In Defense of Fun 

A new gallery in downtown Oakland has a mission to appreciate all art — and have a good time doing it.

Chris Collins is adamant that all art should be appreciated.

Bert Johnson

Chris Collins is adamant that all art should be appreciated.

Last Thursday, Chris Collins posted a photo to Instagram picturing him and his coconspirator Kiki Niederberghaus with their pants around their ankles and their mouths gaping open in a cry of excitement as they stood in their brand new gallery in downtown Oakland (268 14th St.). The two men, covered head to toe in tattoos, held up a huge painting of a rooster's head with the acronym D.O.G.T. emblazoned on its crown. That stands for Defenders of Good Times — the name of the new gallery, the moniker of Collins' amorphous art collective, and the phrase that sums up Collins' entire worldview. The photo's lengthy caption reminded followers to join the duo for the grand opening of the gallery, which took place on Saturday. "[We] can't wait to see and meet you all!!!" it read. "... so leave your pants at home, shake yer buttcheeks and HAVE FUN DAMNIT!!!!! ... Life is completely fucking awesome!!!! eeeeeyyyyyooowwww!!!!!!"

Collins has more than 19,000 followers on Instagram. It's partly because D.O.G.T, his art movement of sorts, has attracted obsessed fans from across the globe. He's also a member of the Swamp Wizards, an international collective of thirteen lowbrow artists that boasts a cult following of its own. Plus, he's the "shop dude" (aka receptionist) at Temple Tattoo, a revered tattoo establishment that's also located in downtown. But, potentially, above all associations, his personal brand of punk rock positivity has most to do with his magnetism on social media. Collins is known to post eccentric photos of himself — typically naked, yelling, and engaging in extreme behavior — with long, inspirational affirmations as captions, usually involving some demand that people have fun followed by his signature onomatopoetic cry and an eccentric number of exclamation marks. Collins is like the ultimate inclusive outsider — a guru for radical positivity, self-acceptance, and good times with the edge of someone who has seen rock bottom and built himself back up again.

A little more than four years ago, at the age of 26, Collins nearly died after being hit by a car. His body mangled, Collins was sequestered to his bed inside his apartment in San Francisco for two and a half years, unable to walk. Before the accident, he had an unfulfilling day job and was drinking nearly every day — something he had been doing since he was thirteen. Then one day, he woke up in bed and decided he was going to stop drinking and become an artist. He also became determined to take D.O.G.T., the name that his friend group had given itself, and turn it into "something more that just dudes partying."

So, Collins started teaching himself to draw and reaching out to artists he liked to ask if they wanted to be involved with D.O.G.T. He wasn't sure what it was going to be yet, but he knew that it would be about appreciating work by underappreciated artists — artists who he often saw expressing insecurities about their work and about feeling like an outsider in the art game. "I was like, 'Oh man, I want to show those people that there are people that give a shit about what they're doing — and that just being productive is an accomplishment in itself,'" he said.

Collins grew up on a farm in a conservative town in Ohio. In school, he was consistently told that he would never be an artist because his work wasn't serious enough. Plus, he was unpopular for insisting on being the one guy wandering through the woods with a zebra print vest and a mohawk. "I always got beat up and picked on because I was the different dude of my town," said Collins. "I just wanna show people, be whoever the fuck you wanna be, be that fucking weirdo, let people fucking look down on you because you're different. That's cool!"

Collins infused that attitude into the D.O.G.T. mission, and it resonated with others. Gradually, he began getting packages of artwork in the mail. And, from bed, he started sending back art of his own, building correspondences with people all over the world who connected with D.O.G.T via social media. He eventually amassed so much artwork that it barely fit in his bedroom.

Finally, last year, he decided to put it all into a show. He put out an open call for work, meaning that whoever submitted would make it in, guaranteed. He also reached out to artists he liked — one of them being Niederberghaus, whose art he describes as "the highbrow of lowbrow art." Niederberghaus, who was living in Germany at the time, took the request to heart. Weeks later, he showed up unannounced in Portland, where Collins was prepping to open the show at a popular gallery, bar, and pizza joint called Sizzle Pie. Together, they installed more than three hundred pieces of art for the show and kept the venue at capacity for four hours on opening night.

That's when Collins knew that D.O.G.T had taken on a life of its own. Fast forward a year, and Niederberghaus has moved to Oakland to open the D.O.G.T gallery with Collins.

The D.O.G.T. grand opening on Saturday night was a certain kind of celebratory fun, perhaps best encapsulated by the photobooth art — a massive wooden panel painted with two pink butt cheeks surrounding a hole just big enough for a face, and "Shake your butt cheeks!" written in big, green, bubble letters. The gallery's front room was filled with work by Swamp Wizards artists, including a massive wizard painted on the ceiling of the space. The walls of the backroom were covered floor to ceiling with open call submissions — mostly low-brow illustrations with a sense of humor. Every piece in the show sported the acronym D.O.G.T., and many could even have counted as Collins fan art, depicting him in poses culled from his social media presence.

Collins and Niederberghaus plan to keep the space open every day and put up a new show every three months or so. The front room will be curated work, while the back will always be open call — anyone is invited to show anything they want. "Nothing about what we're doing has anything to do with being cool or making money or any of that shit," said Collins. "It's just about passion. ... We just want to get people excited about stuff."

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