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Meet Bill Shafer of Hyaena in Burbank

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bill Shafer.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I started Hyaena in 2006, after moving to CA from the East Coast. My background was in the music industry, but I had been collecting original art since my teens. My goal in moving out here was to open a store that only sold things that I loved – that I was passionate about – and in doing so, to create an environment that helped support artists and encourage creativity. For the gallery, I wanted to focus on the darker art that I collected, which I found to be very underrepresented in LA at the time. I started with next to nothing, and have had to get creative over the years in order to survive, but we’ve managed to last a bit over 14 years doing this. When you enter the gallery now, you’ll find an odd mix of artwork, oddities, true crime artifacts, a carefully curated selection of books, and a slew of other archaic media (VHS, vinyl records, Laserdiscs, etc.). It’s something I am very proud to put out into the world.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
With any small business, it is never easy, especially if you don’t have a cash pillow to fall back upon. To get established, I didn’t take a single day off for about five years. Those early years, I also hosted two art exhibits here every month. It was the best way to get folks in the door and to keep constant foot traffic. Through the years, I’ve probably dealt with censorship issues more than most galleries. I am completely against the idea and practice of censorship, and try not to limit artists and encourage them to push boundaries with their work, That doesn’t always sit well with more conservative folks, but I think most of those problems stem from people just not understanding how different we are from the traditional gallery model and trying to project that sterile concept on what we do. There have also been devastating losses in terms of artists/friends who have passed. Most struggles, though, are financial…trying to survive a bad month or trying to find the capital to take the gallery to the next step.

Hyaena is very grassroots, as well. We don’t spend money on advertising and we’ve built out audience pretty exclusively through word of mouth. It think that slow build of a genuine audience has helped us endure.

Please tell us about Hyaena.
Hyaena is an art gallery that focuses on Dark Art, Outsider Art, and Lowbrow art. The gallery basically shows whatever I am interested in, from Mexican Pulp art to comic book art and true crime art and artifacts. This is the place you go to get inspired when you are tired of the mainstream offerings around you. We tend not to go the easiest route with the art we exhibit and definitely ignore trends. If you have eclectic interests that span from the paranormal to the Beat poets to old Hollywood and circus freak shows, this is the place for you.

Over the years, we have helped discover so many new artists and have helped them get their start in the art world. Many have gone on to have very nice careers, showing in bigger galleries around the world. That is a huge source of pride for me.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I think integrity and passion are essential to what I do here. I truly care about the artists and work we show, and try to highlight work that I feel is honest. I think there is more intrinsic value to the art from an artist like Daniel Johnston or Nicolas Caesar, that is maybe crude but pure than the most expertly rendered canvas full of mashed-up pop culture references. We’ll show pop culture art as well, but it has to be more than a blatant money grab.

Pricing:

  • We specialize in affordable art. From $5 to $5000, there is something here for most budgets. We leave the blue chip investment art for the auction houses.

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