Artist John Zaso Launches Hexum Gallery in Montpelier | Visual Art | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Artist John Zaso Launches Hexum Gallery in Montpelier

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Published April 19, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.


John Zaso - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • John Zaso

John Zaso fell in love with Vermont the way many people do: by spending summers here. For a decade, he was a private caretaker for an older man, and every year they would trade the latter's New York City townhouse for his 150-acre property in the Green Mountain State. Zaso said he "felt like a Fresh Air kid."

In 2016, he and his husband, Richard Davis, bought a Vermont home of their own, in Barre. Even so, they kept their rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan and continued to rely on their "city fix," as Zaso put it.

When he opened an art gallery in Montpelier earlier this month, though, Zaso, 52, embarked on a whole new relationship with his adopted state.

Hexum Gallery is on the second floor above Capital Kitchen on State Street, just a couple of blocks from the Vermont capitol. Its two small rooms feature crisp white walls and vintage dark-stained wood. "It's charming — it takes me back to The Maltese Falcon," Zaso said, referring to the 1941 film. Previously, Macpherson Travel Bureau occupied the space in the dozen years before the business closed, according to owner and building landlord Scott Fitzgerald.

For Hexum's inaugural exhibition, which Zaso titled "Wild Things," he hung nearly two dozen lively paintings and drawings from his own collection and further graced the rooms with vases of tulips. At the opening reception, Davis — a stage and voice actor and occasional bartender — served drinks in an adjacent nook.

Zaso is an artist himself, but over the past two decades he has focused more on collecting than creating. At this point, launching a gallery seemed like a logical step. "It's something that excites me," he said. "But it's scary, too."

Hexum's opening night was encouraging. Zaso said he was thrilled by the number of people who climbed the stairs to check out the gallery and grateful for their "overwhelmingly positive" responses.

In a phone interview, Zaso shared what led him to conjure Hexum and his arty aims for the future.

You came to Vermont from New York City, but were you from there originally?

No, I grew up in a small town in upstate New York — Geneva, north of Seneca Lake. I was always fond of the outdoors.

Why open a gallery now?

The gentleman I'd been caring for passed away last summer. I really wanted to take some time to chill out before I did anything else. Being a caregiver is really intense, a lot of hard work. I spent almost 10 years with him and got really close. I needed to decompress, fix up my house, gather my thoughts.

But I'd had this idea of a gallery in my head for years. I didn't have a strong educational background, so going into any kind of [art] institution didn't make sense for me. I had a strong feeling that if I didn't pursue it, I would probably be filled with regret.

I've had a million different jobs since age 10, but art has always been what I did. Starting a gallery just made sense. So I started looking around at spaces and fell in love with this one and signed a lease. Then I had to figure out how to run a business!

Why the name Hexum? I looked up the word and found it derives from the Norwegian word for "house of the witches." It's a useful concept, but is that what you meant by it?

No. [Laughing] It's a long story, but I wanted a name that kind of meant something to me, and I didn't want to use my own name. So, I started combing the depths of my life. When I was a teen, I had a crush on this actor named Jon-Erik Hexum—

Hexum Gallery - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Hexum Gallery

Ooh, I found him online, too. He had a tragic death on set when he was young.

Yes. But I thought it was a very strong name. And there was more. Richard and I had a nice Norwegian vacation in 2016. After researching the name further and coming across the Norwegian translation "house of the witches," the name seemed fitting. It takes a certain amount of alchemy to run an art gallery.

How long have you been collecting art?

Probably since the early 2000s, but seriously since 2007, 2008. But I feel like I've been collecting since I was a kid.

How big is your collection now?

If I had to guess, I'd say about 300 works. I began with drawings and silk-screen prints because they were cheaper. I'm constantly playing catch-up when it comes to documenting.

I felt like I spent any spare money on art during the pandemic. As a collector, I felt it was important to keep these artists in business.

I've seen the exhibit and your Instagram, but I wonder if you could summarize your general aesthetic in art.

It's always evolving. When I started, I was more interested in work I felt was connected to mine in some way. My work was very flat, bold, solid-color, hard-edged painting. I did a lot of collage, as well. So, anything that seemed meditative and meticulous and perfectionistic. A lot of patterns.

Do you own work by any Vermont artists?

I do. I have a number of works by Jayne Shoup, a Middlesex artist. She's perfectionistic, as well. I've picked up other works along the way, but she's my main Vermonter.

The exhibition "Wild Things" features work from your personal collection. Am I right in assuming it's not for sale?

Right.

Typically, a gallery sells artwork so the gallerist can make a living. Do you plan to bring in other exhibits with work for sale?

Oh, yes. This was just kind of a way to introduce the gallery to the community.

Will you seek out local artists for future shows?

Yes! I met a number of artists on Friday night. I also plan to hold other events in the gallery.

Like what?

Maybe a drink-and-draw artist night, poetry readings, stuff like that.

What days and hours will Hexum be open?

At the moment, I'm playing it by ear. Since I still do have a life in New York — though I don't need to go super often — I wasn't sure I wanted to set specific hours. I'm posting on Instagram, and I'll put the sandwich board out when I'm there. Otherwise by appointment, probably Thursday through Sunday.

And you'll participate in Montpelier's monthly Art Walk?

Yes, it will be nice to sync up with the other galleries downtown. It reminds me of gallery hopping in New York City.

How often will you rotate the work in the gallery?

I'm planning six-week shows, so every two months there will be a new show. I was entertaining the thought of having a closing party, too.

I noted the gallery doesn't have a website.

No, I just wanted to get the gallery going first. But I have Instagram, and there will be a website up before the June show.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and length.

[email protected].

The original print version of this article was headlined "Conjuring Art | Artist John Zaso launches Hexum Gallery in Montpelier"

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