Phillip Wade and Friends on the West Austin Studio Tour
The artist has some creative friends show in his Clarksville home
Eve Larson was born in Austin in 1942, and at around 8 years old, she started art classes with a local portrait artist, Edna Collins. She has been creating ever since. For most of her painting career, she has done hazily rendered oil works, mostly of people. Remembering a time when she was chided for not partaking in painting trends toward abstraction, Larson shrugs with the surety of a veteran artist: "I like the added element of human drama." For the entire seven-year run of the West Austin Studio Tour, Big Medium's springtime equal-opportunity self-guided art tour, Larson has participated and shown her work at a little stop in Clarksville on Lorrain Street.
"Just the smallness of Austin back in the Forties and Fifties," Larson remembers. "Austin was a pretty small place where people knew each other." The city's art community still has an intimate feel; it's easy to constellate mutual friends. There are some divisions, though, one being the externally imposed I-35, which serves as the central barrier between EAST, the punkish but perhaps now mellowing older sister, and the younger WEST. Vis-à-vis I-35, Larson is west, but too far so for WEST. (Boundaries are as follows: west of I-35, east of MoPac/Loop 1, south of Highway 183, and north of William Cannon Dr.)
"Those of us who are a little farther west have to ask people within that range if we can share their studios. I have a very good friend who lives in Clarksville who has a studio there. I share his studio. That's Phillip Wade," Larson says.
"He has a house in Clarksville on Lorrain Street, and it's not a big house, but he's remodeled the garage into a studio for himself and he shows his work in his actual studio and allows Theresa and me to exhibit our paintings in his living room and dining room. We have wall-type stands where we can display our paintings and we have tables. It's a little crowded, but it's really adequate. People can come through the house and out through the garage. We usually have refreshments in the kitchen, which is on the way."
Speaking by phone from his converted garage studio – picture a vaulted ceiling and lots of light – Phillip Wade says, "Out here, it's much more cluttered because it's a working space and a big mess. The last couple of times I tried to hide the mess and make it look like a gallery, people said it was ridiculous. People want to see a studio, it's a studio tour."
He says hosting other artists and friends in his home is not much of a hassle. "I have the house set up for Airbnb, so it's uncluttered." From his garage studio, Wade sets about creating his softly lit, eclectic mix of realistic acrylic and oil paintings.
When I spoke with him late one Friday morning, he was just getting ready to attend a weekly figure-painting group with his WEST-mates. "Eve and I have been painting together for 30 years, I think. She suggested she show in my dining room," he says. "We're all rather traditionally trained and have some similarities. We all paint on Friday together, Friday art work. Theresa does fantastic work, I do some of that myself."
Theresa Bayer, a member of the painting group and the third and final "living room" portion of Wade's studio stop this year, paints in acrylic across a variety of genres, but most salient are her fantasy works, which often take on myth and fable as subject matter. She has some advice for potential buyers, for whom the tour offers an ideal opportunity to invest in local artists. "Don't try to make it go with your couch. Buy what you love because you're investing in yourself, in your own life, something you want to hang on the wall and live with."
As a viewer herself, she appreciates when artists group together for a tour stop, like this crew has done on Lorrain. "I've been to the EAST show years ago and I liked it when artists were clustered together," she says. "At the time, you could drive and walk, drive and walk, and now you've got EAST and WEST, but it's more spread out."
She seems to like the little spot they have carved out for WEST. "This will be my third year showing with them," she says. "I already know them from the [figure painting] group and we seem to get along well. Phillip has a lovely home in a great location and I think our work goes together, too."
Larson remembers a serendipitous sale from last year. "I had a special moment last year when a man who I didn't know came in with his wife and started looking at my ballet paintings. He said, 'I'm looking for a Mother's Day present for my mother, who used to be a ballet dancer.' And I said maybe I knew her, and, of course, I knew her very well. We had danced together and taught at Ballet Austin." (In addition to painting, Larson has spent much of her life as a ballet dancer and teacher, a practice that appears as the subject matter in recent works.) "If you've lived in Austin all your life," she continues, "you get that sort of thing." That intimate community from the Austin of Larson's childhood is still around in some ways, and WEST is just the occasion to get out, see it, and take part.
West Austin Studio Tour 2018
The spring sibling to Big Medium's East Austin Studio Tour keeps blooming, with more than 381 artists, exhibitions, and happenings included this year, all spread between I-35 and MoPac, from Research on the north to William Cannon on the south. The free, self-guided art event spans two weekends, May 12-13 & 19-20, 11am-6pm each day, and as with EAST, the best guide to WEST's wonders is the extensive catalog, complete with map. Free catalogs are available at all library branches, while supplies last. Or you could get one and support Big Medium by attending Due WEST, the tour's kickoff event and fundraiser, this Thursday, May 10, 7-10pm, at the Lawn at Seaholm, 800 W. Cesar Chavez. For more information, visit www.west.bigmedium.org. – Robert Faires