My very favorite Austin event takes place yesterday and today. It's called Art from the Streets. The city homeless shelter has a large art program, and once a year they have a show where their clients sell their art pieces. It is the shelter's major funding source for the year, pulling in $80K in 2005, the first year I went, all by selling pieces priced from $20 to $300.
When I first attended, I was completely blown away by the size and quality of the show. In my excitement, I bought not one or two but five art pieces (which was about four more than I could afford). All of them are displayed in my house.
So yesterday I headed downtown to see the show. Since I was better prepared for it this time, I set a spending limit in advance and had specific wall spaces I wanted to fill with whatever I bought. I was hoping for more work by a couple of the artists I bought from last time, and of course any new artist discovery I could happen upon. I also have a much better idea of where Mark's art tastes overlap with mine now, which makes picking out things for the house we share less stressful--I was flying pretty blind the first time, though he ended up liking everything I bought.
Once again, I was overwhelmed and overjoyed. The show is amazing. First, the quality of some of the work is astounding--lots of different styles, mostly paintings but also drawings and prints and collage and photography and this time even jewelry. Majority modern and abstract styles, but definitely not all. And yeah, some of it is amateurish and not stuff I'd want shown in my house, but a lot of it is absolutely wonderful.
Most of the work is sold without frames, backed on foam core and covered in protective plastic. Each artist gets his or her own space where art is hung on the walls and laid out in bins and on tables, and the customers walk through and pick up pieces they like. At the end, there is a cashier who tallies up your purchases and identifies them in the records by artist. All of the artists are on-site, at their booths, so you can talk to them about their work.
I walked through the entire show once before picking anything up this time, which I think was a good plan. After walking through, I knew which artists I wanted to look closer at. Specifically, I was interested in the work of Howard Cook, from whom I bought an amazing self portrait the first year I attended that hangs in our living room; Zebra, who does mostly naive-style animal paintings that I just love and from whom I also bought a piece in 2005 that hangs in our living room; Richard Vasquez, whose abstracts just about knocked me down when I walked by them; James Briggs, who makes jewelry and was new to the show this year; and John Curran, who had an amazing display of seascape type pictures that would be perfect for the empty wall space in my bedroom.
After a second (and a third) walk through, I had my art in hand. I could easily have spent a LOT longer deciding, but after something I think I wanted got snatched up from under my nose, I decided it was time to be decisive. There were several Howard Cook pieces I'd have loved to have, but his work is priced quite a bit higher than some of the other artists, so it would have meant blowing my whole budget (and then some, probably) on one piece, so I passed them up. I also passed up Richard Vasquez's abstracts, although one of them nearly brought me to tears, because I didn't think Mark would like them. I bought a gorgeous necklace from Jim Briggs that I will probably gift to someone for Christmas (but I might keep). And I bought two paintings, with which I couldn't be happier. The first was a large one from Zebra of a rhino. I talked to her briefly and she explained that she did a series of three rhinos from a picture from National Geographic, but she felt that this one had female energy so I should take it. It's a wonderful simple rendering, fairly close up, in thick paint. Her style seems almost childish until you look closer and realize that the details she chooses to focus on (in this case, the expression on the animal's face) are rendered perfectly realistically. It will go beautifully on the same wall with the picture of monkeys on a beach we bought from her in 2005. The second picture was from John Curran, whose work I'd admired previously but not purchased. He had a lot of paintings of large, bright, simple seascapes that I'd love in my bedroom, but I ended up being the most drawn to a smaller one which features a female nude from behind in the foreground and the ocean in the background. He also had some Picasso-esque Cubist paintings that I loved, but I knew Mark wouldn't like them, so I passed on those. In the end, I came in under budget, which is great, and with three gorgeous pieces of art.
If you are in Austin and you haven't been to Art from the Streets, go. Go now. It runs 12-5 today downtown at the ARCH. If you aren't in Austin, look to see if your city has this type of program. If not, come to visit me next November. Seriously, the feeling I got walking through that show yesterday simply cannot be described. Not only is it a chance to buy some really amazing art at prices that are actually doable, and to support a great thing at the same time, but it's a wonderful environment. These artists are people who are likely not treated well in much of their lives, and here they and their work are considered with absolute seriousness. They are artists and they are treated as artists, and behave as such, and it's a rare and great pleasure not only to be able to purchase their work, but to be able to see it in this state and talk with them about it. Go.