Austin Art Space Gallery & Studios

Austin Art Space offers happy art rainbows hidden in a strip mall

Arts Review

Austin Art Space Gallery & Studios


What does it mean to make art in a cube back behind Northcross Mall? It's not so bad.

Creating art is ultimately a solo endeavor, and where better to hide out and get work done? I recently toured the Austin Art Space Gallery & Studios, which opened to the public last fall. The gallery is in the front, and Rebecca Bennett, Jan Knox, Valerie Walden, Nikki Atkinson, Martha Keating, Keva Richardson, Claire Hees, Marilyn Rea Nasky, and Debbie Willhite are the nine artists in residence. Together they've been creating their own bodies of work, hosting two-week exhibits, and keeping weekend gallery hours.

I dropped in the Saturday before Easter and discovered artist Hees, who was painting a white Siamese cat lying in a bunch of purplish crocuses. This seemed appropriate for spring. She told me the painting had been commissioned for a little girl who was very specific about what she wanted: "a big cat with its eyes open and a little cat with its eyes closed." I found Hees cheerfully mixing lavender colors for the flowers. On her table were paint swatches to reference the bright salmon wall on which the painting will be hung, a pencil grid underlying a cat on a canvas, and, next to her palette, a laptop beaming away the Photoshopped flower/kitty montage.

According to Hees, commissions are a way to avoid getting stuck working as a barmaid. A recent graduate from the University of Texas' Department of Art & Art History, Hees paints realistically in oils, working from photographs. The artworks in her studio cover a mix of subjects, but they all share dramatic contrasts, cropping, and a soothing earth-toned palette. One series is based on photographs that her parents took at a winery, with barrels and bottles, dark shadows, and a barn feel. Another series involves a dissected flower bouquet she had received. In this abstracted smaller group, she approached each of the compositions in a different way, creating a backlit piece, then one in tight close-up, and other flowery points of reference.

Hees is younger than the other women who share the space, but an artist seeks out like-minded colleagues; age and subject matter don't seem to matter so much. A good studio situation is when everyone shuts up and paints in her own corner. This art space is chock-full of new works drying on easels and older framed pieces, tight commissions mixed with loose, drippy, experimental pieces. Overall, there are lots of landscapes in a bright, productive blend of watercolors, oils, and glazed acrylics. The Art Space looks rather barren from the outside, but upon entering, it's immediately personal and cozy. A dream night in North Austin: Eat an early sushi dinner at Korea House (one of my favorite restaurants), go check up on Hees at Austin Art Space, then go see a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Three is the magic number for getting me to hang out happily on Anderson Lane.

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Austin Art Space Gallery & Studios, Claire Hees, Rebecca Bennett, Jan Knox, Valerie Walden, Nikki Atkinson, Martha Keating, Keva Richardson, Marilyn Rea Nasky, Debbie Willhite

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