The Austin Chronicle

Where the Art Is

The Eastside is home to more than 70 artists, and they're opening their doors to you on May Day

April 30, 2004, Arts

If you want to know where in Austin the newest hotbed for art is, where clusters of studios are taking root and art popping up more profusely than wildflowers, just check the map for the spring East Austin Studio Tour: 45 sites. Seventy Austin artists. Everything from sculpture to paintings to prints. Ceramics to photographs to glass. Clothing to pottery to tattoos. And more.

EAST is a network for visual artists to promote their work collectively and to direct public awareness to the Eastside's dynamic cultural community. The sites on this tour are varied: Some are homes – literally, you can snack in the kitchens – some are add-on studios; there are kilns and structures, highly landscaped outdoor areas, even organic farms. The voyeurism this offers is interesting, as is the architecture, and, of course, the art.

The architecture of the Eastside is developing at a sustainable pace, with many homespun designs rivaling Houston's Orange Show and other tourist attractions. There are cool places to go in the afternoon, like Cafe Azul and Cafe Mundi, and after-dark entertainment choices like Head East Wednesdays at Big Red Sun, with live music on the patio, and the Longbranch Inn.

The spring tour takes place Saturday, May 1, 10am-6pm. Consult the map to find out which studios are where and discover a few highlights to which you might pay special attention. To learn more about the individual studios, visit

Frisbie Design Concern (2)

Heavy metal is cool – not the music, the sculpture. Frisbie Design Concern will show just how elegant an I-beam can be. Founding artist Brian Frisbie told me, "Having people in my studio is like showing off my underwear drawer." Visitors see the inner workings, the tools, and the raw materials, which, in Frisbie's case, are particularly raw, rusty. But this just makes his finished products all the more impressive. His signature line of vases, featuring Erlenmeyer flasks and test tubes sprouting out of blocky metal and concrete bases, are well balanced and have a nice faux-scientific vibe. Ordering several cases of Pyrex glass for a dark warehouse prompted an investigation to determine if this was a drug lab. Ha. No, it's simply the modern designs of mad professor Frisbie. Saturday, Barbara Frisbie will be on hand to discuss her husband, and Brian Bowers' photography will be on display.

Big Red Sun (5)

Head East is the year-round slogan of this amazing shop just east of I-35. Its architecture and landscaping are invigorating. Giant glazed green pots filled with moss and bromeliads surround you. The patio is used for concerts on Wednesday nights. Inside the house are original artworks mixed with handy and crafty things. Big Red Sun is a family business that offers landscape design and maintenance, and the family's knowledge of plants, their superb personal style, and a great network of local artists all aggregate into this highly soothing environment.

Fisterra Studio (6)

Charming and creative husband-and-wife team Todd Campbell and Jennifer Chenoweth build a little bit of everything: furniture, upholstery, painting, and metal work. They are experimental, and they mix mediums like crazy. Jennifer is a bright artist, and Todd is an amazing welder. His metal signature of late is a webbing of 3-inch elliptical shapes. He chops a standard square steel bar into thin pieces, power-hammers them into flat donuts, then connects them for use on the backs of couches and chairs – it's employing a common material in a savvy manner. Chenoweth and Campbell practice environmentally sound green-building techniques. Their rug and the bases of some end tables are made from reused wine corks.

Andrew Long (11)

A longtime dancer and performance artist, Andrew Long has really started to focus on painting in the last few years. He's self-taught, but his mentor, Lance Letscher, is one of the best around. Letscher's influence is evident in some of Long's more minimal pieces, with soft off-white shapes stacking up in small, collaged panels. However, Long's temperament is much more vigorous than Letscher's; you can see him quickly scratching into the wet paint in some layers. Long's natural intensity carries into his visual work, which is often small scale but densely layered and complex.

Ryan McKerley (16)

Ryan McKerley has been throwing pots for years, and his ability on the wheel is well known to area potters. He makes bowls, teapots, platters, and cups, using understated colors in his glazes, usually two tones. He has developed a wax resistance process to basically etch a pattern into his glazes. Sometimes orange lozenge shapes wrap around a cup, or simple stripes emphasize the roundness of the forms. His broad experience with the medium means you get a world-class glaze that is easy on the eyes, and a unique composition. The best part is how the cups fit in your hand, balanced and efficiently functional. That's what they were born to do. There are no weird crevices, so they are easy to clean. What's hard is deciding whether his fine work should go with the dishes or on the mantel.

Peter Staats Photography & Design (18)

Peter Staats photographs things commercially for clients, but he does his own artwork, also. His latest series, of folks on the Eastside, is quite poignant. There are portraits of old men with glossy, untrusting eyes and cute kids. He seems to really enjoy his camera, sometimes setting up staged poses, other times just shooting from the hip and documenting his neighborhood. He built his studio and lives in the house with his wife and kids.

Alonso Rey (26)

Alonso Rey, originally from Peru, likes people and psychology. His boisterous personality really comes through in his artwork. He paints himself, his wife, his friends, the at-risk students from his day job, people at coffee shops, basically anyone. I think he's romantic in a classical sense because he really adds a lot of narrative elements to his work. It's not just a head shot; there are always other metaphors involved. He's very honest about his emotions and his journey though life.

Ethan Azarian (30)

Any listing of local self-taught painters must include Ethan Azarian. Azarian's productivity never ceases to amaze. He's one of the most prolific yet laid back painters I've ever met. He refuses to type a résumé, he's comfortable having people in his home, he lets people watch him paint, and he'll serve strangers chili if they ask him art questions. His work is fun, bright, almost perky, and perfect for summer. His wholesome demeanor and easy charm have made him a darling of the art scene in Austin. His In House Gallery has moved to the Eastside's 02 Gallery.

Pandora Studios (31)

Sun McColgin is sometimes a commercial welder whose ironwork is seamlessly integrated into trendy places like By George. But he also makes sculpture with clean lines and simple forms that often repeat or stack elegantly. He uses concrete and metal and experiments with resins. His finishes are soft and provide a nice contrast to the massiveness of his forms. McColgin thinks his affinity with concrete may stem from growing up in Houston. Whatever the source of inspiration, his shapes are imbued with elegant lines and voluptuous shadows. He's learned much from his artistic mentor and father-in-law, sculptor John Christensen. John's daughter, Ryah Christensen, is a skilled artist as well, painting epic narratives and fabricating large mosaics. Ryah and fellow maniac mosaic fabricator Pascal Simon are two women who are not afraid to get down to the nitty gritty. Mayan designs, an interest in history and myths, and bright patterns permeate their work.

Utility Research Garden (32)

David and Patty Cater of Utility Research Garden are a great team. They offer custom metal work, primarily designed and welded by Patty, and landscape services. David's approach to gardening is interesting. He says, "We mainly foster the growth of monocarpic plants, which means that they live life, bloom, and die." He makes plants sound like mayflies – very temporal, very heroic. This is funny considering Patty has a background in theology. They are generous with their ideas about landscape design and customized home environments.

splinter group (40)

Brian David Johnson, Chris Levack, Hawkeye Glenn, Joseph Zambarano, and Mark Macek are amazing self-employed designers who share a facility as the Splinter Group. There is no Tom Clancy scenario going on here, just hard work and awesome design. Each designer has his or her own niche and style. Collectively, these guys can build everything: top of the line wood and veneer work, custom metal fixtures, ceramic elements, glass, even lighting components. Their work is all around; flipping through portfolios at the Splinter Group, you see a veritable who's who in contemporary architecture and decor. The group is led by the fearless Macek, whose creative abilities reflect his background in architecture – perhaps that's why his designs are so strong. Macek's knowledge of building materials and functionality is intense. (Ask him about his nori veneer sushi benches for Whole Foods in New York.) Sometimes when you commission a builder, you hear, "I don't do that part of the job." At the Splinter Group everything is possible, even belt-sander races.

Blue Genie Art Industries (40)

Rory Skagen, Dana Younger, Kevin Collins, Chris Chappell, and Michael Schliefke. Damn, would you guys stop working so hard? Take some time off from your Styrofoam floats, commercial commissions, mold-making classes, managing interns, Web sites, printing shop, and special-event rentals. Just make some really personal fine art. Well, OK, they have. Skagen's new series of large, kitschy, sexy paintings is bold and amusing. Younger's new mixed-media series, using the banner printer in combination with tightly composed collages of found images, is very strong. I was admiring these and said, "I like these hordes on horseback. What are they?" Younger says they're "scanned from Afghan money. I went to the bank and exchanged for some." Ha. As if he weren't busy enough, he's trying to come to terms with his relationship to the people we're fighting on the other side of the planet. Art can give us all some room to add personal details and peaceful narratives to otherwise overwhelmingly scary circumstances. The Blue Genie complex continues to crank out creative projects and attract talent. The studios are currently housing the prolific figurative painter Michael Schliefke and Chris Chappell, a colorful landscape painter. Hopefully, Schliefke will be handing out hot dogs again.

The Fresh Up Club (41)

There will be a sweet installation at the Fresh Up Club on Saturday. David Wilcox will cover the room in sod and project a giant cheeseburger onto the landscape. I think the piece is about how ranching affects the environment and how our lust for burgers is monumental and unstoppable. In any case, this is a one-day art show, so go scope it out. The boys at FUC will be working hard to set up and document this rather complicated site-specific installation. They'll also have the club open later in the evening, unlike most of the other venues on the tour.

Philippe Klinefelter (43)

These grounds are so cool; there are giant plugs of granite out in the yard and sometimes hay-bale stacks. Black chickens run around freely, and a network of paths connect Philippe Klinefelter's studio to Ginko Studios (No. 42). Neighbors Melanie Schopper and Sunyong Chung use outdoor kilns to create delicate nerikome-style ceramics. Klinefelter does large-scale stone and wood sculpture. His forms are fairly mammoth in size, but his attention to texture and grain can give a feeling of intimacy. He leaves parts rough and glosses up other areas, sometimes creating delicate inlays. His style of building is very organic and curvilinear.

Bolm Studios (44)

It may seem like miles from nowhere, but sometimes that's the point. This rapidly expanding studio area and gallery is home to Sodalitas and several others. These artists are responsible for taking a leadership position in the community, organizing and promoting EAST. Go over there, and give them kisses. Their artwork is amazing and on display in half of the space is New York graphic artist James Victore. Together they are building up the visual arts community in Austin while simultaneously developing their cool urban graphic style. This group's achievements just keep stacking up.

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