Art in the Funk-town
Hood Tour 2005
Story + Photos by J R Compton with comments by Anna Palmer
I'd never made the trek to the Grove for the Art in the Hood Artists' Studio Tour. Never all that much wanted to, more maybe felt obliged this time, since it's lasted and people drop mentions in conversations. Besides, it seemed like it might be fun.
It was, fascinating as a people and places tour, more maybe about real estate, strange-looking cars, bridges and landscape textures than art at every stop. But grand fun as visual discovery and exploration.
We brought my trusty taper and an evolving plan to record our comments, a camera each and a willingness to drive around in circles in strange parts of the city. I'd pictured Pleasant Grove as a bleak, cluttered landscape. And a lot of it was — light industrial and mish mosh zoning for miles.
Pond Scum Pool with Floating Object
But the website download map wasn't much help — ugly, inelegant, nothing keyed and no address numbers on the geo part, no web sites, e-mail addresses or mediums listed, although Anna made quick work of some inadequacies, keying studios to the artists list, creating a simple geographic plan for our approach.
A sub map to B&A Glassworks eluded us entirely. We didn't know where that was and didn't care enough to get another map to track it down. It showed LBJ south of where we were, confusing us, but then we were never really sure where we were out there, let alone north, south or sideways.
Horny ceramics by Mark Epstein on his back porch
Our first stop on the winding way through The Grove was Mark Epstein's house, studio and yards in a ratty, unkept up neighborhood with a clutter of art in the front yard.
Through the dark tunnel of a wood-frame home, out a back porch packed with "horny ceramics with a medieval look," into a large, colorful, and textural back yard and studio, with verdant garden plots and ponds — all replete with stories of hundreds of herons and owls visiting, a thunderstorm that flash fried all the fish, and a pond scum pool floating with what Mark said was a dead cat.
Inside the dark studio out back Anna pointed out this lovely bit of local color. I'd always heard people who live there called Grove Rats. But this was the real deal, dead and disheveling. We thought it odd that neither cat nor rat had been removed for the tour.
But what the Epstein estate was all about was texture. Detailed texture in his funky ceramic vessels, fine green texture in the furry green gardens and goldfish pond in front and rich soil plots and water features in back — and all the other grisly details.
Overall, a delight of rustic realism and a great place to start the day's tour.
The Morpheus Company store
Our second stop was the day's big disappointment. The Morpheus Company was in a nicer and better kept, upper Middle, mixed race, green and hilly neighborhood, itself overlooking a house all cluttered with stone lions and bad-taste yard sculpture, so at least we weren't shocked.
As we walked back down the hill, owner Russ Sharek called after us, shouting "if you have any good pictures of my studio, E-mail them to me." Not likely, I thought, dripping an ironic, "Yeah, right."
It wasn't a studio. It was a glossy gift shop set in what might have been a living room, but with no semblance of living or working artists. The walls were plastered with insipid, sugary sweet rainbow paintings with long texts by Kathleen Warwick — nothing new or original. And slick retailing.
more Grove local color
Anna liked the jewelry, because the lost wax had been pulled into sinuous strands like taffy, but we agreed the nicest thing about the visit was the chili jam, pine nut, and pesto torte.
When we got free and settled into our taped commentary, I had to agree it was truly "creepy." As we pulled away, "Okay, one good, one bad."
I'd looked forward to seeing old-acquaintance Roy Cirigliana's place that I'd heard mention of for decades. I have some of his work and knew him to be an intriguing character with serious talent, good stories and an amazing wardrobe of black leather. But a sign in the driveway warned "Studios closed because of illness, thank you, The Hoodlums." We were disappointed.
As we sat in front noting details on his dark blue and subtly customized home, we more and more wanted to see inside. It looked like a real artist lived there, and we wondered what kind of disease and would we catch it if we ventured in, but we did not.
Continued on Hood page 2 and page 3 >
counter installed February 5 2006