|Gerardo Arellano, Untitled, 2011|
When attending the juggernaut that is E.A.S.T you may be overwhelmed, much as I was. There are hundreds of artists exhibiting paintings, sculptures, jewelry, poster design, and more along with bevvies, snacks, and tons of people. The tour is on two consecutive weekends, Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 6 each day. What was once a modest booklet that viewers could pick up to see a list of each artist's work and where to find it, has now been made into a chunky, high gloss, full color book of high quality photographs of many of the more spectacular artists work for the year.
The book gives you a good idea of the diversity and variety of works that can be seen. You may plan a schedule(and check a map) as works are exhibited in clubs, galleries, and stores all across East Austin. I had limited time to be able to see things(because I work on weekends during the day) and also had friends who wanted to meet up and go see stuff, so my plan was already kind of made. On the first Sunday, I went with my friend Brook to go see this place on Cesar Chavez called ARTPOST since a friend of hers, Jim, who owns the space, had been in the shop earlier in the week dropping off info flyers and had invited us to come check it out. They had 60 different artists exhibiting in small studios over a sprawling art complex. It was pretty amazing to see so much in one place.
We met an artist that made poured concrete sculptures that could easily be moved from space to space and even rearranged due to their construction on metal rods. We walked around inside multiple studios and I picked up on the fact that so many textures and so many different types of materials were being displayed here. Some artists had simple pencil drawings on sketch paper tacked up to the wall, others had full-on framed canvasses with price tags and titles and others were kind of a mix of the two, selling screen printed t-shirts and handbags along with their collections. To me, it was a little disjointed and hodge-podge, but that is the nature of the beast. Let us not forget, that EAST is a business. Each artist pays a submission fee to display their work along the tour. They sign up for EAST hoping to make a buck or two and get some exposure. Which is all well and good, it's a boon to Austin's thriving economy, gets people out on lovely fall weekends to appreciate the arts, and can even help to educate people in the community about how to get started or find inspiration/outlets for creativity.
The following weekend, I had a couple of hours after work and decided to check out an exhibit at The Volstead on East 6th entitled Los Tres Tex Mex, featuring the work of Aldo Ramos, Gerardo Arellano, Federico Archuleta, and Bradley Williams accompanied by clothing from ZZZ Threads and beaded Huichol Indian Jewelry. There was also a live band the day before and a documentary about the Huichol decorated guitars being auctioned off as part of the Belles Artes Alliance to raise funds to produce events that promote Latino culture and arts.
Aldo Ramos, Untitled
The exhibit space has its drawbacks. Art is hung on the walls and propped up against fence line with no titles or even artists names. The primary space where things are exhibited makes it hard to see, whether you are inside(where it is a dark bar) or outside(where natural light has to suffice in the daytime, and a single string of christmas lights in the night). However if you look around at the art, and the communal space you are in you start to understand why. These artists are using what they have, which is sometimes very limited, to convey what they find important. They find us where we live. Many of the artists use found materials as canvases as well as mediums. Their subjects depict their culture, from the night sky, to dia de los muertos skull figures, to integrating city life and lucha libres. These self described "border artists" are all interested in depicting life and influences from South Texas and North Mexico upbringings. The culture is unique, in expression, in use of color, and in tongue-in-cheek kitsch. Most use what they can find and allow that to dictate what materials they use for each work. Materials include: pen, pencil, marker, acrylic paint, crayon, lip liner, nail polish and found objects. All of the artists were present to talk to and were engaging when talking about the art and the Huichol culture as the primary focus for the show. I even got to meet the Huichol shaman that was there giving limpios, or spiritual cleansings.
Huichol Indian Shaman
What I really took away from this was a down to earth, communal art experience. I sat at a table and talked with friends I just made about an exhibit at the Doherty Arts Center a few years back that included a braided rug made entirely of human hair. My friend Camille was telling me about an event that had happened the first weekend of EAST at Peacock salon where she got her hair cut by a fifth grader. The laid back atmosphere of the bar, was way more comfortable to me than an art gallery and much more relatable. Living in Central Texas I am not that far from Mexico and I feel like this is some small way to merge the two cultures together. In an old East Austin bar in a neighborhood that is rapidly changing, and the culture seems to be getting lost in big city dreams, these artists are here to promote what is being lost. After all, most of the businesses along East 6th have only popped up within the last 2-3 years, replacing many that had been there for years. However, in some cases converting usable space(as is the case with the Hotel Vegas renting their old rooms out as efficiencies that are updated) mixing new with old. I for one am glad to see the sharing of tradition and the blending of cultures in my neighborhood.