AMOA-Arthouse at the Jones Center
Odd shapes respond to sound in new AMOA exhibit
Blanton Museum of Art
Ensemble to accompany painting at Blanton event
East Austin artists, galleries launch 'Frame' events to showcase year-round efforts
Old-school 3-D adds sense of wonder to works in Gray Duck Gallery exhibitt
By Matthew Irwin
May 3, 2013
Lynn Brotman is closer to her dream than she's ever been. The retired merchandiser and her husband moved to Austin from points east in 2011. For years, she had worked on her fabric designs ad hoc from the kitchen table, and she had endured the heat one summer in the garage of the Austin Screen Printing Cooperative. But the native Texan really began to see her work evolve when, back in February, she moved into Canopy, the new Eastside studio complex run by the ubiquitous arts organization Big Medium.
Brotman considers herself an outsider artist – someone, she says, who hasn't any formal training. But, today, she shares a 400-square-foot studio with illustrator Kate Smith, who works nights and weekends – the opposite of Brotman's schedule. "I have space for all my supplies: stamps, dyes, bleaches. There's good ventilation here," Brotman says, adding that she spends a lot of time walking around, meeting other residents. "My door is open all the time."
Eastside artists have been talking about their desire for clean, spacious, and affordable workspace since the early days of the East Austin Studio Tour, which, for all the positive attention it has brought to the neighborhood over the last 12 years, has also demonstrated the rather DIY nature of the studios there, a fact much worn by local code-carriers. (See "East Austin Studio De-Tour," News, July 15, 2011.)
So the announcement that the everything-it-touches-turns-to-gold-paint Big Medium would renovate an abandoned warehouse for art-making and art-viewing in the heart of the Eastside created an instant buzz and many emails of interest.
Then, the prices were listed and tenants started moving in.
Canopy became the subject of ridicule from artists and neighbors concerned that the project would provide for a certain type of creative person, while driving up prices throughout the neighborhood. Starting at $500 a month, critics say Canopy is out of range for most East Austin artists.
Big Medium – known as the founder/executor of several major art programs, including two citywide studio tours, EAST and WEST, and the Texas Biennial – began thinking seriously about a large multiple-studio space about three years ago, according to the organization's co-founder Shea Little. He and his partners, Jana Swec and Joseph Phillips, had their eyes on 916 Springdale, a former Goodwill Blue Hanger store.
As happens in Austin, they ran into the developers one day, Little says, and eventually worked out a deal for a master lease, leaving them the responsibility of filling 45 studios, three galleries, a cafe, and a few multi-use spaces. The well-lit, finely manicured studios opened in February, though tinkering continued for another month.
By mid-April, the sudden clanks and monotonous thumps of renovation had given way to iPod stereos, small-talk chatter, and the drum of air conditioning units as the first tenants settled into the rhythm of their work.
Like other residents of the handful the Chronicle interviewed, cut-paper artist Rebecca Rothfus had been working at home until she heard about Canopy. With her application accepted, she moved, aware that the building would not be quite finished. "There were some growing pains," Rothfus says, referring to spotty Internet access, an occasionally malfunctioning elevator, and construction noise.
Overall, however, Rothfus is beside-herself happy. The Big Medium name, she says, has a demonstrated ability to follow through. Plus, the location of Canopy in the hip Eastside is also attractive. It's staked next to Blue Genie Art Industries, a longtime anchor of East Austin arts with its own decade-old Holiday Art Bazaar. To the right of Blue Genie is Blue Theater and to the left, the Museum of Human Achievement.
Rothfus also cites "creature comforts" such as cleanliness and air conditioning, the cost of which is not included in the rent, as benefits she hasn't seen elsewhere. She recalls hearing from an artist friend in Dallas, whose studio leaks during storms and gets unbearably hot in the summer – the time when Rothfus, a grade school art teacher, would have the most time to work.
Finally, like every one of the tenants we interviewed, Rothfus says that Canopy is affordable. Sure, the cost pushes her comfort level, she says, but it also demands total dedication. "[Canopy] was really built for people like me, who want to push further. It pushes me to experiment."
Blue Genie founder Kevin Collins, who lives on the Eastside, says that Canopy brings value to the neighborhood, but not necessarily for longtime residents.
"[Artists are] kind of an insular community, so ..." he says, trailing off. "For longtime residents, the gentrification issue is very real. When they see the Canopy spaces, they think, 'There goes the neighborhood.'"
In fairness, Collins says that he's a supporter of Big Medium and its projects to promote Austin artists. He's just wary that too much attention will drive up prices, making affordable art space even more difficult to acquire. A number of artists that the Chronicle informally surveyed during the recent Fusebox Festival share that fear. "I've been benefiting from cheap studio space for 15 years," Collins says. "Do I see my neighbors reflected [in Canopy]? Most of the artists I know still work in their garages."
Little acknowledged that about half of Canopy's residents live elsewhere in Austin, but he sees that as positive. People are willing to drive to the Eastside now, whereas 10 years ago, they would go out of their way to avoid streets east of I-35.
More than half of Canopy's units accommodate "creative businesses" — advertising and marketing firms and commercial arts enterprises such as publishing consultants EmDash and the small press A Strange Object – though the committee felt strongly that it had to reserve space for studio artists, many of whom split the costs with other artists. "We try to keep it diverse with the studio arts, because we don't want an office complex," Little says.
Among the creative business tenants, Ricardo Medina, who runs the commercial film company Fine Blend Media with his buddy Chad Nickle, and Jessica Tata, who operates Son of a Sailor Jewelry with her husband William Knopp, both say that moving in has led to an increase in business as well as personal productivity. But what they really appreciate about the space is the ability to network and brainstorm just by walking out their doors.
"We came to Austin for a sense of collaboration," says Tata, a former fine art administrator who moved from San Francisco with Knopp. "At places like [Canopy], we create alongside each other. It's not an untouchable elite."
Conversely, Tata sees Canopy's galleries as a much needed attempt to curate and elevate Austin art if it's ever to be properly unveiled to the rest of the art world.
Little says that filling the empty units is just a matter of placing the remaining applicants. He's more concerned with filling the galleries and making Canopy into an arts hub for all of Austin. "We want to create what Austin lacks," he says, "which is some density. Three galleries isn't much, but three in one row is good density in this town."
If the gallery spaces don't fill, Big Medium will open them to retail clients, preferably to an art supply store or a market for items made by local artists and craftspeople – perhaps Canopy residents, such as Son of a Sailor or Lynn Brotman.
For the time being, Brotman is happy, living just five minutes from her studio by car. The only thing better, she says, would be a live/work space. "You know: live upstairs and work downstairs," she says. "That's my dream."
The first Canopy Artists Studio Tour, an open house for the creative complex and its tenants, will be held May 11-12: Saturday, 10am-5pm; Sunday, 11am-5pm, at Canopy, 916 Springdale. For more information, visit www.canopystudios.wordpress.com.
By Luke Quinton
May 8, 2013
Inside the second story of AMOA-Arthouse's Jones Center are a hundred multi-colored bulbous shapes, covering the floor like an organized crowd of giant shellacked fruit.
What, at first, looks like beanbags shaped like pears and lemons turns out to be something more delicate: sculptures that have a softness to them, from their silky covering, in shades of metallic lemon, copper, orange and tawny gold.
And one of them is moving.
The artist, Pinaree Sanpitak, starts walking among the sculptures. She claps her hands loudly, three times. "They respond to sound," she says, with a slight Southeast Asian lilt. Three of the bulbs start to vibrate back and forth.
Two small children pass in front of us and kneel down with their faces close to one of the sculptures. The kids aren't much bigger than the art. They speak quietly to the sphere, and the shape starts to slowly rock. Their eyes light, and they lean in with their ears, to listen.
"Lots of people talk to them," Sanpitak says. "I had people singing to it in Brussels."
This piece, "Temporary Insanity," has traveled the world since it debuted in Sanpitak's native Thailand in 2004, from Korea to Belgium.
The fact that the art is interactive explains much of its success. Each one is programmed to vibrate differently. Some, like the moving mound in the center, vibrate long after the sound in the room has gone quiet. Others vibrate for just a few moments. Sanpitak kneels down and pulls apart one of the sculpture's hidden seams. "It's like dissecting," she says.
Inside, stuffed into mounds of polyfill, is a small microphone and a large, yellow, rotating propeller, encased in plastic and weighted. "I wanted everything to be hidden," Sanpitak says.
The other reason the vibrating forms are appealing is their unusual shape — rounded and familiar, but without calling any obvious reference to mind. The original idea, says Panitak, "evolved from my breast forms." Evolved is the right word. These are abstracted shapes that evoke anatomy very subtly. "It's a part of the body that's very beautiful and meaningful for me," she says.
Sanpitak happened on the idea of referencing breasts a few months after she gave birth to her son. Watching a part of your body transform to suit a new purpose had a lasting effect on her. It became an iconic, human symbol — of nourishment and birth, and now, in the abstracted form, morphed to reference life at large.
Part of Sanpitak's work plays with the viewer's taboos. When she showed similar shapes in a Bangkok shopping mall, her friends had fewer concerns with how the art might be perceived. The shapes were made into cushions on the floor and kids were playing on them. A friend told Sanpitak, "Oh, you won't be able to do that in the States."
"Yes, actually, Americans are more taken aback," Sanpitak laughs softly. "They don't know how to get around it."
Sanpitak also has a project that involves creating food in the shape of a Buddhist stupa, a sort of meditative monastery that happens to resemble a breast. Perhaps we are desensitized by an onslaught of phallic forms, but seeing breast stupa-shaped muffins can come as a surprise.
As the room empties out, a few whirring propellers can be heard. "When the room is quiet, it's more meditative," Sanpitak says. The propellers sound like far-off seagulls. Then one by one, they slowly stop.
By Luke Quinton
May 14, 2013
Justin Sherburn has one of those jobs that doesn't really exist until you carve it out for yourself: He writes and performs live soundtracks for art projects. Whether it's a vintage film, or a puppet drama, Sherburn and his band have found a niche in Austin and elsewhere, cranking out lyrical melodies, propulsive beats and maybe a touch of tango.
His ensemble, Montopolis, is named after the neighborhood he calls home. The band has the usual guitar and bass but also a couple of violins and a viola. Sherburn, who's probably best known for playing with indie rock band Okkervil River, usually plays the piano and guitar. Occasionally, his projects, like the ones he's done for Trouble Puppet Theater, might add a xylophone or a saw.
But at the Blanton Museum of Art on Thursday, the band that scores moving images is in for a change of pace, because they'll be accompanying a painting.
In this case, the soundtrack will fill this month's segment of the museum's "Beat the Rush" concert series, curated by composer Graham Reynolds.
It's all part of the Blanton's monthly "Third Thursday" events that offer free museum admission, special event and extended hours until 9 p.m.
Montopolis will start at about 5:30 p.m.
And the painting they've chosen as their muse is one of the Blanton's more recognizable works, "Cadmium Red Above Black," by Adolph Gottlieb. It's this "static red, above a Rothko-esque, splotchy, black cloud," Sherburn says, on the phone from his Montopolis home.
How do you write music for non-representational art, anyway?
"I'm trying to dig deep here," Sherburn answers. "I gotta light a cigarette to do this."
He laughs. Then a screen door whines open in the background.
"The live film score," he says, "that's an opportunity for the music to be the driving force." Montopolis takes the "driving" part seriously.
Sherburn could've scored the Soviet film, "Man With a Camera," with ominous industrial sounds (his first drafts did just that), but he went in another direction with that previous project. "In Austin, generally, people like to party," he says, uncontroversially. Making dark music to fit a dark film would not have been a stretch. But it wouldn't have been much fun either. So, the result, he says, was upbeat and loud.
"People in Austin, on some level, want to drink beer and two-step," Sherburn says. That's the direction he shot for.
So, there's no reason to expect Sherburn and Montopolis to treat a painting in any more of a self-serious light. The music will fit the painting, he says, "the tension and release, stillness and change. It's just pure and simple contrast."
Now, Sherburn explains, he just needs to decide what that might sound like. "Basically it's some kind of mutant between classical string parts, that have all the descriptors you would normally have, and a jazz chart, that just has chord changes," he says.
He's not committing to anything too specific until the band finishes rehearsing in front of the painting. He'll ask the questions he asks of all his projects, "What's expected and appropriate, what's unexpected and inappropriate?" Making some blend of music that's unexpected, but still works with the source material. That's the key.
But at this point, Sherburn has a wealth of soundtracks that are catchy enough to stand on their own. He'll release them as records, just as soon as he figures out how to do that.
"Most of the people I work with, I just meet them in bars. I just haven't met that person yet," he says. "If you know somebody, send 'em my way."
Blanton Museum's "Third Thursday"
What: Free museum admission and special activities including yoga in the gallery, "Beat the Rush" concert and gallery talks
When: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; "Beat the Rush" concert at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Information: 471-7324, www.blantonmuseum.org
By Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
May 15, 2013
With its droves of crowds and clatter of buzz, the East Austin Studio Tour is both a boon and a frustration for the neighborhood's indie galleries.
It's a boon because the annual tour of artists' studios, businesses, galleries and project spaces draws tens of thousands to the neighborhood and spotligh the enormous creative activity and self-starting enterprise that happens just steps to the east of downtown Austin.
But beyond the tour each autumn, how to get people to remember that East Austin is a year-round home to several galleries?
Saturday, a quartet of progressive East Austin galleries host "Frame," an afternoon and evening of coordinated programs, the first of what is hoped to be regular event.
Working together, Mass Gallery, Tiny Park Gallery, Co-Lab Projects and Big Medium will offer film screenings, artist talks, live music and other special happenings around new exhibits debuting at each of the galleries.
The quartet of galleries has coordinated as East Austin Arts and branded itself with a web site — www.eastaustinarts.org — that offers maps and a roster of activities.
Shea Little, director of Big Medium, the organization that founded the East Austin Studio Tour 10 years ago, says that the impetus that gave rise to "Frame" is a bit of a blast from the past.
After all, the first EAST in 2003 included just a handful of addresses. "Like the first (EAST) tour, this is a very focused showing of what's going on," Little said. "It's a way to remind people that, yes, there's plenty going on all year round (in East Austin)."
Big Medium will debut its new digs in Canopy, the new complex of studios and gallery spaces that's just opened on Springdale Road, carved from a connecting set of five large warehouses.
Big Medium will play host to two exhibits by independent curators. Some Canopy artists will open their studios as well.
Saturday's event dovetails with the first anniversary of Tiny Park Gallery. After a year of running an in-house gallery, Brian Wiley and Thao Votang opened a venue in a storefront space on Navasota Street, near a busy and burgeoning cluster of restaurants on East 11th Street.
"The kind of regular programming we do in our space is a bit different than what happens (during EAST)," Wiley said. "This (past) year and the new space has been good for us and we've gotten a lot of new traffic. But we want to spread the word that we're here year round."
For "Frame," Tiny Park will debut a new show of collaborative work by Jason Creps and Joel Ross. The artists create a complex series of signs emblazoned with enigmatic phrases which they clandestinely install in random public places for the public to discover. They then create large-scale photographs of the signs in situ.
Creps and Ross will give a talk about their work at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Also new to the neighborhood, the Mass Gallery — run by an artist collective — has had a busy time since opening its new space during the last EAST tour in November. Mass' quarters in a converted warehouse behind H-E-B on East Seventh Street include a few artist studios as well as a 1,500-square-foot gallery, the scene of a busy and popular roster of inventive exhibits and happenings. (The building is also home to the aerial dance group Sky Candy and the hot glass makers at East Side Glass Studio.)
"(Saturday's event) is kind of a big coming out," says Aaron Dubrow, one of the Mass collective. "It's intended to be creative place-making. There's a lot going on artistically in East Austin, but sometimes it can seem pretty insular. This is way to open the doors more."
When: noon to midnight Saturday
Information and maps: www.eastaustinarts.org
Exhibitions at participating galleries:
"The F.R. Etchen Collection: Selected Works and More" and "Fahamu Pecou: All Dat Glitters Ain't Goals," Big Medium at Canopy, 916 Springdale Road
"Brooke Gassiot: The Stories Our Neurons Tell," Co-Lab Projects, Project Space, 613 Allen St.
"Not How It Happened: Joel Ross and Jason Creps," Tiny Park Gallery, 1101 Navasota St.
"Wally," MASS Gallery, 507 Calles St.
Noon to 6 p.m., Urban lawn games, MASS Gallery
"The Edge of Animation Station," young artist stop-motion animation activities, Big Medium
2 p.m., artists' talk with Joel Ross and Jason Creps, Tiny Park Gallery
2 to 6 p.m., Brooke Gassiot's "Scar Party," Co-Lab's Project Space
3 to 5 p.m. Monofonus music showcase, MASS Gallery
7 to 10 p.m., opening receptions at all galleries
8 to 10 p.m., outdoor film screenings at MASS Gallery
10 p.m. to midnight, closing party, Big Medium
By Luke Quinton
May 22, 2013
It is a universal truth that kids love 3-D glasses. Like holograms, smelly stickers and View-Masters, the red and blue paper versions pulled back a layer of the world that was otherwise invisible.
The artists who use this vintage tech in the exhibit "Red Left Blue Right" now at Grayduck Gallery pull that sense of wonder back into their adult art and the effect of walking in the gallery and putting on the glasses is pretty trippy.
If it's more trompe l'oeil than a third layer of depth, make no mistake: More than a few of the works in "Red Left Blue Right" exist in several dimensions.
Dan Forbes superimposes fashion photographs over a second image. Close one eye, you'll see the model; squint the other and it's a flower — or a skull. Look with both and it's something altogether different — a distorted amalgam of them both.
"One side of your mind is telling you it's red, the other side is telling you it's blue — and they're not mixing," says Phillip Niemeyer, the show's co-curator. "It's not purple."
It just short of shimmers. It's what he calls "hot violet." "It isn't a real color at all," Niemeyer says.
Other artists made art that pops out to greet you. Tanya Newton-John makes animal, floral, insect cornucopias that might be the most fun in the show, with bees, bears, lilies and leaves stacked in different layers that move as you move.
"That's very difficult to do," Niemeyer says. "I love how perfect and glossy it is."
As Niemeyer points out, what we call 3-D is known as "anaglyph" 3-D. It's technology that's been around for about a century, but it will always hold surprises for our brain.
"Red-blue sounds catchier, but we're using red-cyan," he says.
That specific color is vital, because if the paint doesn't match the glasses, it won't code the art correctly for your brain.
Austin's Shawn Camp has several works that play with color and movement, paintings that trick the colored squares to dance above the foreground. Intriguingly, most of the work is compelling without the glasses. Dana McClure's series, "Red Meets Blue," blends lyrical strips of red, pinks and blues on calligraphy paper.
Others are more unsettling — but only with the glasses.
Not to be outdone, the show also has a record. Yes, an actual vinyl album for sale, called "Double Mono," recorded just for this show. It plays in the gallery as you enter, with tracks from Spoon's Jim Eno, !!! and Octopus Project, which also follow the left-right theme.
Each band recorded separate tracks into the left and right channels — turn the balance left and you'll hear a track that runs completely independent. Turn it to the right, and you'll hear the other half, the aural equivalent of 3-D glasses.
The show has a heavy New York contingent, a healthy cross-pollination, thanks to Niemeyer, a graphic designer who lives in Austin but maintains an office in New York. He originally brought many of these artists together for a show in Brooklyn, and at Grayduck, the Austin contingent includes Camp, Joseph Phillips and Rebecca Rothfus.