In the five years since Jenn Armbrust opened Motel, the gallery has become a staple of the Portland scene, creating a niche space for both storybook-style illustrations and less categorical artwork. Though she has long championed emerging local artists, from Jesse Rose Vala to Carson Ellis, the last two years saw Motel steadily importing impressive national talent. Sadly, the gallery is closing its doors at the end of December. Armbrust, who also co-founded the local art blog PORT, recently talked to the Mercury about the gallery's legacy and the state of art in Portland.
MERCURY: Is this just the beginning of your next role in the Portland art scene?
ARMBRUST: I have no plans to be a part of Portland's art scene in the near or distant future, although one never knows where life will lead.
What aspect of the gallery are you most proud of?
I am really proud of the fact that I started Motel at 25 with no gallery experience, no art history training, no professional connections, no business training, and no silver spoon. I had vision, guts, integrity, commitment, and a whole lot of drive. I built a nationally recognized gallery as a force of inspiration and sheer will.
Is Portland's art the same quality it was when you founded the gallery?
Frankly, I am underwhelmed by Portland right now. I have a sinking feeling Portland is on the tail end of its "glory days" of cheap living and cultural expansion. Now that the risk takers and visionaries have paved the way and the New York Times has caught on with bi-weekly articles touting our quality of life, I'd expect the consumer class is just around the corner. Is this too pessimistic? Maybe you caught me on a bad day. I guess it would be more accurate to just say that I love the entrepreneurial sense here and am grateful to be surrounded by so many ballsy and innovative young people forging their own careers and creating new values and ways of doing business. But Portland has its limitations and these have only become more obvious and stifling for me. I've put all my cards on the table and I feel like I pretty much know what everyone else has in their hands. I'm ready for a whole new game.