Chris Stevens aka Pop Octopus

March 2022 Interview

Have you always been in Vancouver, WA? 

I grew up in Boise, back when it was a sleepy little city that no one knew about. I did some time in Seattle in the grunge days and made my way down to Portland around ’97 or so. I moved to Vancouver in 2005 as my wife was teaching up here. At first I hated it and wanted to move back. Now I love the Couve and you couldn’t pay me enough to move back to Portland. 

What was your introduction to art, and how did your style develop over time? 

My mom’s an artist so art was always around the house. I think Marvel comics were what my early introduction to art was. Especially Jack Kirby and the Silver Age stuff. It may be hard for younger people to imagine life before the internet and unlimited media choices but I was just a poor kid with an old beat up stack of comics that I read over and over again. It’s all we had, that and imagination. It wasn’t terrible though, filling in the gaps is where creativity comes from.

The 80’s were such a visually strong time, especially for graphic design. I’m still pretty heavily influenced by that era. Warhol was such a big influence on things then. I just always thought his screen printed stuff had such a cool look to it. I always wanted to do what he did, and here I am. 

I studied graphic design in Seattle, I’ve been a web designer, freelance graphic designer and did a whole lot of bartending and catering work but I’ve always had an art hustle going on the side. Now I think I’m ruined for anything else. 

When and how did you create Hazel Dale? (I met Hazel around town years before you and I spoke, and I didn’t know he was your creation until last year!)

Ha! Oh man. Years ago when I had a T-shirt shop where Trap Door brewing is now, a woman I knew was making personalized Vancouver gift baskets for men. She wanted to know if I could make a T-shirt to include in the baskets. She had the “The Couve. It ain’t Portland.” line and said to make something out of that. I thought it would be awesome for Vancouver to have a mascot and back like 10 to 12 years ago this town was a whole lot more redneck so that’s where I was going with it. We’re still a bit rednecky here, but that’s kinda what I like about it.

I think the picture of the dude who became Hazel Dale came from a PT Cruiser ad I found on the internet. The name just made sense and I just rolled with it. I supplied the basket lady with wholesale shirts with the agreement that I could do what I wanted with the design and it just took off. I sold a boatload of those T-shirts for a while. 

I just always put him on stickers and what not and he got a little following. People I don’t know know who Hazel Dale is. Some people don’t see the irony of him, which I think is awesome. I don’t have kids so I think Hazel Dale may be the legacy I leave to this world. 

It’s a pretty great legacy. Were these T-shirts the first time your art was really out there?

I had already been running Northwest Shirts for several years by the time that shirt came out. That was the T-shirt company I founded. I ran around the Northwest doing festivals and fairs and also stocked them in stores so I would see my work all the time, which was awesome. 

Another cool thing was sending them all over the world from my Etsy store. I can’t even tell you how good that made me feel. For a little while I was big in Norway. 

Selling T-shirts was really successful for several years but a lot of new screen printers were appearing and direct to garment technology was catching up so the margins started to get small enough that it seemed like a good time to get out. That fair and market life is a hard one, a live and die by the sword kind of deal. I wanted to try my hand at selling flat art as well. 

I used to do zines way back in the day in Boise so that’s probably the first time people were seeing my name attached to something. I’ve had a few gallery shows but not that many. I’m so much more on the commerce side of things. If I can’t make money at it I can’t do it. I’m not good at the real job. 

Me neither! But that’s how good things are created right? Some people can’t do the regular thing, so they do nothing, do something odd, or make something new- I love it. What do you want to see in Vancouver, generally or artistically?

10 years ago I remember standing on Main Street in Uptown and saying “in five years this town is going to explode.” Well it took a few years longer but it’s happening now and fast. Every city I’ve ever lived in has gentrified and become the victim of its own success. I’d like to not see that happen here. 

The growth brings new ideas, new people and new opportunities for business and revenue. It also brings higher living costs, housing shortage and overcrowding. There’s no way to have one without the other. It’s just the way it is. 

I generally like what I see about how Vancouver is growing but there may come a time in the near future when I do not. Vancouver is never going to be Portland so I’m not afraid of that, but we can for sure have some of the same problems. Boise, where I grew up, was always a little sleepy place. However in the last 10 years or so their growth has been explosive and it’s now one of the most expensive places to buy a house in the country. Lots of people are leaving now because they can’t afford it. So I don’t want to see that. 

I guess from my viewpoint what I would like to see is some more opportunities to sell art. New venues, new retail and new events. More stuff on the lower level for dirtbag artists like me. Galleries are great, but galleries can be exclusive and I’ve seen enough of them come and go in this town to know how hard they are to be a viable business model. Meaning you can’t count on them to be there always. I’d like to see some more street level events happening, neighborhood fairs and/or annual festivals and what not. I tend to think more on the street level than the high rise. 

And although this is starting to happen I would like to see the audience be a little more appreciative of artists and craftspeople and what the value of having them around is. I’ve always said that Vancouver is a Walmart town, meaning for a large part people wanted the value of mass production over the cost of something unique and handmade. I think that’s just a matter of whether your city has enough disposable income to be able to afford to have culture. I think teaching people the value of culture is something we could be better at. 

I think we’re on the right path though. We’ve got a lot to offer and I hope that isn’t something that ends up being a bad thing. I like it here, I don’t want to have to move again.

See more of Stevens work by visiting his online store or by following him on Instagram.

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