Those “Berds” you may have seen dangling from power lines at various intersections throughout our otherwise dreadfully unaccessorized city weren’t tossed skyward to make a buck. When Venice Beach native Dave Browne lobbed his first handpainted slab of plywood a few years back, neither fame nor fortune figured into the agenda, only folly.
“My main reason for doing anything is because it’s fun,” declares the slight-yet-fiery 26-year-old artist.
Two and a half years, 2,000-plus Berds and countless midnight missions later, Browne’s handcarved urban icons bring in upwards of $75 a pop at his Echo Park Berdhouse Gallery, and urban art legends abound about contraband Berds selling for as much as 200 bucks on eBay.
“My original intention wasn’t to rake in the dough by selling pieces of plywood,” says Browne. As a kid in 1980s, post-Dogtown Venice, Browne was inspired by the art that surrounded him — his father’s own work, and the graffiti that decorated his neighborhood. He used to wander down to the beach and check out the graffiti pits — an old amphitheater dotted with benches and tables, emblazoned with street art that’s since disappeared.
“Why don’t they utilize that space?” Browne wonders aloud, seeing the potential for something wonderful in the urban landscape and wondering why it hasn’t manifested. It’s a quintessential Dave Browne moment — thoughtful, inspired, out of the blue.
At 13, he started making his own longboards and selling them at a skate shop on the boardwalk. He launched his own T-shirt line, Studio Browne, at 22, while designing graphics for other streetwear labels. For a while he was making a living selling recycled clothes on eBay. In fact, he did so well, he was able to fund a gallery on Echo Park Avenue.
Browne opened his “somewhat sustainable” Berdhouse Gallery in July of last year, using reclaimed wood, shelves, furniture and hardware to gussy up the space, even nabbing the gallery’s front door from a Silver Lake salvage yard. “As ‘eco’ as I can be,” says Browne, who favors recycled materials in his own art — using reclaimed wood to make birdhouse installations, and old album covers as canvases.
As a curator, Browne shows local talent “whose shit I like,” ranging from the established to the totally unknown. One of his first shows was a bicycle-themed exhibit in which the participating artists contributed piece-y panels that were ultimately hung together to form whole bicycles. Upcoming group shows thematically touch on mopeds, bad luck and flatulence.
Browne, tending toward the modest, if not downright self-deprecating, has yet to show his own work.
“To go from one piddly, mildly successful street art project to having a solo exhibit at my own gallery is so narcissistic and ridiculous,” he laughs.
Still, the local art enthusiast is always plotting his next move — overhauling his Berdhouse Gallery boutique, contemplating upcoming shows, designing new T-shirt graphics, plotting his next public art project, hunting for a cool used moped. …
“I think if you have certain abilities,” he muses, “you shouldn’t waste them.”
Photo by Kevin Scanlon