31 Days of Dreamers & Doers | Hugo Novelo
Walking into this complex that day, I had no idea what I was about to step into or just how blown my mind would be. This 'everyday' apartment building, on a regular street, in a regular neighborhood - would open up to an amazing gallery full of various art from different artists far and wide. Hugo's Art Gallery, owned by Hugo Novelo, sits on the edge of South Omaha on Leavenworth. I'd probably driven past this place several times, not knowing of all the magic housed inside. Walking into the gallery was nothing short of breath taking, seeing all the different art shown in different mediums, genres, textures. Being displayed in such a personal way, inside this man's home. Taking a moment to tour the gallery and sit down with Hugo after, I felt a refreshing wave of passion and inspiration. Seeing so many different talented artists displayed and seeing someone care to help their fellow artist be seen was satisfying to say the least. Read on to hop into our conversation and get to know the man behind Hugo's Art Gallery a bit as I did.
AK: Please, tell me how you got started and what inspired you.
HN: I got started by accident, one of my friends was being kicked out of his apartment and he asked me and a mutual friend to help him move. We noticed that he had a bunch of art and were thinking how to ship, realizing it would be expensive, so he sold them to me for a very little amount. From there I started collecting art and then a few years later I noticed that I had like 200 pieces. My friends were asking me what I had planned for all this and I just slowly picked em up ya know, this was throughout years, slowly picked them up doing odd jobs to buy them outright. Ya know, none of these artists were known, I was getting them for like $10 , $15 a piece. Sometimes I would trade them other art pieces. It came to the point where I had so much and I felt selfish having all these pieces and having nobody enjoy them, just me. My friends helped me get organized and it became Hugo's Art Gallery. It just blew up from there. A magazine did another article about me like maybe a year ago almost 2 and we had a huge growth. Now I have people who help me, like volunteers that believe in what I'm doing, which to me is amazing because nobody believes in me, not even my cat. (laughter).
AK: I'm curious, the friend you were helping move out, does he ever check the gallery out?
HN: He actually took his own life a few years ago, he was a troubled young man. He never got to see this, but thanks to him, I owe him the spark that got me to collecting art. He was a very good artist, just a troubled young man. I wish he could've seen it, because part of it was because of him.
AK: Right, definitely almost makes it even more special kinda ya know?
HN: Yea, it does and I wish he could see how other people look at his art, I don't know if he ever got that chance. I've shown other people his art a couple times and that's one of the reasons that motivate me, watching other people look at the art and their reactions. I mean to me, that millisecond of just amazement and awe to me is almost art in itself. I mean like just the way peoples' eyes light up. Lately, I've been trying to learn more about how art affects the human body when it comes to healing and mental health and I'm not very educated, but I've noticed by myself just by being here, how art has an affect on your mood and your person. I feel like we should explore that more ya know. theres an artist in KC named Scribe and he works with the Children's Hospital and they've noticed amazing things just having art around, its pretty cool.
AK: Even just coming in here and ya know, not necessarily knowing what I was going to see, but coming in here and just having my mind blown and being so inspired - like my mood right now is on TEN, because this is just so cool and it just reminds you that there are people all around you doing amazing, amazing things that, like you said, can really make you feel some kind of way and I just think that its awesome. I also think that's interesting, the guy - Scribe - doing that at Children's Hospital. I have always been really interested in mental health dealing with it myself and I try to think of ways that creativity would help people who have mental disorders like anxiety and depression and all of those things, because it helps me.
HN: It is very therapeutic and very mediative. Those, prints of my face - we had them up online and Angel Works, which is a program that works with adults who are mentally challenged, they printed them out and they noticed how their mood changed and they asked me if I knew that this had therapeutic qualities. That's how I started researching more and more about it and I noticed around the house - ya know the bottom floor is more for the public and it's more chaotic and there's all these different things and it doesn't really have a style. But, once you get to my room which is you know, my sanctuary, there's honestly all the Little Shop of Horror pieces, which is my favorite movie and my thing. I didn't even notice that until I started reading about how art ties in with your mental health. Ya know, this chaotic space down here which is open to the public, but as I go upstairs its more unified and more focused.
HN: I was reading about how this can speed up your healing process and I was like, 'whaaaaat?!', yea it's just crazy and amazing. It does wonders for your mental health. When I'm depressed, I come downstairs and hang out for a little bit, just even looking at the art and interacting with it and you feel better, you know. I mean, I still have my ups and downs, but I feel a lot healthier here.
AK: That's such a good way to put that - you feel healthier here, you feel good here.
HN: Yea, I try to eat healthy, I'm a cyclist too. I try to go biking, but when it comes to my mental health I'm just like everybody else, I have my own problems . I try to set some time for myself and be mediative, usually in this spot right here bc I get to see all this art and I feel good. I love this one too, It has my name on it (laughter). Yea you need that sometimes, you need something to make you feel good about yourself.
HN: At first we had like two art shows last year and the year before that we had like one. Now we have art shows like once or twice a month, September we had 4, it's just incredible the reception I've had, we've had. I have three people who help me, volunteers, I don't know why, but they believe in what I'm doing. (laughter)
(Volunteer) Lizzy: Do you know how much you've contributed to my self esteem? like the fact that somebody wanted to buy my art was like, 'whaaaat' ? someone thinks I'm a good artist?!
AK: See, thats major.
HN: All the people who help me are artists themselves, I try to surround myself with people who are talented because it brings inspiration to the circle almost, like it makes sure that we continue to inspire each other.
AK: Do you ever imagine moving from here?
HN: Moving, probably not, maybe getting another space. I don't want to lose this space because I started off working with underground artists here and I don't wanna lose that because that's very much me. I was born in California in LA, you know in the hood and I mean right here, this is pretty much in the hood too, Leavenworth is down the street. I seen some ghetto things happen around here, but again this is my sanctuary. It's like as soon as you step through the doors, your magically transported somewhere else and ya know it feels good in here no matter what's going on outside. And everybody is entitled to art you know, I welcome all my neighbors to come in, even if they're from skid row. I'm from skid row, we all need art.
It's what makes us human. It goes back to those caves in France you know, finger painting, it's what makes us human. It's part of who we are, be that visual artists or musicians, its part of what makes us - the essential part of being human.
AK: Literally like our way of expression, our way to express even whats most deep inside of us. It's important.
HN: Yes, I think art is very important. There are some people who are born not being able to communicate with their voice and art might be the only way they can communicate. There's people who have autism, art might be the way they can communicate better. I truly believe in art and the way that it affects us.
AK: I am very pleased to have met you - (Hugo: I'm nobody special believe me) - I mean you just gotta know that there are very, very, very many people who think that you are special, I'm sure of it.
"I just feel like I'm doing what I enjoy. I don't consider this a job even though sometimes we do stay up pretty late getting the shows ready and sometimes it feels like work, but most of the time were just having fun, you know - do you have fun here Lizzy?"
Lizzy: Absolutely, I have a great time.
"I feel like this is my calling now. I would have never imagined this, but now as I'm doing it, it feels right. I never felt so good in my life like I do now."
It was a pleasure meeting Hugo indeed as I walked away feeling motivated and wanting to learn more. If ever you need a creative breath of fresh air, Hugo's Art Gallery would be a great place to start.