Muertos Fest at Hemisfair in 2019.
Muertos Fest at Hemisfair in 2019. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

By Emily DiTomasso | San Antonio Current

Billed as the largest Day of the Dead festival in Texas, Día de los Muertos at Hemisfair — or Muertos Fest to those who prize brevity — will return virtually for its 8th annual installment.

The event will be broadcast as a one-hour special at 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 31, in partnership with Sinclair Broadcasting CW35.

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Jim Mendiola, the TV special will showcase San Antonio's unique take on the Day of the Dead through music, dance and spoken word performances.

The broadcast will also feature traditional elements of the holiday, such as community altars, or ofrendas. A small group of altars will be featured in mini-documentaries, allowing viewers to learn more about the creators of the altars and their subjects.

In light of the pandemic, the special will put Covid-19's impact on the Latinx community at the forefront.

"If there ever was a time to honor those we’ve lost to the disease, and to thank those farmworkers and care givers and grocery store clerks, it’s now," Mendiola said in a statement. "COVID’s impact on the Latino community has been especially hard, and we will remember lives lived and recognize the resilience of our community through altars, songs and stories of those we’ve lost."

Muertos Fest will have an expanded music lineup this year, including Grammy-award winners Los Lobos, Lila Downs and Carla Morrison, along with National Medal of Art Recipient Santiago Jimenez Jr. — the brother of Flaco Jimenez — plus live performances by local favorites Los Nahuatlatos and Tallercito de Son.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of Selena's death, so to honor her legacy the festival will showcase a performance of "Fotos y Recuerdos" featuring Chris Perez, the late Tejano legend's husband; Girl in a Coma's Nina Diaz; Mariachi Campanas de America; and Ceci Zavala.

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The program also includes performances by San Antonio poets, in addition to short films by Ray Santisteban.

For those that miss the initial broadcast, or are outside of the San Antonio market, the virtual festival will be rebroadcast with additional material on the Muertos Fest website at 7 p.m. Sunday, November 1.

In addition to the virtual fest, Hemisfair visitors will have the chance to visit a community altar and view art installations by Momo and Pompa on display at the park through November 2.

This article is republished with permission from the San Antonio Current.

The San Antonio Current, San Antonio's award-winning alternative media company, has served as the city's premiere multimedia source of alternative news, events and culture since 1986.

Heron file photo

By Brianna Espinoza | San Antonio Current

The Pearl is transforming its annual Día de los Muertos celebration into a virtual experience this year, though some in-person amenities will still be available.

The downtown development will host a community altar on site, while video of two offsite altars will be streamed on the its social media pages. Esperanza Peace & Justice Center artist in residence Azul Barrientos will also stream a an online performance on Monday, Nov. 2.

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Those looking to celebrate at home can pick up special maker kits created by local artists — a DIY catrina collage by Regina Moya or DIY skull piñatas by Manola & Maria and Lua Bash — from Feliz Modern POP, and enjoy a Pan de Muerto offered by Hotel Emma.

One of the altars on virtual display, a collaboration between the the San Antonio-Mexico Friendship Council and Mexican Cultural Institute and the Consulate of Mexico in San Antonio, will honor esteemed abstract artist Manuel Felguérez, who died this summer from COVID-19. The second virtual altar, created by local artist Kaldric Dow at the invitation of the Carver Community Cultural Center, will honor those who have lost their lives to social injustice.

Pearl’s community altar is centered on the theme of Amor y Esperanza (Love and Hope), and will be on display at the complex's Shade Structure Nov. 1-8. Dedicated to those who lost their lives to COVID-19, the four-sided altar was made by SAY Sí Artistic Executive Director Jon Hinojosa with help from SAY Sí alumni and staff. In-person visitors will be required to wear masks.

SAY Sí is also developing an interactive app so visitors can leave the names of loved ones instead of a physical mementos at the altar.

Hotel Emma and La Gloria will also have their own altars on display during the holiday.

The Pearl’s fall programming will include the continuation of its weekend farmers markets, a video series on pumpkin recipes featuring Hotel Emma chef John Brand and a curbside event for pickup of curated Thanksgiving boxes to help avoid crowded stores during the holiday season.

This article is republished with permission from the San Antonio Current.

The San Antonio Current, San Antonio's award-winning alternative media company, has served as the city's premiere multimedia source of alternative news, events and culture since 1986.

Art students flood Main Avenue during Chalk It Up in 2018. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

After 17 years of adding color to the streets of downtown San Antonio, Artpace San Antonio’s annual Chalk It Up interactive art gathering on Saturday, Oct. 10, will instead take place at various public libraries due to the pandemic.

“It’s really the time for Artpace to bring art to, literally, the streets of San Antonio and provide an opportunity for everyone to spend a day creating artwork and watching artists create fantastic murals,” said Casie Lomeli, Artpace's communications manager.

Each year, featured artists, and community and school teams, are tasked with creating themed chalk murals for viewing while the general public is encouraged to participate by creating their own chalk masterpieces on the sidewalk.

Normally, the event would bring people to blocked off sections of Houston Street and Main Avenue. This year, instead of attracting large crowds downtown, where social distancing may not be possible, Artpace is partnering with the San Antonio Public Library to split up the event between 10 libraries across the city.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, featured artists will create their murals outside the libraries; the community is encouraged to view them by visiting the library or by participating in their "drive-through experience," where guests take a predesignated route designed to allow mural viewing while staying safely in their cars.

“This year, it’s really meant to be so people can engage in whatever way they want to and in a way that’s most comfortable to them in regards to our current situation,” Lomeli said.

The following artists will be featured at these libraries:
» Central Library (District 1): Fernando Andrade, Cassidy Fritts
» Carver Library (District 2): Bárbara Miñarro, Anthony Dean
» Harris Mission Library (District 3): Isabel Ann Castro, Mark Anthony Martinez
» Cortez Library (District 4): Juan Miguel Ramos, Justin Korver
» Las Palmas Library (District 5): Joe De La Cruz
» Henry Guerra (District 6): Xavier Gilmore, Katarina Guzman
» Maverick Library (District 7): Ruth Buentello, Nathan Segovia, Yoko Misu
» Igo Library (District 8): Richard Armendariz, Alán Serna
» Parman Library (District 9): Madison Cowles Serna, Jasmeet Kaur
» Tobin Library (District 10): Kaldric Deshon Dow, Cherise "Rhys" Joy Munro

To keep downtown involved, Artpace has partnered with Centro San Antonio to hang images of chalk murals from past years in the windows of buildings along and around Houston Street. Downtown visitors are encouraged to post pictures using the hashtag “#ChalkItUpOnHoustonSt”.

Unlike last year, Chalk It Up's TeamWorks contest, where local schools and community teams create their own chalk murals for a chance to win gift card prizes, will also be conducted at a distance.

Artpace provided the 54 registered teams with "Chalk It Up To Go" kits. Teams will create their artwork in their own spaces before submitting pictures of the process and final product for judging. Chalk It Up 2020 co-chairs Katie Pace Halleran and Cristina Peña Walls will announce a winner and 17 finalists on social media at noon on Saturday.

A map of participating libraries, artwork prompts, featured artist bios and information on donating to Artpace can be found on the Chalk It Up website.

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Brigid Cooley is a Heron intern this fall. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, where she also serves as editor-in-chief of The Mesquite newspaper. She can be reached at brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

Symbiosis, Kuflex
'Symbiosis,' Kuflex Courtesy Hopscotch

By Kelly Merka Nelson | San Antonio Current

Hopscotch, the massive new art space slated to open in downtown San Antonio next month, has revealed the full list of participating artists as well as details on its food and beverage offerings.

The experiential art space will open with 14 featured installations from artists around the globe, including San Antonio's Amada Miller, Gary Sweeney, Wide Awake Creative and the San Antonio Street Art Initiative (SASAI).

The first slate of installations will include A Strange Slant of Light by Amada Miller (San Antonio, TX), Rainbow Cave by Basia Goszczynska (Brooklyn, New York), | | | L I G H T L I N E S | | | by Campbell Landscape Architecture (Austin, Texas, and San Francisco, California), Perspective by Gary Sweeney (San Antonio), Symbiosis and Quantum Space by Kuflex (Moscow, Russia), Infinity Boxes by Matt Elson (Los Angeles, California), VJ Yourself! by Playmodes (Barcelona, Spain), Color Therapy and Cloudscape by POLIS (Austin, Texas), Walls Within by SASAI (San Antonio), Show It 2 Me by Titmouse (Los Angeles, California, New York, New York, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), Laser Graffiti by Todd Moyer Designs (Los Angeles, California) and Secrets by Wide Awake Creative (San Antonio).

'A Strange Slant of Light,' Amada MIller Courtesy Hopscotch

Hopscotch will also showcase artistic interior design elements from a slate of Texas artists and artisans, including San Antonio's Justin Parr, Angelica Raquel Martinez, Flux Metal Studios, Larry Servin, Los Otros Murals and Redondo Tile.

The gallery's beverage offerings will also be integrated into the art experience. Hopscotch's bar menu will feature specialty cocktails, beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages inspired by the space's installations, curated for the gallery with help from former Deep Eddy Vodka Hospitality Director Tracy Beacham. Beverages can be consumed in Hopscotch's lounge, which is open to the public, as well as throughout the gallery space.

For those that work up an appetite at the space, Hopscotch partnered with San Antonio food truck Smack's Chicken Shack, which will relocate to the gallery's downtown patio. As part of the partnership, Smack's is introducing a #LetsHopscotch sandwich to its menu, "a decadent combination of fried chicken, powdered sugar, honey butter and donuts, that will only be served at Hopscotch," according to a press release.

Smack's Chicken Shack's is introducing a special #LetsHopscotch sandwich to its menu. Courtesy Hopscotch

"Having a career that has been rooted in hospitality and experience creation it was very important to me that the 'Hopscotch Experience' extend throughout every corner of the space so that every single detail was intentional," Hopscotch Co-Founder Nicole Jensen said in a statement.

"We wanted to create a holistic environment where food, beverage and community were an integral part of the overall offering."

This article is republished with permission from the San Antonio Current.

The San Antonio Current, San Antonio's award-winning alternative media company, has served as the city's premiere multimedia source of alternative news, events and culture since 1986.

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Artist Anne Wallace brushes mineral oil on a concrete stamp held by her helpful friend Antwan Nicholson. Photo by Bryan Rindfuss | San Antonio Current

By Bryan Rindfuss | San Antonio Current

Just before the turn of the last century, artist Anne Wallace won a commission to embark on a years-long public art project exploring the rich history of Lavaca — San Antonio’s oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood.

However, that commission came with an unusual stipulation: her artwork needed to be integrated into the sidewalks.

Taking cues from Ed Gaida’s 1999 book "Sidewalks of San Antonio" — a pictorial history that documents insignias left behind by concrete crews — Wallace set out to cement an enduring portrait of the neighborhood.

In search of stories that would illustrate Lavaca’s fascinating past lives, she conducted research at the Institute of Texan Cultures and the San Antonio Public Library’s Texana collection, combed through old city directories and Sanborn maps, attended neighborhood association meetings and spread the word organically. Her primary goal was to locate and interview residents with clear memories of how things once were — especially before urban renewal projects like the Victoria Courts and Hemisfair forced out ethnically diverse families and forever altered the flow between Lavaca and downtown San Antonio.

“I really wanted to find stories of people that remembered that far back,” Wallace said. “Little by little … I started finding people who’d been in the neighborhood a long time. … It was really amazing. The emotion of older people of the neighborhood getting cut off from downtown by Victoria Courts and by Hemisfair was pretty powerful. I got this real sense of this constant motion back and forth, where everyone in this part of town socialized downtown, shopped downtown, walked to events downtown, and that all just kind of got cut off by these urban renewal projects. Of course, the courts and Hemisfair razed big chunks of the neighborhood and forced all those people out.”

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From the oral histories she collected, Wallace created "The Unofficial Story" — a poignant collection of anecdotes she stamped into sidewalks that border the neighborhood’s quaint pocket parks.

Although visually unassuming, these curious slices of life can conjure vivid scenes: a family going to view Geronimo as he was being held as a prisoner of war at Fort Sam Houston; a San Antonio native whose grandfathers fought on opposing sides of the Mexican Revolution; oompah music filling the air; segregated dances being held at the Municipal Auditorium; a “block party” atmosphere shared by German, Hispanic, Czech and Jewish neighbors. Mentions of food also abound: beans, tamales, tortillas, oxtail, rabbit, squirrel, beef brains and scrambled eggs.

As complements to the anecdotes, Wallace created symbolic stamps to reference languages spoken in the neighborhood — Coahuiltecan, English, Spanish, German, Polish, Chinese — and the area’s use as croplands for the Alamo.

She also etched historic photographs into the concrete, including an exterior image of the Garden Fruit Store in the 1920s, a Mexican American family gathered around the dinner table in the 1930s and a man serving coffee at the Pig Stand in the 1950s.

Now two decades after The Unofficial Story began taking shape, Wallace recently got her portable typesetting system back out to recreate a portion of the project that was destroyed when sidewalks were torn out as part of a condo development on Florida Street.

In addition to photographing the restoration process, we took the opportunity to speak to Wallace about the project’s enduring highlights and its unique ability to convey place and time.

BRYAN RINDFUSS | SAN ANTONIO CURRENT

Wallace uses her body weight and a sledgehammer to ensure the stamp makes an even impression in the wet concrete.

ANGELA MARTINEZ

Freshly restored, a beloved anecdote reads “My mother’s father was in Mexico City in Don Porfirio Diaz’ Army. My father’s father and his grandpa were under Pancho Villa’s command. They fought the federales like my grandpa! I was born in La Villita.

ANNE WALLACE

During the planning stages of the project, Wallace happened upon a man who shared this powerful anecdote: “I remember when they pulled the last old lady out. She was in a wheelchair. When they tore everything down for HemisFair, that’s when I became familiar with eminent domain.”

ANNE WALLACE

This anecdote about a watering hole in the vicinity of Bar America is rightfully among the fan favorites of The Unofficial Story. “The clientele was the questionable people of that area. Men who knifed others, women who carried guns, people who could drink a case of beer and not even wobble.” With a laugh, Wallace confessed, “I was afraid the city would tell me I couldn’t use it!”

ANNE WALLACE

This photoengraving depicts the Beltrán Espinoza family in the 1930s. Through interviews with family members, Wallace learned about the Xochimilco Social Club, a group that gathered in the Beltrán Espinoza’s backyard for gorditas and good times.

KAT MCCOLLEY DOUC

Attorney Kat McColley Doucette purchased the Beltrán Espinoza family’s 1910 home and found the Xochimilco Social Club’s original sign in a dilapidated garage. After learning that the club was mentioned in "The Unofficial Story," she photographed the sign and recently sent the picture to Wallace. “It makes me very happy that the sidewalk project is connecting people across time, space and generations,” Wallace said.

BRYAN RINDFUSS | SAN ANTONIO CURRENT

From left: Ricardo Torres, Jairo Torres, Juan Carlos Reyes Bautista and Erik Jonas Reyes represent three generations who all work for the family business Bautista Concrete Work. Although they were hired to pour the sidewalks, they were unaware of Wallace’s restoration project. “[They] had no idea they were expected to work with me on this,” Wallace said. “It was hot as hell out there … [but] they were wonderful.”

This article is republished with permission from the San Antonio Current.

The San Antonio Current, San Antonio's award-winning alternative media company, has served as the city's premiere multimedia source of alternative news, events and culture since 1986.

The completed street mural surrounds downtown's Travis Park.
The completed street mural surrounds downtown's Travis Park. Courtesy Michael Cirlos | Centro San Antonio

By Sanford Nowlin | San Antonio Current

Early Wednesday morning, artists and volunteers completed a poetic street mural around downtown San Antonio's Travis Park in the familiar yellow block letters of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The project, meant to show solidarity with nationwide protests calling for social justice, was created as part of a public art program overseen by Centro San Antonio, a nonprofit dedicated to beautifying downtown.

The words, supplied by San Antonio poet laureate Andrea "Vocab" Sanderson, read: "Jubilant and exuberant is the melanin of our skin / From despair, we have arisen."

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"For us, this art project was inspired by the evolution of the civil rights movement that's taking place around the country right now," said Matt Brown, Centro San Antonio's CEO. "[Our program] is about how we make downtown into a giant canvas for artists to tell their stories or to put a conversation out there."

Sanderson penned the poem at the request of Andi Rodriguez, Centro's vice president of urban planning. It covers three of the four streets framing the park, which had a Confederate monument as its centerpiece until 2017.

Rodriguez began assembling the pieces for the project six weeks ago, roping in local artists Anthony Dean-Harris and Scotch! to complete the design and oversee the 20 volunteers who worked overnight to complete the painting. She also obtained approval from both the city and VIA, which had to reroute buses during the work.

San Antonio poet laureate Andrea "Vocab" Sanderson stands by completed letters of the mural.
San Antonio poet laureate Andrea "Vocab" Sanderson stands by completed letters of the mural. Courtesy Centro San Antonio

Sanderson, who assisted in the painting, was unavailable for an interview at press time. However, she posted a Facebook video overnight thanking those who worked on the project.

"Dear San Antonio, you're going to wake up in the morning and you're going to find out the poet laureate of San Antonio ... has been working really, really hard to share a tremendous love letter with you," she said in the message.

Artist Dean-Harris said he was honored to take part in the work, even if he would have preferred the language to be more direct in calling for the defunding of police or the abolition of the city's police union.

"In the meantime, we do have a lovely message surrounding a park that once had a Confederate statue in the middle of it — and that's pretty cool too," he said.

This article is republished with permission from the San Antonio Current.

The San Antonio Current, San Antonio's award-winning alternative media company, has served as the city's premiere multimedia source of alternative news, events and culture since 1986.

BEN OLIVO | SAN ANTONIO HERON

By Sanford Nowlin | San Antonio Current

San Antonio’s Department of Arts & Culture and the Luminaria Artist Foundation launched a program Wednesday to provide grants to local artists to help them offset lost earnings during the pandemic.

The newly minted Corona Arts Relief Program will offer grants of up to $600 to individual Bexar County artists for personal development and to make up for lost revenue from events cancelled since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. The window of events covered runs March 13 through April 19.

The program will cover professional development including in-person or distance training, apprenticeships and conferences. Artists must include supporting documentation to show they actually did the development project. They should also be ready to share what they learned with others after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Interested artists must apply online by April 14, 2020. Individuals may only submit one request.

[ We want to tell your story. Have you been furloughed or let go from the hospitality industry because of coronavirus? We'd like to interview you for a potential article. Will you email us? ]

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This article is republished with permission from the San Antonio Current.

The San Antonio Current, San Antonio's award-winning alternative media company, has served as the city's premiere multimedia source of alternative news, events and culture since 1986.

Transplanted San Antonio artist Jeff Wheeler is the creative director of the South Side Living & Maker Spaces.
Transplanted San Antonio artist Jeff Wheeler is the creative director of the South Side Living & Maker Spaces. Photo by Jaime Monzon | San Antonio Current

By Kelly Merka Nelson | San Antonio Current

In defiance of the mid-June heatwave, the former warehouse at the junction of Roosevelt and Riverside was abuzz with a mix of art scene regulars and name-tagged young professionals.

The South Side Living & Maker Spaces, the brainchild of Blue Star developer and local arts patron James Lifshutz, were being christened with a pop-up exhibition dreamed up, in part, by recently transplanted San Antonio artist Jeff Wheeler. The doors of the unfinished gallery space lacked knobs, but the walls were bedecked with a selection of works by local artists as well as some surprises, including a few pieces by Texas music folk hero Daniel Johnston — one of Wheeler’s collaborators.

Little did Wheeler know as he mingled with visitors and local artists, the show was planting an important flag in his adopted hometown. The pop-up opened the door for him to become The South Side’s creative director, where he’ll elevate it from just another set of condos to a community art hub. Between his role at The South Side, a bevy of current and upcoming exhibitions in and out of San Antonio and two forthcoming books, he’s already making his mark on the Alamo City arts scene.

Wheeler’s arrival in San Anto was no mere happenstance. Instead, it was the result of a years-long campaign by FL!GHT Gallery’s Justin Parr and fellow artist and gallerist Hills Snyder to lure him to the Alamo City. Even if it took a while for the move to happen, the difficult part wasn’t convincing him this was the place to be.

“For many years I’ve wanted to move here, just to be a part of the amazing artist scene,” said Wheeler, 51. “Not only are they really good, but they treat each other amazingly, you know? You don’t see that anywhere else.”

'Fun and cool'

If you don’t know Lifshutz’s name, you know his work. He’s behind the revitalization of the Blue Star Complex and also donated the Hot Wells ruins to the county for transformation into a public park. For his latest trick, Lifshutz has converted an abandoned warehouse — formerly the site of an Earl Campbell food-packing plant — into a series of affordable one-bedroom apartments and artist studios that he hopes will transform the industrial area into a thriving arts community.

As the complex took shape, one thing remained missing: someone to steer the ship. When Lifshutz met Wheeler in June, he realized the artist’s potential.

“After that event, we both felt that it would be fun and cool were he to continue to curate things there,” Lifshutz said.

Thin and tall, but not too tall, and with a tan earned by a life spent outdoors on the panhandle’s flatlands, Wheeler engages everyone he speaks to — artists, real estate investors and random people off the street — with a warm, yet piercing gaze. In a husky drawl, he offers up an endless stream of energy and ideas. He flits effortlessly from subject to subject without losing the throughline of a conversation, looping back to finish a story whenever a tangent takes things off course.

Artwork by Bryan Wheeler and Jeff Wheeler
Courtesy Bryan Wheeler and Jeff Wheeler

You could say Wheeler’s a Lubbock transplant, but that would leave out a long detour that included a year spent curating James Surl’s Splendora Gardens outside of Houston, a self-made residency in Croatia (where he traded art for rent in a picturesque village off the Adriatic Sea) and a couch-surfing itinerancy across America during which he caught up with old friends and made lots of new work.

Although reluctant to settle in a new city without concrete prospects lined up, he moved into Snyder’s Castle Hills home in late March, caring for the property while Snyder undertook a move to Magdalena, New Mexico, to run a new art space. Wheeler set to work without delay, scheduling exhibitions both in San Antonio and across Texas, including the June pop-up at The South Side and multiple iterations of “On Their Way to Heaven or Hell,” a recurring exhibition of his and Johnston’s collaborative art.

'Let's make something'

When people talk about Wheeler, they don’t wax poetic about his artistic genius. Instead, his work ethic and infectious collaborative spirit are more likely to come up.

“If you spend any time at all with Jeff you find this out — he never quits working,” Snyder says. “It’s inspiring to be around. We spent a day together in late December 2014, drawing the entire day in his Lubbock studio. I have not stopped drawing since.”

Early on in their friendship, Parr joined both Wheeler on a West Texas camping trip organized by Snyder.

“We’d be sitting there — everybody’s having dinner or whatever — and Jeff’s drawing,” Parr recalls. “He’s giving everybody else a pad of paper, a pencil, whatever and he’s like, ‘Here, come on everybody, draw! Let’s go! Come on, let’s make something.’”

Wheeler’s penchant for collaboration took off in grad school, when he began making art with James Porter — now the exhibition designer and production manager for Wichita State University’s Ulrich Museum of Art — under the nom de guerre Franklin Ackerley. The pairing was so successful that Ackerley began to develop more of a reputation than the artists behind him. He even has a film credit to his name.

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After completing his master’s in Washington state, Wheeler decided to return to his roots, settling in Lubbock with his brother Bryan. Soon, the dynamic duo emerged as the Wheeler Brothers, producing a bevy of collaborative paintings that debuted across Texas, including at the show “Low Tech Innovations (Done at a Leisurely Pace),” curated by Snyder at Sala Diaz.

Unlike most artists, Wheeler doesn’t just rely on old friends and networking tactics. Instead, he continuously reaches out to the people he admires, forging his way into new partnerships through sheer force of will.

“He always fascinated me,” says Parr, “because if he’s a fan of an artist he will go out — and even if that person’s three states away — he will drive to that state, somehow figure out a way to meet that artist, give them a piece of his art and tell them how much they’re important to him. And then make contacts with them and make art with them!”

'Hi, How Are You?'

One such collaboration is Wheeler’s ongoing work with Johnston, the outsider singer-songwriter and folk artist many recognize from Austin’s “Hi, How Are You?” mural. A fan of Johnston’s since the ’90s, Wheeler reached out five years ago and got the O.K. from the reclusive artist’s brother and sister to mail pieces for him to finish.

“The first series I gave him, I never saw finished, because when [Johnston] did them, his dad said that they were all so nasty that he didn’t want anybody to see them,” Wheeler said. “He destroyed them, so I’ll never know. Which is weird, because all of his stuff is kind of weird, so there’s no telling what that could’ve been.”

Wheeler didn’t let that failure stop him.

He sent a second series to Johnston’s sister, not knowing whether he’d see those in the end, either. As it turned out, he soon received the finished works in the mail. Populated by brightly colored torsos, humanoid ducks, eyeball monsters and the inner thoughts of trees, it can be hard to discern who contributed what to each piece, despite each artist’s distinct style. Wheeler considers them the best of his collaborations with Johnston.

The partnership between the two has since flourished, and Johnston even performed at a few of their exhibition openings.

'A little bit important again'

While Wheeler is loath to spend time speaking on the conceptual underpinnings of his work, certain things about his art are clear. His collaborative spirit even extends into many of his solo pieces, in which he merges found objects, from old family photos to vintage ceramics, into new assemblages. He reacts to their original shapes while transforming them into something more.

Believe it or not, collage and assemblage art — which make up a hefty portion of Wheeler’s current output— weren’t always his style.

Courtesy Daniel Johnston and Jeff Wheeler
Courtesy Daniel Johnston and Jeff Wheeler

“I’d always just made fun of collage artists to tell you the truth,” he admits.

But, whether it be sketching bare legs on top of a child’s portrait, reassembling candid photos into new action or epoxying thrift store ceramics into new configurations and transmuting them with painted designs, Wheeler has found joy in “bringing back to life things that were forgotten, polishing them up and making them maybe a little bit important again.”

That description doesn’t even scratch the surface of the artist’s recent output, however. Among his smorgasbord of new work is a series of abstract murals painted in Croatia, landscape illustrations with clever twists and gestural paintings that include a playful reimagining of American Gothic recast with the Mona Lisa and Gaugin’s Yellow Christ.

“I really don’t know what I’m going to do every time I go into the studio, and that’s what keeps it fresh for me,” he says.

'Buckle up'

Wheeler’s first summer in San Antonio culminated with simultaneous First Friday openings at two Blue Star galleries in August. “Low Tech Innovations (Done at a Leisurely Pace) #2” at FL!GHT Gallery served as a sequel to the show that first introduced him to San Antonio, featuring greatest hits from his and his brother’s past few years of work plus new collaborations. In nearby DAMAS Gallery, he premiered the Warhol-inspired assemblages of “now even better!!” Many of those pieces were made from ceramics found at San Antonio thrift stores.

If that weren’t enough, Wheeler also has two books coming down the pike. He’s teamed up with Cattywampus Press — the Austin publisher behind King of the Commode, a monograph preserving the work of Barney Smith, San Antonio’s late toilet-seat artist — on two wildly different projects, a coloring and activity book of Wheeler’s and Johnston’s collaborations and a long-overdue catalog of the Wheeler Brothers’ output.

While the latter of the two books may be a long time coming, the coloring book is expected out by Christmas. That will let buyers spend their holidays adding their own artistic flourishes to Johnston’s and Wheeler’s illustrations. Those who want to go for the gold can even send the finished pieces to Wheeler, who plans to feature some of them in a future exhibition.

As the creative director of The South Side, Wheeler will begin curating regular exhibitions in the building’s in-house gallery once it opens to residents. He also plans to host special events such as movie nights and Spurs playoff watch parties. Apartments and studios are currently available for pre-lease, with move-ins anticipated in September.

Lifshutz is confident that Wheeler’s energy, work ethic and collaborative spirit will make him the perfect person to realize his vision for The South Side.

“The character and vibrancy of this stretch of Roosevelt and the River is being transformed from vacant and blighted to something super cool,” Lifshutz says. “It’s a blank canvas, so to speak, and [Wheeler] is a very talented and creative guy. So, buckle up!”

Jeff Wheeler Exhibitions

CURRENTLY ON VIEW:

Low Tech Innovations
(Done at a Leisurely Pace) #2, FL!GHT Gallery, 112R Blue Star, facebook.com/flightSA
5-8 p.m., Wednesdays-Fridays; noon-8 p.m., Saturdays; 12-5 p.m. Sundays, and by appointment through September 1

now even better!!
DAMAS Gallery, 1414 S. Alamo St. #202, (207) 653-7608, facebook.com/damas.space
By appointment through August 31

SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Experimental Drawing
FL!GHT Gallery, 112R Blue Star, facebook.com/flightSA, Bring your favorite drawing supplies and join the fun.
Free, 1-4 p.m. Sunday, August 18

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This is one of six pieces in the Humans of San Antonio mural, photographed by Michael Cirlos, in Peacock Alley. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Though Michael Cirlos closed his popular Humans of San Antonio street photography project in 2016, the collection of portraits of predominantly working class people lives on.

Of course, it's all archived on social media. But then in June 2018, the eponymous book came out and Cirlos signed copies of it at the Texas Book Festival and the most recent San Antonio Book Festival.

In early March, Cirlos and artist Daniela Rojas installed six portraits from the collection on the side of the World Trade Center building, 118 Broadway, in Peacock Alley using the wheat paste method—where paper is glued to a surface. The mural spans 100 feet across the building's second floor.

On Saturday, from 5 to 9 p.m., a grand opening reception will be held at Peacock Alley. The free event will include live music throughout, and food by Bad Mami's Food and Burnwood '68, among other activities. Visit the Facebook event page for more info.

The photos chosen for the mural, which include a portrait of a seasoned accordion player, and a peak inside a VIA bus in the waking hours of the morning, intentionally spotlight members of our society who have become marginalized, Cirlos said.

"The people who are represented in the photos are, in a way, part of the marginalized in the community," Cirlos said. "We are bringing the marginalized demographic above ground, and putting them up high, looking up at a marginalized community and saying, 'These people are important, too. These people matter, too.' "

Michael Cirlos founded the Humans of San Antonio project in 2012, and ended it in 2016. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Of the six photos featured—three portraits, three scenes—five were taken on Commerce Street. The other was taken next to City Hall.

"These are real people in downtown San Antonio," Cirlos said. "These are people who walk the streets every day. The guy with the accordion. The guys hanging out at the bus stop, or what have you. These are longtime residents of downtown San Antonio."

Cirlos, 35, whose day job is staff photographer and videographer for downtown advocacy nonprofit Centro San Antonio, drew inspiration for the mural from JR, the French artist who uses wheat paste. JR is perhaps best known for his recent piece of a giant infant peering over a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many times, JR installs his pieces illegally. For the Humans mural, Cirlos got permission from building owner Laurence Seiterle of Zurich International Properties.

Cirlos doesn't know how long the mural will last. It largely depends on the elements.

"This is a wheat paste. It's meant to disintegrate over time," he said. "All wheat paste installations vary in terms of longevity, but this one ... it could very well last a whole year."

Each photograph featured is four panels, about 8 feet long. Cirlos and Riojas, who is a current Joan-Wich Fellow at the University of Houston, worked at a local FedEx Office until 9 a.m. printing out the pieces on architecture paper, a kind of sturdier, but also lightweight, paper. The installation took an entire weekend in early March

"While we were installing, there were all kinds of people hanging out, cheering us on, people were stopping by to say 'hello'," Cirlos said. "A bunch of kids were skating down below while we were installing."

The Humans of San Antonio is on display in Peacock Alley. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Full disclosure: Zurich International Properties is a sponsor of the Heron. Click here for a complete list of sponsors.

Contact Ben Olivo: 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

Jennifer Khoshbin's mural "Interwoven" is on display near the corner of East Houston and Navarro streets. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Jennifer Khoshbin’s art can be found across downtown San Antonio.

For a time, if you were driving on North Flores Street, one of the main arteries in Alta Vista, you’d see illuminated marquee signs, which displayed messages from local wordsmiths and poets, who collaborated with Khoshbin on the series.

In Southtown, at the intersection of Pereida and South Alamo streets, her installation of a public seating area reminds us to “PAUSE” and take in the moment.

In Hemisfair's Yanaguana Garden near The Magic Theatre, a French theatre model-inspired backdrop she created encourages imaginative storytelling.

Most recently, Khoshbin completed a mural commissioned by the San Antonio Tricentennial Commission she dubbed “Interwoven” in the heart of downtown at the intersection of East Houston and Navarro streets.

Courtesy Jennifer Khoshbin

“Interwoven” depicts five refugee and immigrant women who have come to call San Antonio home. The location was perfect to convey a raw and true image of a lesser known San Antonio community at one of the busiest intersections downtown.

“I wanted to add some commentary on who we are as a city,” Khoshbin said. “My goal was to express support and fellowship to those different cultures that now reside (here) and are part of the larger San Antonio community, especially those that might not have a powerful presence or voice in the community.”

When the commission and the city of San Antonio awarded the grant to Khoshbin, one of 29 local artists and organizations selected to depict the city’s diverse culture, she had just finished a two-year project titled “Word on the Street” at Artpace, that had been a collaborative effort with women in a sewing circle at the Center for Refugee Services on the northwest side and through Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). She wanted to continue her relationship with the women she had met and had them in mind when she was thinking of a subject for the mural.

Photo by Noah Alcala Bach | Heron

When you first come across the mural, the first thing that draws you in are the many hues of blue—the sea blue of the background; the darker blues of the hijabs two of the women wear, of the jeans of another; the blues and greens of the agave plants—all meant to catch your eye up close and from a distance. Khoshbin’s goal was to invite as many people as possible to view the mural, so she wanted the piece to be bold and exciting.

Among the shades of blues are five women seamstresses representing Afghan, Turkey, Honduran, Republic of Congo and Haiti, who Khoshbin grew close to from her time at the refugee center. The portraits do not hold deep detail of facial features and are done in a contemporary pop style because some of the women wanted to remain anonymous. They sit upon and around tree stumps that have new foliage, fresh leaves and twigs that represent new growth and new life. Similar foliage can be found on their attire, hinting at new growth within themselves.

Below the group is a colorful quilted pattern inspired by the activity that brought them together, patterns from early American quilts are “interwoven” with traditional patterns from the countries the seamstresses are from. Khoshbin’s relationship with the seamstresses will continue on through a new project: The women are getting together to embroider a series of outdoor nylon flags they plan to hang around the city.

“There’s a lot of different nationalities moving into San Antonio but I don’t think we think of San Antonio in that aspect,” Khoshbin said. “So I think it’s a great opportunity to remind people of the broader community here in our city.”

Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Originally from Philadelphia, Khoshbin comes from a highly artistic family—her sister is a new media artist in New York City, her brother is an art curator who lives here and in New York, and her mother is a ceramicist. Khoshbin’s art journey began when she studied Fine Arts and Sociology at the University of Texas, Austin, and the University of Kentucky. Khoshbin's personal style is focused around intimate literature-based art through different mediums. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that her medium shifted to a broader scale of public work.

"Interwoven" will be on display at East Houston and Navarro streets indefinitely.

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