Mr. Grey isn’t your average 21-year-old. Hailing from New York City, Grey’s profession tends to raise a few eyebrows: He buys bongs for a living. At his age, that might sound like standard practice, but these aren’t your typical smoking devices. They’re pieces of art and they carry a hefty price tag, some selling for upwards of $10,000. We caught up with the young gallery owner for a quick chat and a look at his collection.
Tell us about “Jungle Gun.”
“Jungle Gun” is a part of a series by master glassblower Robert Mickelsen entitled “Weapons of Peace.” Robert’s idea was to create a body of work that focused on the aesthetic beauty of weapons instead of their association with violence. To extend that message, he makes each of his creations functional, [but] instead of shooting bullets they [can be used as] bongs. So instead of weapons of war, you have weapons of peace. [Jungle Gun] is a particularly special work because it’s a collaboration with another glassblower, while most other work in the series is solo. [Collaborator] Calvin Mickle, aka Calm, is known for his hand-sculpted forest life, which he adorns on the outside of this gun, including small critters and a myriad of greenery. Calvin is known for his “burd” sculptures, he includes a small one among the leaves on the stock of the gun. Though “Jungle Gun” is small, he has made them as large as two feet high, and they are collected by a fervent fan base. It’s a wonderful work to display, with so many points of interest. You can get lost staring at it for quite some time.
How did you get into collecting bongs?
In 2012/2013, I found success in the stock market — part fluke, part hunch. I invested in every company I could find associated with cannabis before its legalisation in Colorado, and then sold off all my shares directly after the new laws came into effect. The stocks shot up, and for a short period I was able to sell them all for a large profit. I immediately looked toward the world of cannabis to reinvest the money and found a venture capital group called Arcview that was solely focused on the sector. I joined and immediately befriended a bong manufacturer from Austin, Texas. After stopping by for a visit at his factory, he directed me toward a neighbouring warehouse: “Check out what’s going on next door, there are some artists making bongs like you’ve never seen before.” So I walked over, stepped inside, and immediately I knew I had discovered something special. These weren’t the clear glass smoking devices, they were beautiful sculptures, and I needed to show my friends! It was shortly after my discovery that I realised how few people knew about this hidden industry. A whole collective of immensely talented artists within the world of cannabis, and no one was paying any attention. That’s when I decided to create Grey Space Art and make this more than a hobby.
How did your work come to be featured at Fashion Week?
Fashion Week is a real scene. You have creative people from all over the world descending on a few square blocks of Manhattan for four or five days, going to runway shows in the morning and label parties at night, with no real time to relax in between. People are up all hours seeing show after show, and they get tired of the routine. I saw an opportunity to launch Grey Space Art and take advantage of the monotony. My hope was that once people found out I was showcasing pipes and bongs as fine art, they would be drawn away from another rehearsed label party to try something new. Additionally, I was able to call in some favours from a few friends: Rochambeau dressed me in a killer outfit, Jake Tschetter of the Up and Up was brewing absolutely world-class cocktails, ESP Gins gifted me a slew of their new alcohol, and DJ Breakbot flew in from Paris last minute to supply the music. The bongs are truly amazing on their own, but the initial draw had to come from the party, and after getting a pre-event article by Forbes, we began to pick up momentum. Within 24 hours the party had over 300 media confirmations: GQ, Esquire, Business Insider, CR Fashion Book. Everyone was beginning to turn their heads, and in spite of not being on the fashion week schedule, because I was doing something truly unique, I was able to find real success with my launch event.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I never had a concrete idea of what I wanted to be, even now at 21 I’m not quite sure. I follow what I’m passionate about, and because of that, my role constantly changes.
What’s your favourite bong in your collection?
Although picking a favourite would not be as grave as a parent picking out their favourite child, it would still pain me too much to single just one piece out. I can say that, among guests, “Henshin” by Phil Siegel usually garners the most attention. It’s an incredible wall-hanging multimedia sculpture that uses wood, paint and glass to tell the story of an ancient creation myth, in which a koi fish adapts from its pond to climb onto land and begin the evolutionary process toward becoming human.
Do you remember your first collector bong?
Yes! After discovering this medium and beginning to research its artists, I began to fall in love with the work of Kurt B, who is most famous for making a mould of the plastic supermarket honey bear and creating a series of 100 functional glass versions. Those pieces sold for $150-$300 when they were first coming out, and are now so coveted by collectors that to even begin searching for one, you need to be willing to spend over 4,000 percent of the original cost. Recently I was able to acquire the first one in the series, which is currently in my private collection, but at the time an equally important piece in his portfolio came up for sale, and I knew if I was serious about investing in this industry then I’d need to buy it. I called up my dad to tell him the news: “Dad, I’m about to spend over $5,000 on a bong, and you’re just going to have to trust me.” Of course, he didn’t trust me and thought I was out of my mind, but if you asked him now, he’d be enthusiastic to talk about the series himself. The work just brings a smile to your face, and I’m glad four years later that I made that first major purchase.