The Utter Daveness of Dave!

A farewell tribute to artist and co-founder of the Fresh Up Club Dave Bryant

Portrait of Dave Bryant by Heyd Fontenot
Portrait of Dave Bryant by Heyd Fontenot

A self-made man, artist, and co-founder of the Fresh Up Club, Dave Bryant is moving to the Big Apple. For an acclaimed artist and curator, it's a common move. What is uncommon are the unretractable memories that Bryant has given to countless area visual artists over the last few years. This is a tribute piece, because I know he has spent countless hours and his own dollars so that Austin could see his art shows and his vision. To me, Bryant is oddly intense, kind, intelligent, supportive, encouraging, rebellious, productive, and a generally fascinating dude. I look back in amazement at the time when he was too shy to meet the local artists he admired from afar, like Andy Coolquitt and Heyd Fontenot. He overcame these social fears rapidly and came to righteously and enigmatically serve as a visual arts community leader. He had the energy and smiles to see things through. I asked some artist friends to write up stories about Dave, and here are their attempts to describe the mysteriously humane and endlessly entertaining artist. He once described his art installation for the show "Ode or Odd" at Gallery Lombardi to me something like this: "I'll have some really hot rainbows, and it'll be very much bulletin board, with paper letters, back-to-school sort of stuff with markers and photographs. It will also be about Muslims. I'll get pictures from the Internet of guys with beards, like me, who could be misconstrued as Muslims just because we have beards." I listened to him and just said, "Sure, Dave." With that fourth-grader-with-a-beard installation, he made me think about freedom, the primarily subconscious aspects of stereotyping, and his childlike abandonment all at once. Thanks, Dave.

It's hard to write about Dave Bryant because, really, what does he do? Why are we talking about him? Is it because he looks like Charlie Manson and doesn't wear a shirt indoors? Is it because he's always nursing a Lone Star and you know it's probably his fifth? Is it because he's down with the kids and adored by Ann Richards?

Or is it his art? His halfassed Crayola-stripe doodles on computer paper juxtaposed against Agnes Martin quotes? What are his skills? After I abdicated from the Fresh Up Club, he'd still call me to "relight" the exhibitions. I would come to the gallery and find that the bulbs just needed replacing. He literally cannot change a light bulb.

All that said – and it's all true – I suspect we're talking about him because others feel like I do. I went to a fancy East Coast art school while Dave barely slipped through an East Texas high school, yet I value his opinion above all others on art. And I adore him to boot. Not just because of his know-how, but because he is zealous about art like a teenager who just discovered punk – rare indeed in art circles. Dave gets it and we all admire him for it.

The Fresh Up Club: Dave Bryant (l) and Peat Duggins
The Fresh Up Club: Dave Bryant (l) and Peat Duggins

– Peat Duggins, artist, co-founder of the Fresh Up Club

I remember when Camp Fig first opened, this dude named Dave Bryant used to come by all the time and tell us all these crazy ideas he had for art shows. And at the time I didn't know Dave at all, so I'd just sort of act like I was listening and nod my head in agreement. But really I was thinking that if this dude had so many good ideas for art shows that he should probably open up his own art gallery. I'm really going to miss the Fresh Up Club, but what I miss more is having Dave stop by the gallery all the time to share his ideas with me. I wish I'd known whom I was talking to at the time.

– Michael Sieben, Camp Fig founder, artist

Back in May of 2003, I was lucky enough to get involved with the FUC's inaugural show, "Red Hot American Summer." It was about 500 degrees, and they had yet to land any AC or any setup drywall. Dave and Peat worked like crazy drilling into concrete walls and setting up a wonked-out clamp light situation that still predominately lights the walls of the FUC. At the time I think no one had any idea what the FUC would amount to. Over the next two-plus years, the FUC got walls, painted them white, and became an art force of sorts. Just like anywhere, they bombed at times, and when they bombed it was hard, but it kept you coming back, because they did it like no one else was doing it. It was worth taking the risk of seeing a show that didn't hold up, just to see all of the shows that came through so strongly. Having worked with Camp Fig and been responsible for putting shows together, I can only appreciate more the effort that Dave and Peat gave. They mixed it up, kept it new, and took chances that no one was really taking in Austin. They had BBQs, wrestling matches, food/beer/glass fights, dance parties, some nice music, some awful music, and some art, too. Seeing the FUC come to an end makes me want to cry, but I won't. Thanks again, Dave and Peat! Hooray!

– Sterling Allen, Art Studio Studios, artist

I first met Dave at a party at my house. He came over like the next day and gave me a painting. Then he kept calling me and trying to give me stuff. I thought he was a stalker, so I steered clear in the beginning. Next thing I heard about him was that he had organized an art event at two dudes' house that turned out to be a front for a coke business. That made me laugh. Then he started hanging out with Mullins, and I would always see him, and he wanted to talk real serious-like about the art business. He seemed like a gullible sort, so I spun many a tall tale about the history of art; New York City; the art departments at UT, UCLA, Cal Arts; and about the state of art-making as I saw it at the time. Then one day he asked me if I was fucking with him, and I said "Well, ... yeah, but you seemed to be enjoying it." We were friends after that.

The Utter Daveness of Dave!

I didn't want him to name his space after the Fresh Up Club 'cause I really liked the original and was kind of sensitive about gentrification and whitey stealing culture from black folks. Then he wanted to steal the original sign from Fresh Up Club, and I told him I would kill him if he did. I think it's a really good name, though. Then Elizabeth McQueen named her record The Fresh Up Club. That was kind of embarrassing.

But Dave's Fresh Up Club, which we later shortened to Fucked Up Club, was a totally different scene. They always had tons of people at the shows. And not the usual people you see at art shows. Really young people that were really dirty and sweet and not interested in talking about art careers or painting genres or sculpture in the expanded field. They talked about motorcycles and cooking weenies and walking through forests. It was refreshing to say the least.

And the music was different, too. It wasn't the usual tasteful DJ set up in the corner providing a smart backdrop for yuppie yak. These guys like to put the band right in the middle of the art show and have a fucking concert. The objects on the walls were usually only one part of the evening's visual stimuli. I don't mean to suggest that they dissed the art. The art was good ... always. It was pure and honest and usually handmade and always from the heart.

Then Jason [Singleton] and Roy [Stanfield] did a show there and took it to the next level. I don't think they had a concert inside their space. They used the space differently. They made me scratch my head. I think that was one of the best shows I saw at FUC. But back to Dave Bryant. That's one silly motherfucker. I forgot to tell you about the first time he showed me his work. They were Polaroids of people having sex. They were a little fuzzy, but very good compositions, and a really interesting idea. I thought he spent hours setting up the shots with models or his girlfriends or people he met on the street and asked to pose for him. Then he told me he just pointed the camera at a porno mag and pushed the button. I guess he got me back for fucking with him earlier. And I really did enjoy it.

Then there was the time we took the road trip to Chicago for the Stray Show. Jason [Singleton], Hana [Hillerova], me, Dave [Bryant], and stinky Jon [King] in a minivan packed with art. Fresh Up Club stole the show that year. I think that's when Dave realized that people in the art world – important people – were taking note of his gallery. I think it gave him confidence and fear at the same time: to realize the loss of freedom – of doing your own thing in the remote backwaters of Texas. It seemed like everybody wanted a piece of Dave Bryant. Then, of course, I can't forget the time we were in Marfa at one of those art pilgrimages, and we were camping out for a couple of days and drinking a whole lot and generally feeling kinda crusty. A group of us were standing around after the Claes Oldenburg lecture with Don, who obviously had a really nice hotel, and Dave just blurted out, "Hey Don, can we take dumps in your hotel?" Then there was that pause where Don was actually considering it, and everyone else wondering what he had just asked on our behalf, before we busted up laughing. I remember the look in Dave's eyes. It was a combination of crying and laughing. I could tell he wasn't trying to make a funny.

Thanks, Dave, for all your energy and talent and kindness. Thanks for bringing Dearraindrop by the house, thanks for letting me show at FUC, thanks for the Portland hookups, and for everything else I'm forgetting. You've come a long way and there's still a long way to go. I luv you. Good luck in the Apple.

– Andy Coolquitt, artist

I'm overwhelmed by the surprising success Dave and Peat had with the FUC. Finally, an Austin gallery showing artists from Texas who weren't known as "Texas Artists." Sure, other spots did that, too, but it seems like most of those places had to go to NYC to look for artists from Texas. I think they just started looking for people whose art they believed in ... almost spiritually; it was never about the art or artist as a commodity, they showed a lot of art by people who didn't go to art school, but they never never showed any "folk art." And whether everything shown was good or not, it was always thoughtful. Something was different, and people could tell; suddenly, the cool kid thing to do was to go to an art gallery in a garage warehouse with a huge steel open sewer grate in the center of an asphalt floor.

– Reed Posey, artist and man about town

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Rachel Koper
From the Walls to the Page in <i>ATX Urban Art</i>
From the Walls to the Page in ATX Urban Art
New book catalogs Austin's street art, murals, mosaics, and graffiti

March 24, 2023

"Piecing It Together" Gives Credit to Austin's First Graffiti Artists
The Mexican American Cultural Center exhibition captures the lore and legends of the local graffiti scene early on

Jan. 24, 2020


Fresh Up Club, Dave Bryant, Peat Duggins, Ode or Odd, Gallery Lombardi, Michael Sieben, Camp Fig, Red Hot American Summer, Sterling Allen, Art Studio Studios, Elizabeth McQueen, Jason Singleton, Roy Stanfield, Stray Show, Hana Hillerova, Jon King, Dearraindrop, Andy Coolquitt, Reed Posey

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle