Expanding East

The third East Austin Studio Tour doubles the days, doubles the fun

<i>Victor</i>, by Sodalitas at Bolm Studios (48)
Victor, by Sodalitas at Bolm Studios (48)

The East Austin Studio Tour is back this Saturday, Nov. 20, and – drum roll, please! – Sunday, Nov. 21. After fielding complaints in the spring that the semiannual tour of Eastside artists' studios had grown so that it was impossible to see everything in one day, the organizers have officially made it a two-day affair. Which points up just one more thing that's nice about EAST: It's artist-managed, and the artists actually respond directly to their audience.

<i>Visions & Dreams</i>, DeCola & Eusebi Studio 
Visions & Dreams, DeCola & Eusebi Studio (41)

This phenomenon of listening and interacting is an important aspect of the tour. There are no professional handlers separating you and the person making the art, and you are free to speak your mind to that person about what you see. Co-founder and participating artist Shea Little says, "It's great to talk to people who feel less inhibited and talk much more openly than they would if they were in a gallery situation."

That's not to say that all artists are as enthused by the tour setup as Little. Interaction with an audience can be stressful for the loner painter and the isolated craftsman. For viewers, though, the contact with creators can be unexpectedly stimulating. Jana Swec, also a co-founder of the tour, says, "I think people are surprised by the intimacy they feel when they enter an artist's studio. You feel more connected to the artist's thoughts and work." That may be because in many cases these studios are not designed as public spaces. These are places where the artists live as well as work, and it's an act of bravery for these folks to open up their homes to the world at large. And viewers can take advantage of this fact to pick the brains of that solitary creature, the artist, in his or her natural environment.

Painting by Oscar Riquelme at Art Amici (1)
Painting by Oscar Riquelme at Art Amici (1)

Since they launched EAST just a year ago, Bolm Studios artists Swec, Little, and Joseph Phillips (who also collaborate under the name Sodalitas) have seen the tour change quickly. Artist participation has increased from the original 28 studios in 2003 to 51 locations this fall. Little says the accompanying catalog they produce for each tour has also grown, giving more "East Austin businesses a chance to advertise." Significantly, there is expanded interest from the community and the media – after speaking with the Chronicle, the Sodalitas trio dashed off to another interview at KUT. So how do the founders organize such a large group of artists? "It's like herding cats," admits Phillips. On the other hand, the growth has been beneficial in attracting outstanding talent. "It's all about strength in numbers," he says. "Once people see someone they respect on the tour, they all follow."

Respectable artists abound on this tour, as do impressive goods of all kinds. Obviously, there is a diverse selection of fine art – paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures in a range of styles – but the tour also boasts furniture, lamps, jewelry, functional ceramics, and handmade purses and clothes. Prices vary widely, but keep in mind it is basically wholesale – very affordable for top-quality items. For all you "think globally, shop locally" folks, this may be the perfect opportunity to start your holiday shopping.

Mosaic by Pascal Simon at Pandora Studios (35)
Mosaic by Pascal Simon at Pandora Studios (35)

The Fall EAST tour promises two full days of eye candy and hospitality. There isn't room here to describe everything on the tour, so I recommend surfing the Web site to develop a personalized viewing strategy or grabbing one of those free catalogs with maps for that. Still, here are a few spaces that are new to the tour this fall and worth noting:

• The House of Taurus is the residence of the amazing Chia. She will show her new fall/winter fashion line. (Last year it was furry Mohawk hats with gorgeous capes with tassels and fuzzy snap-on bracelets.) Her partner, Javier Arredondo, aka DJ Big Face, will be exhibiting his superflat paintings along with ceramics by Yellow Field Pottery and hand-crafted gifts from Buddha Hill. In addition to the goodies inside, this house and yard are exceptionally well designed by local mod firm KRDB. It was featured in Dwell magazine.

<i>Late</i>, by Helmut Barnett (3)
Late, by Helmut Barnett (3)

• Helmut Barnett makes large-scale abstract paintings using clean bold shapes and balanced geometrical forms. He exhibits primarily in Houston, so this is rare opportunity to see his work locally.

• Studio Zero-One is a promising-looking furniture design company in the 701 Tillery building.

• Red Door studios will be showing paintings, as will RedStart Paint Design.

The East Austin Studio Tour takes place Saturday, Nov. 20, 10am-5pm, and Sunday, Nov. 21, noon-5pm. For more information, visit www.eastaustinstudiotour.com.

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Austin visual arts, East Austin Studio Tour, EAST, Shea Little, Jana Swec, Bolm Studios, Joseph Phillips, Sodalitas, House of Taurus, Chia, Javier Arredondo, DJ Big Face, Yellow Field Pottery, Buddha Hill, KRDB, Dwell magazine, Helmut Barnett, Studio Zero-One, Red Door Studios, RedStart Paint Design

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