Return to the WEST
If it's May, it must be time to go touring studios and art shows on the sunset side of I-35
The third time is, as they say, the charm, which is just added incentive to dive into WEST over the next two weekends, as this will be the third round of the West Austin Studio Tour. The first two proved this spring sibling to autumn's East Austin Studio Tour to offer a comparable wealth of visual-art wonders west of I-35 (and east of MoPac, south of Highway 183, and north of Ben White). Which is hardly surprising, since WEST is organized by Big Medium, the same folks behind EAST. Their beautifully designed print catalog (available at the WEST Group Exhibition location, 6406 N. I-35 Ste. 2850-A, and all branches of the Austin Public Library) reveals 241 stops showcasing work by more than 350 artists. Obviously, a tour of that size and scope requires some advance planning. Details about the participating artists and studios are available online, of course – www.west.bigmedium.org – and that aforementioned WEST Group Exhibition is a terrific first stop for seeing samples of work by more than 160 of this year's participating artists. But as you plot your itinerary for the 2014 WEST – May 10-11 and 17-18, 11am-6pm – we'd like to offer a few modest recommendations of studios we like. – Robert Faires
Sonya Berg, 1500 Ruth
Artist Sonya Berg combines photography and painting to create landscapes that disrupt our expectations of the form. She's about to open her studio for the third time for the West Austin Studio Tour, so the Chronicle asked Berg what she likes about WEST and meeting her artistic peers. – Caitlin Greenwood
Austin Chronicle: What has your involvement with WEST been prior to this year, and what do you expect at this year's showing?
Sonya Berg: The first year it was wonderful to meet a number of people who had been collecting and following my work for years but had not personally connected [with me]. WEST continues to be a casual opportunity to meet neighbors, artists, and others who make up the Austin art community. This year I expect to see old friends and meet new art enthusiasts.
AC: What attracted you to WEST?
SB: I enjoy the chance to show my work in my personal studio space, as well as participate in the culture of my neighborhood. I love visiting artists' studios during EAST, getting a glimpse into the environment in which they work, and I'm glad to return the favor.
AC: Your work often blends both photography and painting to create disorienting, somewhat surrealist images. What is that process like? What do these minimalist landscapes mean to you?
SB: I draw from a collection of personal prints in which I consider the visual design interest as well as the narrative potential. The layering of paint – or straight collage, as in my most current work – creates an unsettling shift between visual depth and surface texture. I consider the landscape imagery as metaphor for control of the land against the power of nature. While we try to find comfort in the natural world, nature is sometimes a force that dangerously overpowers us.
Valerie Fowler, 1211 Ravine
If you're already enchanted with Valerie Fowler's complex pen-and-ink work, because you've seen and heard Ivy and the Wicker Suitcase, the "Illustrated Earmovie Musical" that she created with her husband Brian Beattie and their friends, then you'll be glad to know that much of the artist's new pieces, large and small, are in the same medium. Fowler's also exploring panoramic drawings on scrolls that are cranked along with musical accompaniment, and there will be several performances during WEST tour hours. But in case you're otherwise unfamiliar with Fowleriana, note that the artist's large oil paintings, also on display, are as complexly rendered as her pen-based illustrations – but with so many colors that it seems as if Fowler's brush excretes a liquid version of those millefiori glass paperweights, and that she's taught herself how to wield this fantastic instrument for the most compelling results to be found on canvas. – W.A.B.
Melissa Grimes, 901 Cumberland
Melissa Grimes is an oil painter who specializes in "people, figures, and nudes," as witness her ongoing "Swimmer" series in which young locals are seen beating the heat via immersion in the light-dappled depths of cool, clear water. The beauty and skill of rendering these works is sufficient for a recommendation, but they're not the only reason to visit her South Austin studio: Grimes also works a professional knack for collage that creates vibrant, Frankensteined tableaux like you'd see illustrating the most eye-catching pages of Texas Monthly, RARE magazine, and The Wall Street Journal (because, hey, some of them have). – Wayne Alan Brenner
Glenda Kronke, 6910 Shirley
If you've ever seen the exquisite beauty that is a living coral reef, maybe you've wondered how that might be replicated in the supramarine world we airbreathers have to live in. Glenda Kronke seems to've decided that the best way to do that is by working in glass – and you can revel in the colorful objects, both practical and decorative, created with kiln-formed glass while inspired by the more exotic tropes of nature above and below water. – W.A.B.
Rebecca Bennett & Karen Maness, dwg., 912-B Congress
This time of year, that big sky of Texas really comes alive – a vast vault of blue with mammoth snowy cloud-beasts migrating across it – and you don't have to get too far from our urban landscape to feel the hugeness of the space above us and the richness of its character. That's what painters Karen Maness and Rebecca Bennett are exploring in their joint exhibit "LOOK WEST: Land Inspired Paintings," showing at the architectural firm dwg. The two craft crackling dialogues between land and sky, finding that tension in the horizon and the spectacle of the firmament in vibrant, dramatic hues. A look at these will rekindle the awe a Texas sky commands. – R.F.