If you have visited any of the various colorful and well-attended events taking place at Insomnia Gallery (newly located in the East End at 708 Telephone Rd Ste. C), chances are you have had the pleasure of speaking — or smoking — with owner and proprietor Chris Unclebach.
Insomnia Gallery was started in 2011, and was originally located next to the original location of Vinyl Edge records in Northwest Houston, where Unclebach worked for 10 years prior. In an attempt to have a more centralized location, Insomnia uprooted to the well-known location in the Heights where the gallery hosted its first art show as a continuation of Monster Show, a staple and favorite of the then-recently-closed Domy Books. From that moment on, Insomnia became a hub for fun and interesting community-based art shows, showcasing work from local talent with every show’s different theme. From Pokemon to sticker art, the shows were gathering large crowds of smiling faces, proving the shop was moving to better horizons. In 2017, after the Heights landlord had expressed wishes to discontinue the galleries, Unclebach made the decision to migrate to the current location at 708 Telephone in the East End. “I had rented the current location on several occasions from then-tenant East End Studio Gallery and fell in love with the place,” says Unclebach. “[It] just so happened that they were moving out a month before I needed a new space.”
Unclebach remains one of the most supportive figures in Houston’s art and music scene. The galleries are open invitation, and all you must do to be a part of a show is apply and stay on theme. Insomnia is equally home to Deep End Records, where upon the tragic closing of Walters Downtown the record store, owned by Unclebach and John Baldwin, was left without a space. The gallery space has also recently started hosting free shows, which many punk and indie shows have now began to find their home, thus solidifying Chris as the always smiling, always caring pillar of DIY culture that he truly is.
Check out our interview with Unclebach below.
Free Press Houston: What kind of collector were you as kid? Any particular toys you went bananas over?
Chris Unclebach: Oh I was a HUGE collector as kid. Must have driven my parents nuts. I collected GI Joe and He-Man figures, sports cards, interesting rocks, those weird little state souvenir spoons. All kinds of junk really. The toys I was most proud of — the ones I did chores for and saved my money for, were these non-posable, all-rubber WWF wrestling figures. I had nearly 100 Macho Man, Rowdy Roddy Piper, even the managers!
FPH: What games are you playing right now?
Unclebach: Part of the reason for the transition of Insomnia over the years is because even though I enjoy video games, I’m not what anyone would consider a”gamer.” I’ve had a huge itch to play Grand Theft Auto Vice City again for the soundtrack alone. That, and you know, blowing stuff up is a kick. OH! And I do play Candy Crush whenever I use the toilet.
FPH: What are you drinking these days?
Unclebach: Shorter answer would be what I’m NOT drinking… Just kidding! I like sweet stuff. My go-to is a gin and tonic, but I’ve really been digging a lot of ciders lately. Crack Berry, all the Austin Eastciders, and D&W carries some cherry cider I always forget the name of. Somehow I’ve developed a reputation for liking Fireball, which may have something to do with the fact that I love Fireball a lot.
FPH: You’ve showcased so many talented Houston artists. Any you hope to work with soon?
Unclebach: Definitely. The first one that comes to mind is give up. I’ve tried to make that happen a few times but can never seem to work it out scheduling wise. I even got a damn neck tattoo from him recently, which I’m totally writing off as a business expense because I viewed it as a networking opportunity ha! Another one is Jermaine Rogers, who has been in a couple of my shows for fun, but I’m really trying to get him to do a solo show. I understand he hasn’t done a solo show in Houston in over 20 years, and I’d love to make that happen.
FPH: Chris is 14 years old. You get home from school and take out in your favorite cassette at the time. What are we listening to?
Unclebach: Let’s see that would have been 1994, which was kinda the last year I was into grunge. I have an older brother who had a big impact on my music taste growing up and he was always into heavier shit and I was into impressing him. So, if I’m popping the tape into my Walkman, it was probably Soundgarden’s “Superunknown.” But if it was in my bedroom boombox, I’m gonna go with Sepultura’s “Chaos A.D.”
FPH: Would you say the Houston art scene is in a good state right now? Do all artists have reasonable gallery access?
Unclebach: I think it’s very good. I don’t really have this conversation with artists or anyone, but from my perspective it seems like there’s dope shit going on in the city constantly. And it’s not just from one gallery or one collective — it’s everywhere. Art shows, markets, I’m seeing a lot of cool audio-visual stuff and people are getting experimental. What’s cool to see is that the support seems to be there from the community too. And yeah — I’d say it’s way easier for an artist to get into a gallery show than for a musician or band to get a show. Maybe two dozen times a week I answer “how can I be in one of your shows” and the answer is easy: apply! Our process is simple and inclusive, and we absolutely LOVE being the place where someone displays her or his work for the first time. There’s Hardy & Nance and Texas Art Asylum throwing great group shows as well, so I think it’s pretty easy to get involved. Just don’t be afraid to ask questions and put yourself out there. There’s literally nothing to lose.