As Austin's Atlas continues to turn its eyes towards Tillery St, this article from Austin Towers seemed appropriate to post.
A changing sense of place is inevitable, we know cities are living creatures in a constant state of evolution, constructed by people with varied and conflicting agendas. Unfortunately, no matter what your agenda, I don't think anyone can immediately and single handedly construct a meaningful sense of place. Something like that takes years to evolve. And you can't buy time, you have to be patient and wait for it. So when it comes time to demolish and re-envision something...no matter what its proposed aesthetic or use, the place won't feel the same. In some rare instances, a new project may somewhat underscore and augment the feeling that is already there, but in my experience that is a rare occurrence.
I can't remember how soon I stumbled on Tillery Street after I moved here...but I remember the faraway feeling it had...and still has. Guthrie Lumber, @ TIllery and Gonzales, helped to contribute to that feeling-- it was an older complex, filled with a lot of ambiguous open space, rough around the edges metal buildings, creaky wood sheds, and wrapped in a vine covered cyclone fence. I wasn't a regular patron since it was wholesale, but I briefly rented some warehouse space there in 2012, and would on occasion pick up lumber for work projects. Business was booming as of late, and it was filled to the gills with palettes of wood stacked high (it wasn't filled to the gills back in 2012). I loved the fact that they still had a lot of wood delivered via train (it backs up to the old Missouri Pacific line and has its own spur) and that you could count on catching a good whiff of cedar when you drove/rode/walked by.
As East Austin continues to loose its light industrial spaces, associated jobs, and convenient (raw) material access, I mourn their loss and let my appreciation grow for the places/businesses that continue to remain. I don't really know what else there is to say--or more importantly--do. Regardless, I recommend taking a moment to savor the things around you for the way they are, because in the current economic boom, it seems they won't be that way for long.
It is hard to lose things....people may be the hardest thing to lose. But it's hard to see buildings go too--unexpectedly, and quickly. Murals are no different. Even though there is no three dimensional change to the city when one is painted over, it reflects a cultural change, and/or a change in values...something bigger than just the paint. And once they're gone, you can't get them back. 12th and Chicon has been hit hard this week, losing two within such a short time.
Read more about it on KUT.
Through the randomness and serendipity that is Facebook, I had the luck of meeting local artist + designer Jessica Fontenot at the April Austin’s Atlas event. When I learned about her recently completed One Year of Buildings project, I wanted to dig a little deeper. And so we have our very first ever Austin’s Atlas interview! Many thanks to Jessica for the inspiration and willingness to discuss her work and process. With a little more luck, I hope these interviews become a regular addition to Austin’s Atlas.
Project title: One Year of Buildings
Date Range of work: April 2016-April 2017.
Media: Paper, watercolor, ink + text.
Cities it encompasses: Mostly Austin, with a bit of NYC, Chicago, Seattle, Richmond, and Tulum, Mexico
Project Origin: It began as a part of the annual 100 day project started by Elle Luna, an artist out in CA. Near 100 I was so excited about the change and progress in my hand skills that I decided to push it to a year.
Project Website: jessicafontenot.tumblr.com
Jessica’s Website: jessicafontenot.com/
How long have you lived in Austin and what inspired your move here?
I grew up outside of Houston and rowed crew during high school. We came to Austin for state championships and I fell in love with the city. Once I graduated college in West Texas I found a job in Austin and moved down here. It's been five years! I'm enjoying living in East Austin right now, during this very transformational time for this neighborhood. It feels like something that needs to be documented and so for now I plan on staying and making work about the area.
As someone who is obsessed with learning about and documenting the city, your project carries a lot of personal resonance for me, so I’m curious, how did this project come about?
Whenever I travel the buildings are what I can't get enough of. And even here just driving around Austin, I'm constantly noticing and taking photographs of buildings. I stare at all the patterns and the details that are unique to each one, noticing what objects are next to each other, and the overall feeling of the place. I hadn't attempted the 100 day project with Elle Luna the previous year so in 2016 I knew I wanted to give it a try. Made sense to draw a subject that I'm already obsessed with, so buildings it was.
The visual content of the work has a consistent form: most often singular buildings, typically--but not always--cropped out of context, loosely rendered in ink and watercolor. However within that format, the range is great! For me, one of the memorable runs of images on the Tumblr shows the Ideal Soul Mart, the Mark de Suvero sculpture @ UT, a Hobby Lobby, followed by the Capitol in succession. How do you chose/find your subject matter?
I once heard an illustrator say that a way to be successful in a long-term daily practice is to build rules around it. The composition of a single building, with some surrounding objects included and others left out, was my main rule. At the beginning when it was only going to be 100, I mostly took pictures of buildings around me, from my car on my commute or while I was out. As the project went on, I took pictures whenever I saw something to have a bank to choose from all the time. When reserves were low, I made intentional trips around town to get the ones I wanted. I like representing all buildings, from places of worship to a MetroPCS. Those places, like Hobby Lobby, are a part of our landscape. Not our idealized landscape, but our reality. Whenever I did one like that, of a Subway or a Verizon store, people really responded. It instantly hits everyone. And it's grounding in some way (maybe?) to see a place like that portrayed through an art medium, which is making it more appealing than we all know it really is. Or not, I'm not quite sure haha.
Were there things you discovered through this project/practice that you wouldn't have otherwise?
My interest in architecture, the idea of place and who it belongs to, has all grown immensely while I was working through the year. Those interests were already there, but now they're concrete parts of me and what I make work about. City planning is something I recently have delved into as a result of the project. I've been attending city debates on gentrification, panel discussions of gerrymandering and similar things to listen to informed, engaged people talk about these topics. There's so many underlying currents to where people live and how it affects their entire lives that I am trying to learn about and am thinking on how to convey.
What is an impactful personal aspect of this project?
Another huge learning curve from this project has been: just do it the way you'd do it. Meaning, whenever I go to tackle a new project or a new medium/style, I used to think I needed to look to how others are doing it (stalk artists on the web, read all the articles about it, take a Skillshare class on it) before I start. This project helped cement the idea that I should just start and try. And adjust as I go, as I learn. That's how I create my most original work that people respond to more because it has this intangible characteristic to it. I didn't watercolor before this project. I learned by trying it every day, over and over. I was allowed to make mistakes because the next day I'd start all over again. And it didn't matter to anyone but me.
Whose work inspires you?
This spans across lots of different people and mediums. Top of mind I think of: Rackstraw Downes, Berthe Morisot, Kerry James Marshall, Gemma O'Brien, Walker Evans, Magnum Photographers in general, Christoph Niemann, Mark Rothko, Kaethe Kollwitz. Smart, creative individuals who are thoughtful in their work and have a strong belief in their work.
What places inspire you?
Almost any place. That sounds ridiculous, but honestly even the pipes to the electric meters in alleyways gets my camera out. I like unique details, interesting patterns, random compositions, etc. Places with a history are also inspiring. I want to capture it in a way that helps deliver the story to more people. It's kind of like I find out something and get so excited about it I just wanna tell everyone I see about it.
When I think about Paul Madonna's india ink renderings of San Francisco neighborhoods and Wendy Macnaughton's watercolors in Meanwhile in San Francisco, I am in awe of the work as is, but it makes me fall in love the San Francisco even more. I feel the same about your work, and Austin. Of course, I spent most of my formative years in SF, and have lived here for the last 11 years. So I have a deep care and appreciation for these places, and the work reinforces that. Along those lines, place based projects get me pondering about how someone who lives here and sees and experiences the project, versus someone who is from elsewhere. How do you think the work changes or augments peoples’ perceptions and feelings about a place?
I should've listed Wendy earlier as inspiration!! I love her work too, and actually finally got the Meanwhile book the other week. I think work resonates so much deeper with people very familiar with the place in the work. Your question is sorta about the flip-side of this thought, which is the work changing the viewer's perception of a place they are already familiar with. Tough question! For the drawings in this series, I think they force people to slow down a bit, and take in more than what they think they know. Most of the time we're zooming by the places included in this series, and there's no time to take in the details, or notice it's beauty. This series is about noticing places and realizing that we're all surrounded by these things that we don't pay enough attention to since we're always looking ahead driving or down at a device.
I had a funny experience recently that relates to this question. I went on a short artist residency in Seattle earlier this year. I had never been there before so I was someone wholly unfamiliar, trying to take in a lot and decide what was important/exciting enough to put to paper. At the end of my residency, on the last night, I sat down with the couple who run this residency and we slowly went through all of my drawings I had made during my time there. Many times, as they were going through the daily drawings from that period, they would exclaim or laugh when they turned the page because it was a building they knew well, either doing business there or what have you. I had chosen things with no background knowledge, and I got to watch someone who knows the city intimately be surprised by the things I chose. It was so interesting and thought provoking to me about what it means to make work about place, be it known or unknown. And how place affects how people react to the work.
Can how someone documents a place affect how you feel about it? Come to the One Year of Buildings opening on May 19th to find out! Or at the very least, get lost in Jessica's instagram feed for a bit.
We probably already knew this, but in case we didn't: The American Heart Association says "the simplest, positive change you can make to effectively improve your heart health is to start walking." For starters, they suggest exercising 150 minutes a week.
Read all about it on the City of Austin's site. Or for a quick snippet from the site listed above:
The Downtown Austin Wayfinding Project is an initiative to make it easier for residents, commuters and tourists to find Downtown Austin destinations and attractions.
The “wayfinding” improvement project, an action item outlined in the Downtown Austin Plan adopted by City Council in December 2011, aims to integrate a range of navigation and communication tools for traversing the downtown area, such as signage, brochures, kiosks and smart-phone applications.
“Wayfinding” explores ways to navigate from one place to another, and focuses on highlighting the experience of the path and eventual arrival of the wayfinding user. The system will underscore downtown’s unique and eclectic identity, as well as improve movement for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.
We'll be hearing more about this project soon!
For the US.... Per this recent report's charts/data...Fort Worth is one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians and bicyclists. Austin faired much better! Boston proved to be the safest for both according to their metrics.
Visit the results here.