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The Herradurability of Art in the Heart of Texas

UT's Raul De Lara wins $10,000 in tequila-fueled contest

By Wayne Alan Brenner and Leah Allis Moss, 4:00PM, Thu. Oct. 24, 2013

The Herradurability of Art in the Heart of Texas

The first Herradura Tequila Barrel Art competition in Austin meant that, on Wednesday, Oct. 16th, some local artist was going to win $10,000 right there in the liquor-loving heart of downtown. And that's precisely what happened.

So, OK, here was an event set up by industry giants to add a flow of creative-community goodwill to the promotion of their brand of crafted spirits. And, sure, we're all familiar with such things. (Bombay Sapphire Gin glasses, anyone?)

But – did something set this event apart from the crowd of typical brand-pimping parties a journo encounters week after week throughout the relentless news cycle? We'd suggest that something did. A few somethings, in fact: The sheer professionalism of the event, the undeniable high quality of the product being highlighted, and especially the brilliance of the artworks that resulted from Herradura's commitment to awarding and showcasing local creativity. In fact – ah, but why let a workaday journo rattle off the 411 when there are more relevant sources to hear from?

Listen: Leah Allis Moss is a bartender, beverage manager, and Certified Spirits Specialist; the native Austinite is also a popular comedian and "mildly pretentious booze imbiber." So we asked her to attend this arty event and give us her take on the scene. (Note: Moss also brought along her buddy, photographer Heather Coffey, who captured some sweet images of the art and artists, the band and some revelry; those are in our online gallery right here.)

And so, ah, take it away, Leah Moss:

"You know what I love – fancy parties, booze, and snacks. Luckily for me, Herradura called upon nine local artists to compete for a $10,000 prize. After submitting to the competition, artists had eight weeks to create a unique art piece from one of Herradura's aged oak barrels. On October 16th, their creations were unveiled at Austin's own renovated art and events space, Brazos Hall. While sipping on Herradura's line of anejos and perusing the art, we were treated to tiny fancy snacks and live music from one of Austin's best wah-wah-pedal-lovin', Latin-influenced funk bands, Brownout.

"The variety of artistic barrel interpretations ranged from the minimal, Alien egg-like work of Shawn Camp, to the Escher-style representations of drunken wanderings from Nick Schnitzer, to the Calderesque deconstruction of Wells Mason. One of my personal favorites at first looked like some ironic presentation – a plain barrel lit by two lights? – but, upon closer inspection, artist Jim Mossman wasn't being an ass, he was just OCD: He had painstakingly carved intricate symbols into the top of the barrel and detailed the entire growing, distillation, and aging process of Herrardura – etched by hand into the metal barrel hoops.

"Deciding among the creations in Austin (one of just eight cities in the United States invited to participate in the competition) actually posed the most challenging, thus far, for the judges. It came down to a fairly heated debate over three of the nine artists. As the judges battled it out, we had the opportunity to imbibe some of Herradura's specialty cocktails. With handmade syrups and bitters, the cocktails tried to reflect both the spirit of Herradura and the Austin drinking palate. Fun elements like whiskey bitters and spicy salt rims intrigued me, but the fresh juices really took over each of the drinks – making them far too drinkable for someone who likes to be in a little bit of pain when they're having a cocktail. Luckily the final decision was made before I drank down too many of the “Keep Austin Cooler,” Paloma-inspired cocktails.

"Raul De Lara, a junior art student at the University of Texas was the winner. His “lifesize” sculpture of Quetzacoatl, with handcarved movable mahogany head and pounded brass scales, was definitely eye-catching. But it was the attention to detail and the loyalty to the history and legends surrounding Herradura that made Lara the man with the big check. Just barely 21, the artist will be moving on to the final competition in Miami for the opportunity to win $100,000 – the largest monetary reward for contemporary art in America. In the meantime, Lara will use his ten grand to pay off some school debts and take his best friend to Vegas; we shall pray for their safe return.

"All in all, it was a beautiful evening with finely crafted cocktails, great music, and some of Austin's best artists rubbing elbows with people in suits worth more than their studios. Herradura really showcased not only their own craftsmanship but that of the Austin art scene. I greatly thank them for putting the hardworking artists of Austin on the map, and also for the free drinks."

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