Art From the Streets: Taste the rainbow of flavors

What makes the annual "Art From the Streets" exhibition and sale interesting is the way it shows not how different homeless people are from us, but how much we all have in common

<i>Beach</i> by John Moonbelly
Beach by John Moonbelly

What is an artist? What is the artist's intention? These two short questions apply directly to the two-day "Art From the Streets" exhibition and sale put on by Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. Each year, volunteers work hard to provide painting supplies, matting materials, frames, photos, and exhibition space so people who are homeless have a chance to show off their artistic talents, interact with their fellow Austinites, and raise money to pay for necessities such as food, clothing, and housing. Since 1992, homeless individuals have earned more than $350,000 from sales of their art, through the annual shows produced by Art From the Streets. This year, more than 2,000 works of art will be for sale at the show this Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11 and 12. Not surprisingly, the artists get excited about this show.

It's incredible to me how art operates as a mental escape. When life gives you lemons, you can always paint lemonade. I'm amazed at how cheerful, how normal, even provincial, the subjects of most of the works by these artists are. Certain pieces have a drama to them, haunted with dark shadows or creepy orange lights, but much of what I see portrayed by these folks is a love of nature, a desire for pleasure, vacation fantasies, and some booty calls. Topics include the setting sun, beaches, Picasso-like faces, moonlight, landscapes, and flowers. The love of nature is sincere; the feeling of freedom from sleeping under the stars is tucked in there. One artist, Debbie (Zebra) Overs, made a painting, Four Monkeys, which has quite a bit of depth and supercute monkeys playing in the trees, all of their faces smiling with direct frontal gazes. These little animals seem to beg you to go play with them. The direct eye contact is something I noticed in a bunch of the work here. In Jonathan Curran's Street Scene, five faces gaze out with big mouths and hats. It feels like a circus scene in a big-top tent. Instead, it's some buskers in front of a bar downtown at night. The cars are small and unimportant, while the pedestrians own the corner in a symmetrically orderly fashion. The artificial lighting is well captured; it's a cozy kind of piece. John Moonbelly brings technical consistency to his oasis. The palm trees are finished with great texture.

This is a big show, with paintings of churches, barns, watermelons, and birds – there's something for everyone. And the show is interesting, not because of how different homeless people are from us, but because of how much we all have in common. Go and ponder this show for a while and get to know your local street artist. Taste the rainbow, or at least get a glimpse of it.

The 14th annual "Art From the Streets Show and Sale" will take place Saturday, Nov. 11, and Sunday, Nov. 12, noon-5pm, at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, 500 E. Seventh. A $3 admission donation helps defer the cost of art supplies and materials for the twice-weekly art classes run by Art From the Streets' volunteers. For more information, visit

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Art From the Streets, Austin Resource Center for the Homeless

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