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Making art on their terms: PALE makes art with a little rebellion

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Brek Townsend works on cardboard paintings in his Central Ogden apartment Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Townsend and his fiance, Eizah Grabowski, founded the PALE art collective, which hosts free events, publishes a zine and encourages public art. Townsend hangs his quick-hit paintings as part of PALE in public spaces near downtown. He started painting giant images of trash and fast-food wrappers after someone criticized him for "littering" his art around Ogden.

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.

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Giant hands painted by Brek Townsend hang on the side of a building along Washington Boulevard in downtown Ogden on Dec. 14, 2017. "You could hang your art up too," says Townsend. "Anyone could start doing that. We encourage it."

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.

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Brek Townsend, left, and Eizah Grabowski leave their apartment with cardboard paintings and hanging supplies Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. As an organization, 5-10 artists are involved with PALE at any given point, but most of the work is done by Townsend and Grabowski.

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.”

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Brek Townsend returns to his Central Ogden apartment in a homemade PALE sweatshirt Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. PALE is an acronym for People, Art, Life, Et cetera.

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.

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Eizah Grabowski prepares her daughter Vivian's hair before school Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. All of the PALE projects are worked on with family and in between other jobs.

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.’”

Townsends response was to start recreating the most common and colorful litter he could think of: fast food wrappers.

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Brek Townsend waits for an Ogden City Police officer to run his license after being stopped for trespassing and attempting to hang his art at the vacant former Hostess factory in downtown Ogden on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. "We're really not doing anything wrong. We're out hanging art," says Townsend. "Usually it just seems like they don't like us because we're young punk kids."

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.

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Eizah Grabowski packages PALE zines and gifts to mail to supporters in Utah and throughout the country Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Grabowski and Townsend originally started PALE as a zine featuring writing and artwork by some of their friends. It quickly grew into a larger arts organization.

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.

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Brek Townsend carries away a ladder after posting cardboard paintings on a brick wall in downtown Ogden on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. "It's the best gallery," says Eizah Grabowski when talking about hanging art in public places."I like keeping everything free."

“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.”

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