Local gift suggestions from the Art Elf Prize Patrol
For the Eyes
You can find many eminently giftworthy paintings, drawings, sculptures, prints, etc., by local visual artists at just about any gallery or studio in the city (quick guides: www.inthegalleriesaustin.com, www.eastaustinstudiotour.com), though most will only be featuring work by a handful of artists, so if you're not sure what you're looking for, this could involve a lot of legwork. Fortunately for you, December offers a number of places where you can find works by dozens of Austin artists under one roof.
The grandpappy of them all is the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar (through Dec. 24, Austin Music Hall, Third and Nueces, 447-1605), now in its 30th year of providing "an alternative marketplace with a relaxed and informal atmosphere." Emphasis is as much on crafts as art, with a wealth of pottery, jewelry, blown glass, and fabrics alongside paintings and prints, plus an assortment of soaps, candles, perfumes, clothes, toys, and more. Making the experience yet more appealing is the fact you can shop to the sounds of some of the city's finest musicians; Toni Price, Jimmy LaFave, Marcia Ball, and the Austin Lounge Lizards are but a few acts still slated to perform. For a full schedule, visit www.armadillobazaar.com.
Head due west a few blocks, and you'll be at the door of the Gallery Lombardi Xmas Expo (through Jan. 7, 910 W. Third, 481-1088), where you can see an astonishingly eclectic array of work by 55 Austin artists, including carscapes by Bonnie Gammill, abstract plaids by David Jones, pop toys by Tim Doyle, new purses by Matthew Rodriguez, suit devils by Edmo Martinez, and platters by Alejandra Almuelle, curated by the Chronicle's own Rachel Koper. For a preview, visit www.gallerylombardi.com.
If you're looking for something smallish and are working with a budget to match, you shouldn't miss the Arthouse 5x7 Holiday Art Sale (through Dec. 31, Jones Center for Contemporary Art, 700 Congress, 453-5312). Every work is the same size 5 inches by 7 inches and was created by a Texas artist for one of Arthouse's 5x7 Art Splurge and Exhibitions. The best part: They're just $100 per work, and some are only $50. Plus, being a member of Arthouse nets you a sweet 20% discount. For more, visit www.arthousetexas.org.
Keep heading east on Seventh, hook a hard left at Springdale, swing into the parking lot of Goodwill, and you're a snowball's throw from one of the hottest and hippest of the city's seasonal art sales. In a warehouse at the back, under the benevolent watch of the Blue Genie is the Blue Genie Art Bazaar (through Dec. 24, 916 Springdale, Bldg. 4, 444-6655), boasting work by more than 80 artists and artisans, from the Austin Craft Mafia to Eyebeam cartoonist Sam Hurt to ... well, to see just who, visit www.bluegenieart.com/art_bazaar_2005.html.
For the Ears
'Tis the season for carols and songs of winter, but that needn't mean the same old holiday tunes that get played until your ears bleed. Capital City Men's Chorus has recorded a compilation of less-familiar songs of the season, most of them drawn from Celtic lands, with works from Canada, Austria, and northern Spain to round out the mix. Northern Lights ($15) may be found locally at Barnes and Noble, Waterloo Records, Lobo, Tape Lenders, and Things Celtic, or ordered from CCMC. To learn how, visit www.io.com/~ccmcaus.
If that whets your appetite for more Celtic music, you owe it to yourself to check out the Texas Early Music Project's The Bonny Broom and Other Scottish Ballads ($15), featuring a who's who of local singers, among them sopranos Janet Davidson, Kathlene Ritch, and Jenifer Thyssen; alto Stephanie Prewitt; bass John Aielli; and tenors Carr Hornbuckle, Chris LeCluyse, and TEMP director Daniel Johnson cutting loose on 17 18th-century Scots tunes, including "The Banks of the Devon," "The Winter of Life," and the one we can't do without on New Year's Eve, "Auld Lang Syne." Copies may be ordered directly from TEMP by visiting www.early-music.org/broom.html.
One of the great listening pleasures of 2005 has been Through the Green Fuse ($19.99), the first professional recording by Austin choral ensemble Conspirare. As noted in a review published in these pages, "It's dense with the qualities that make Conspirare such an astounding choir: sensitivity to text, purity of vocal tone, and, of course, those long, lush harmonies, with voices melding seamlessly into sounds that are achingly lovely." To order a copy, visit www.conspirare.org/purchase.htm. (While you're there, you might want to grab a CD of one of Conspirare's perennially sold-out seasonal events, Christmas at the Carillon.)
For the Funny Bone
Bill Hicks lives! if not in this world, then in recordings of his inspired comic rants, and Rykodisc has just come out with two additions to the Hicks canon. Sane Man, the first film of a complete Bill Hicks performance, has been available on video for years, but now the 1989 film has been released on DVD ($19.95) with some 30 minutes of added material, including unseen footage from his Outlaw Comics years in Houston. Salvation: Oxford November 11, 1992 ($17.99) is a double-CD set of an unedited two-hour show that Hicks made you guessed it in Oxford. England, in 1992. He's in fine form, railing against the greedy and stupid which is to say, politicians, fundamentalists, Hollywood and media types, and, well, Americans in general though it's somewhat unnerving to hear him rage against Bush and Iraq, even when you know he means Poppy and the first Gulf War. It's as if his spirit is too angry to rest, and he's raving from the grave.
(By the by, on what would have been Hicks' 44th birthday, the Bill Hicks Foundation for Wildlife Rehabilitation will present a viewing and listening party for these Hicks releases. A suggested donation of $5 will go to the foundation. Friday, Dec. 16, 8-11pm, at the Dirty Dog Bar, 505 E. Sixth. For more information, call 461-2355 or visit www.billhicks.org.)
The Flaming Idiots are no more, having disbanded last year after a successful 20-year run as a comedy team, but you can now see them whenever you want in the comfort of your very own home, thanks to The Flaming Idiots: Their Very, Very, Very, Very Last Show Ever! ($19.99), a DVD of their farewell performance at the New Victory Theatre on 42nd Street in New York City. See Gyro, Pyro, and Walter (aka Rob Williams, Jon O'Connor, and Kevin Hunt, respectively) go out on top before a Broadway crowd doing many of their signature routines, along with a splendid photo montage of the master comedians during their younger and hairier days working the Renaissance Faire circuit. To order, call 888-GET IDIOTS or visit www.madammogulproductions.com/flamingidiots.
For the Craft
Got a theatre artist on your list? One looking to fan the coals of that creative fire inside? Celebrated dramatist and head of UT-Austin's playwriting program Suzan Zeder and her husband, acting teacher Jim Hancock, have produced a book that offers new ways to understand and invigorate one's creative process. Spaces of Creation (Heinemann Drama, $18.95) focuses on the notion of space and how we perceive it, both in the material sense (geographically, architecturally) and the psychological (as children, in dreams, in myths), giving the writer new territories to explore for subject matter and in terms of structure in one's work. Best of all, the book includes a series of exercises, mental and physical (!), that aim to free a writer from that prison of a desk and chair and possibly even the limits of convention.
For the performer, Chronicle arts writer Barry Pineo has laid down a set of principles that seek to guide an actor to richer, more honest performances. Acting That Matters (Allworth, $16.95), drawn from his years of leading a weekly workshop for actors, lays out his deep respect for these artists and the basics of their craft essentially, the art in the writer's words and how to play them. His approach is eminently plainspoken and practical, allowing anyone who cares about acting to grasp the heart of the matter.