, has an attitude about his art that can be described as both carefree and confrontational. It is the same attitude that has taken Townsend and his fiance Eizah Grabowski from selling homemade patches on a street corner in Texas to founding Ogden’s ever-expanding PALE art collective.
On a cold November morning, Townsend paints on sheets of cardboard and Grabowski packs envelopes of homemade clothing while they take turns helping their 8-year-old daughter, Vivian, get ready for school. Their two-room apartment at the top of an old Central Ogden mansion is overflowing with art. As the sun rises outside, the air inside the apartment is filled with quiet conversations and blaring music that alternates between Rage Against the Machine, John Denver and ‘70s punk.
This early morning scene along Adams Avenue may be as good an example of any as to what PALE is. The exact nature of the young art collective is hard to pin down. The name, which stands for People, Art, Life, Et cetera, leaves the loosely formed group open to anything and everything involving arts and the community.
While PALE is a collective, the organization was founded and is largely run by Townsend and Grabowski. In 2016, the two of them traveled to Texas with Vivian. They were crashing in Austin and selling patches on the sidewalk when they came up with the idea of running a zine back in Ogden.
After returning to Utah, People, Art, Life, Et cetera was born as a homemade monthly punk rock magazine. Within a few months, PALE expanded into a multimedia arts group and Townsend and Grabowski started hosting concerts, creating clothing, putting on a freakshow and more.
“We try really hard,” says Grabowski. “We work our asses off every day.”
One of the most visible aspects of the group are Townsend’s giant pop-art paintings of clowns, garbage, and severed hands that he and Grabowski tape to brick walls and overpasses around downtown Ogden.
In true PALE fashion, one of Townsend’s latest projects was a series of giant McDonalds soda cups and french fries painted on cardboard. The idea for the paintings came about after someone compared his work to trash.
“They had told me that my art is just litter,” says Townsend. “They said, ‘You just walk around littering your art like you don’t even care.’”
Townsend's response was to start recreating the most common and colorful litter he could think of: fast food wrappers.
The images are made quickly and repeatedly with acrylic paint on used cardboard and construction materials. Despite this current style, Townsend says he used to work with oil paints and mixed media while looking for more formal gallery shows.
“I loved it back then, but just as I got older, there was an impatience with art,” says Townsend. “I wanted to just get it done. Kind of like a Warhol mentality. I just wanted to get it out and start working on something new. What I do at the moment lets me do that.”
While Townsend creates most of PALE’s visual arts, Grabowski works quietly behind the scenes putting on events, publishing the zine and organizing other artists.
With their daughter at school and the paint still damp, Townsend and Grabowski rush out to hang the McDonalds paintings before their day jobs start. Townsend has been eyeing the bare tan walls on the west side of the vacant Hostess factory on 26th St.
With a stack of paintings, two rolls of duct tape and a rickety ladder, the two hop a small fence, ignore the No Trespassing signs and get to work.
It is less than five minutes before an Ogden City Police car pulls up.
Neither Grabowski nor Townsend have warm views of the police. While their art isn’t permanent, they rarely have permission from building owners to hang it up and they’ve been stopped by the police on numerous occasions.
“We’re really not doing anything wrong. We’re out hanging art,” says Townsend later on. “Usually it just seems like they don’t like us because we’re young punk kids.”
Despite their past experiences, the interaction with the officer at Hostess goes smoothly. He warns them about trespassing, checks their IDs and lets them go with a warning about not hanging the paintings there.
PALE packs up their ladder and heads to another brick wall.
By the end of the morning, another five paintings are hung up along 25th St.
As 2018 begins, Townsend and Grabowski hope to expand PALE into more permanent and mainstream art avenues while maintaining the same do-it-yourself attitude.
“People have this idea of PALE and don’t really understand,” says Townsend. “We’re all on the same page, just trying to get more art in Ogden.”