It’s somewhere within the cabinet containing the tiny mummified pig fetuses and the surprisingly club-like walrus penis bone that visitors really get a feel for what The Dark Art Emporium is all about. Sure, there are the more mainstream items—jewelry, tarot cards, books about Satanism and the Necronomicon—that help keep the business afloat, but owner Jeremy Schott’s real passions and talent reside in making these and the generally “lowbrow” art that line its walls, accessible, approachable and, ultimately, sellable.
“I’ve shown my art at quite a few galleries over the years, and Dark Art Emporium embraces my style and sells the shit out of my work,” said artist DW Frydendall, whose work includes the elements of horror and humor that distinguish so much on the Emporium’s walls. “Jeremy is the perfect blend of business-minded and creative. He appreciates art and recognizes talent which is refreshing as an artist. The crowd his gallery draws in are my kind of people, and it has opened me up to a different and unique scene.”
But as natural as Schott may sound at what he does, as comfortable as he may look when jokingly wielding the walrus baculum as a weapon, he’s the first to admit that he’s still learning some of the finer points of owning and operating a gallery/oddity shop after transitioning into the industry just a couple of years ago.
Despite technically living in Long Beach for the last 15 years, he spent most of his 20s and the first half of his 30s on the road as a videographer, shooting metal band tours, professional wrestling documentaries and the occasional corporate gig, the latter ultimately providing a moment of clarity on what he did, and did not, want to do in the next stage of his life.
“I was sitting in Ojai shooting a laundry conference with my $1000 camera and a suit and I hated it,” Schott recalled. “I was miserable, so I quit. I decided I was going to open up an art gallery, so I did it. It’s much better than a laundry conference.”
Of course, the Houston native never really considered opening a “normal” art gallery. During his time trekking around the globe, Schott always went out of his way to find whatever oddity shop or weird museum he could in the cities he visited. He’d always been into horror movies and outsider art and in recent years he’d begun to notice a significant increase among the public.
Thanks to some inspiration and help from his friend Bill Shafer (the owner of the Hyaena Gallery in Burbank), Schott began piecing together the combination of dark art, supernatural objects, distinct oddities and bits of natural history that comprise The Dark Art Emporium. Considering the wide variety of appeal his ever-growing collection has, Schott is hoping to use his business to help dispel some of the preconceived notions of what “art” is and open up the world of dark and outsider art to the masses.
“Dark art has been around forever, but now I think you’re seeing it come into the mainstream because of the dark times we live in,” Schott said. “It’s become an outlet for people. If you have a demon, you can paint it on paper and get it out so you don’t have to worry about it anymore.
“My goal is to make dark art mainstream, and I want this place to be considered a fine art gallery by everybody,” Schott continued. “I don’t want to be this little niche thing. I want to be a place where mom and dad come in here and find something they love. I’m surprised by that sometimes because I’ll have people come in here who I think are going to hate it and then they end up buying something. I’ve had a guy walk in with a Bible in his hand and walk out with a skull.”
In some ways, the space on which the Emporium sits isn’t all that different from the items contained inside it. Located at the corner of 3rd Street and Elm Avenue, it occupies a space that had sat empty for years after a tattoo shop failed there. Schott’s shop has breathed new—albeit different—life into what was once a very visible corpse in Downtown Long Beach.
Although some might consider the content too morbid to be funny, Schott and his inventory always come with a tinge of humor—a beautifully crafted human penis replica painted with David Bowie’s iconic “Aladdin Sane” lightning bolt, is titled “Well Hung and Snow White Tan”—making clear that craftsmanship and artistry can be taken seriously without taking one’s self too seriously.
“Dark art may be irreverent, but it has its own integrity,” explains local artist Thea Saks (better known as Frau Sakra). “Creating it takes skill, imagination and knowledge of its subject, especially since many people who come to see dark art really know dark literature, film, history, and culture. The Dark Art Emporium has the same mixture of irreverence and integrity that dark art itself does. You can get a T-shirt that says ‘fine art is dead and so is ours,’ and at the same time see art of the best quality from around the world. If you’re an artist, your art is handled professionally and showcased beautifully.”
The Dark Art Emporium’s walls weren’t always decorated quite so flawlessly. Schott has done a lot of learning on the fly while continuing his goal of converting a few more people into dark art fans each week. For a place that’s held everything from sword swallowers and puppet shows to blood rituals and taxidermy classes along with its usual monthly art shows, the growth of his Emporium has been a true trial by fire for Schott, especially that one time there the place hosted fire breathers.
The man who’d never run a business before in his life quickly learned that owning a gallery involved a whole lot more than just throwing some paintings and price tags on the walls and hoping that people bought them.
“I’ve learned how to display art the proper way—what height to hang things at, the spacing in between, stuff like that,” Schott said. “When I do it salon style, it doesn’t look like the cat just threw up art. It looks like there’s a way to it. Of course, I also had to learn to advertise, write, market and even learning how to tell if a dollar bill is fake because I got taken a couple of times early on.”
Schott also brought in local artist Jeremy Cross to serve as the Emporium’s assistant director and you can see Cross’s handiwork all over the walls and occasionally in the form of a gnarly piano or some such other focal point in the center of the gallery. But what started as a simple opportunity to showcase the art he loved in his own backyard has quickly turned into a much greater adventure for both Cross and his colleague.
“What I found in Jeremy Schott wasn’t only a kindred spirit, but someone whom I wanted to collaborate with extensively,” Cross said. “Luckily for me, he was receptive, starting with showing my work regularly on the walls, then asking me to curate the occasional show, and ultimately making me the assistant director for the gallery. It’s a dream partnership that has led us both down many roads we may not have reached so quickly alone.”
“Schott and Cross are two of the most talented and generous gallerists I’ve had the good fortune to meet,” said artist Dan Litzinger. “The Dark Art Emporium is my home away from home in Long Beach, and a place where I can relax and be my weird self. I’m very excited about having my first ever solo show at Dark Art Emporium next year and continuing my artistic development under their guidance.”
Despite the relatively mundane business side of Schott’s life as a local fixture at the Emporium, it’s the delightfully strange interactions with some of Long Beach’s resident weirdos that keep him entertained every day. After revisiting Austin, Texas—where he lived for five years before moving to California to attend Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University—Schott couldn’t help but notice how it had become significantly less unique over the decades. Compared to the cast of characters he’d met in Long Beach, “Keep Austin Weird” just didn’t seem to fit anymore.
Whether it’s local business owners or wandering vagrants, the semi-regular stream of folks walking in and out of The Dark Art Emporium has made for a much friendlier experience than Schott originally expected when opening up in a rapidly gentrifying area just steps from where he lives.
“I was kind of surprised that Long Beach accepted me as much as it has,” Schott said. “When you open a place like this, you expect people to not be into it. I still have some people come in like ‘Oh God!’ and walk out, but most of Downtown Long Beach has really accepted this place. Our shows are packed, and people are being exposed to new and different art that I don’t think Long Beach had before.”
Even if Schott technically grew up halfway across the country, he’s spent enough time living in Downtown Long Beach to become a part of the city as its expanded and changed. Even as a construction crew tears up the corner in front of his shop, the owner is looking forward to all of the new projects going on in his adopted hometown. For that matter, he has an idea about putting his own stamp on some of those new buildings.
“[Long Beach] was still sketchy as hell when I first moved here over 15 years ago, but now it’s growing like crazy with all the new businesses coming in,” Schott said. “I think the city is thriving, and I hope it continues to. With all of the new developments going up, they have a lot of blank walls. I hope they like weird stuff, because I can fill them.”
Even as Long Beach continues to grow and potentially move away from some of its pre-existing “weirdness,” aficionados of the dark, bizarre, and grotesque have already begun to flock to The Dark Art Emporium from all over Southern California to see what Schott has at any given time. As the local artist known only as “The Creep” sees it, the owner and his assistant director are just the latest tag team to take over a part of the city’s culture.
“Jeremy Schott and Jeremy Cross are the new Warren G & Nate Dogg of the lowbrow [and] dark art movement in Long Beach,” the artist said. “And they’re ‘bout to regulate.”
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