Saturday was one of those days that make us dread winter, where the biting, wet cold makes your legs feel like lead weights, and an Indiana Jones marathon sounds way more attractive than anything that involves opening the door. That didn’t deter arts enthusiasts and holiday shoppers from hustling down to the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood for the monthly First Saturday Art Crawl happenings. Considering the weather, it was fortunate that many events had shifted a little earlier in the day to coincide with the third annual Porter Flea Holiday Market, which packed out Track One and an adjacent heated tent with artisan craft vendors and eager shoppers starting at 11 a.m.
When I arrived around 4:30, the rush was dying down, but Monkey Ink Design’s Alicia Waters and Drew Binkley were glad for the break (nothing could make a bunny suit you got your nephew any less disturbing, but the latest pattern in their hand-printed wrapping paper series, inspired by A Christmas Story, at least delivers the creepiness in style). Word on the street is that just shy of 1,000 patrons passed through the doors in the first hour, and traffic remained steady all day.
Local fashion and accessories designers were strongly represented among the booths, as well as graphic design and print shops. For the first time in the show’s history, Grimey’s set up a booth, and staffers Anna Lundy and Rodrigo Avendano took turns on the wheels of steel all day. Being an audio guy, displays for handy and handsome devices to amplify the output from your smartphone or tablet also caught my eye; Zachary Sullivan’s Thump Trunk upcycles old luggage, while Joseph Hazelwood’s GMORadios repurposes old portable radios, heaters, and other aesthetically curious objects.
A few doors down, the old May Hosiery building looks like the set for a John Carpenter movie, but the galleries and studios inside are quite inviting, if not exactly warm this time of year.
Ground Floor Gallery and Studios’ Open Access: Past, Future, or Present exhibit featured pieces by several artists who work in the space regularly, including Mandy Brown, Heidi Martin Kuster, and self-described “queen bee” Janet Decker Yanetz.
The thematic thread running loosely their work is identity, or how we define ourselves in an age of instant communication, and a live performance installation by Erica Ciccarone and Theatre Intangible founder/Scene contributor Tony Youngblood tied it all together.
Hidden from the audience inside a giant white cube, the pair set up a miniature photo studio, in which Erica posed. The finished images, posted in real time to multiple social media accounts and projected on the front of the cube, created a digital fingerprint for an imaginary character named Charlotte Blight. Some in the audience interacted with her via smartphone, while others simply watched her fictional life story unfold.
Around the corner at Zeitgeist, I encountered some of the more conceptually abstract work on display in the neighborhood today. Photographer Gieves Anderson’s Reckonings literally makes an event out of watching paint dry, capturing the transitional period in a freshly made painting’s life while it’s still wet, reacting differently to light, and vulnerable to subtle influences.
Anderson’s highly-detailed closeups, which scale up images at the brush-stroke level to prints about 2-by-3 feet, explore the medium as much as the method in a way that those of us who aren’t painters usually don’t get to see. From a practical viewpoint, they’re also pretty.
His pieces, the most striking of which are collages that use found photographs and other materials, explore the conscious and unconscious ways we relate to language and meaning, passing time, and our own history and how it manifests itself in our interpretation of whatever we see. Though most of the objects presented are fairly simple, almost minimalist constructions, the presentation invites the viewer to analyze his or her own reactions. The work left me puzzled until I took advantage of another great feature of the Art Crawl: DeGuira was on hand, and kindly offered to talk to me about it for a few minutes. He explained his personal connections to and interpretations of the images in depth, which gave me a more complete frame of reference.
Next, I dropped in briefly on the exhibit of screen-printed posters at Fort Houston. Most folks with an interest in outstanding work by Grand Palace’s Bingham Barnes, Boss Construction’s Andy Vastagh, and others picked up colorful, reasonably priced prints from their well-stocked Porter Flea booths; the gallery hall was empty, but the multi-use space was still a-buzz with activity. Fort Houston members were busy with personal projects in the woodshop, and Tracy and Sondra of Hip Hues were kicking off a hands-on class in the print shop for individuals who’ve caught the print bug, are a little curious, and don’t mind getting their hands dirty.
My last stop was Cleft Studios on Humphreys Street, where owner Loney John Hutchins introduced me to Julia Martin, who will be opening a gallery and studio in the building’s main room on December 14. The month’s pop-up exhibit in the glass-front room features the work of Shane Kennedy, currently living in New York but with roots in middle Tennessee.
He explained that this collection of work, with the exception of the Juggalo on a cell phone, are all characters from a novel he’s writing. Most of the designs are adapted from large-format murals (some of which have been as large as 30-by-60 feet), which are his installation of choice. He loves the idea that, when his exhibit closes, his work will be hidden under layers of paint, and will remain hidden under whatever work is on display. To capture some of that magic, each of his portable pieces is painted over an earlier abstract piece.
Despite the inhospitable weather, Wedgewood-Houston continues to be a welcoming creative hub, with exciting new work on display and new spaces opening up every time we drop in. As yet, there’s no organization in charge of promoting the area and its events; it’s just the heads of individual businesses agreeing on a way forward. Though scuttlebutt is that an official board may come together soon, they’ve done an impressive job so far relying on their instincts and the quality of the experience on offer. Issues on the table include moving their Art Crawl festivities to another night of the month to avoid overlap with the Arcade events, exciting evidence of healthy growth — there’s just too much awesome work to fit in one night. Another less-critical issue is a snappy nickname for the neighborhood; as long as they come up with something better than “Houdgewood,” my sophomoric portmanteau, all will be well.