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Austin Eye View: Artists Share Their Incredible Works and Inspirations

Four local talents reveal how they became full-time artists

JR Rapier

After working for 20 years as an art director for advertising agencies, and then experiencing the loss of someone close to her, Dallas-born JR Rapier decided life was too short to not make her dream job her day job. Now, painting isn’t just her career, but a means of storytelling and spiritual transformation. JR depicts emotions and archetypes as fantastical physical entities brought to life in large-scale oil paintings that are as stunning as they are thought-provoking.

What is your definition of art?
“Whether expressing the human condition, or representing a person, place or thing, I view art as an energetic way to tell a story that evokes emotion, a mood or an idea.”

When did you know you wanted to become an artist?
“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always made art — whether it was a diaper rash cream wall fresco, or a crayon abstract behind the recliner. I was born an artist. As a teenager I had aspirations of becoming an architect, but because I had to drop out of trigonometry to graduate high school, I jumped back on my path of becoming an artist.”

Can you talk about your path to becoming a working artist?
“In those years, painting full-time was out of the question because I believed I would starve without my day job. Painting was just a thing I did at night to put art on my own walls. Eventually I had the nerve to enter into the East Austin Studio Tour (E.A.S.T.). People wanted to buy my work, so I had to say goodbye to many of my favorite pieces. It was a weird feeling, but also rewarding, for someone to want something that I loved into existence.

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Following that first show, I continued with my day job, painting in my free time for the next year’s show. Then tragedy hit. My ex-husband and father of my child died unexpectedly at age 40. My entire paradigm shifted into a new reality. I sold my house, quit my day job and moved in with my boyfriend (now husband). I realized I couldn’t waste another billable hour working in advertising. I wanted to paint all day long. I needed my dream job to be my day job … before I die.”

How would you describe your body of work?
“My work today is guiding me into a highly-tuned consciousness of listening to the human condition by expressing emotion through figurative entities. I’m painting the portraits of emotions that we all feel. Whether it be our inner child, grief, fear, shame or joy, I’m giving these emotions faces and bodies to exist and be seen. My figurative body of work elicits emotion through a fantasy-like representation of the human figure. Emotions are tricky: something you feel isn’t always you. For example, if I am grieving, perhaps the feeling of shame has come to visit me, but I am not a shameful person. I can paint ‘Shame’ her very own portrait, and I know she is separate from me.”

Where do you find your inspiration?
“It’s hard to say where I find my inspiration because I believe it finds me. On occasion, I will ask permission to observe a modern dance class and photograph the human body in motion. Most times, I sit down in front of a blank canvas and paint what comes to my mind. Perhaps a feeling from a moment I’ve experienced. Or something as simple as the wonder and beauty of the human figure.”

Is there a particular place in Austin you like to get your creative juices flowing?
“I’m a hermit and homebody! I don’t usually leave my home and studio, but when I do, I enjoy people-watching at various places around town. This activity is usually coupled with a good margarita from an outdoor bar like Cosmic Cafe, or a fine wine from one of any street facing tables, like Enoteca. My creative juice flows best though through meditation and nature walks on the greenbelt.”

What’s your advice for aspiring artists?
“Tune out the inner critic that keeps you doubting your abilities to create. Instead, keep creating,
and do it often, even when you aren’t inspired, or not in the mood and you wish you were. Don’t be afraid of creating work you aren’t proud of. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you have an idea, try it out, because ideas choose you. And if you let the idea go, it will find someone else to manifest it. I think the biggest reason why an artist doesn’t progress is because they don’t believe in themselves, and they don’t believe they are good enough. Always make art. Always make art that you enjoy creating. It is the artist’s therapy.”

Flip Solomon

Flip Solomon grew up in an art-loving family, and she was winning awards for her paintings and sculptures by the time she was in kindergarten. She followed a path to art school, where she ended up switching tracks to study anthropology, travel and have her daughter. After an 18-year hiatus, she returned to her easel, more inspired than ever, and now she spends much of her time in her Canopy studio, where she works on large-scale pen-and-ink drawings — inspired both by nature and her own lucid dreams — as well as clothing and bedding lines.

What is your definition of art?
“I have a very wide definition of art. I think anything that involves the trifecta of inspiration, creativity and discipline can be considered an artform, no matter how droll the finished product may be perceived by the viewer. I think if someone has passion while they are creating, that is in itself an artform — to be in that place where you’re in the flow and magic happens.

Can you talk about your path to becoming a working artist?
“Toward the end of that 18 year hiatus from doing art, I started to strongly desire a creative outlet. I was a single mom who had developed a difficult neurological condition called narcolepsy that affected me daily, usually several times a day, and had insidiously crept into every aspect of my life. I knew I needed to pivot if I wanted a good life, so when my daughter turned eight and got more independent, I found a studio space where I could have a separate creative space just for myself.

It came to me to invert my disability into an ability and to use my strong dreaming and in-between states of consciousness from narcolepsy as fodder for my artwork. I’m someone with a very flexible belief system, who’s 95% ruled by logic and pragmatics, so I really had to consciously choose to believe that perhaps what was happening to me was happening for a reason and perhaps it was my purpose to bring those concepts into the 3D. Once I started drawing, it was like no time had passed. There was really no backpedaling; if anything it felt like I had integrated something during the hiatus and had more passion and confidence to create large works.

In my youth, I was a classically trained graphite artist. Now I’ve transitioned to pen and ink, which felt more dramatic and in tune with the Dream World. I started working large-scale, standing up on my desk and working against the wall, which helped with my wakefulness.”

How would you describe your body of work?
“My body of work reflects the subconscious world. It’s contrasty, moody, representational and dream-like. Symbols play a big part in my work. As a Solomon, I’d always thought of myself as a Keeper of Seals and had always collected and drawn symbols. Before verbal communication, we learned from symbols.

Symbols are a thought or idea simplified down to an abstract design. Our brains love to fill in the details, so some think that when we look at a symbol, our consciousness is still understanding the meaning behind it and learning from it. To recreate a symbol is a form of magic, as if you are doing a spell. So I really love to incorporate beneficial symbols into my artwork, and I was doing a lot of dream training at the time to become more lucid in my dreams in order to actively seek out symbols in DreamTime.

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I’m also a huge fan of the Decorative Arts — I love artists like William Morris, Mucha and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The Art Nouveau of both Western and Eastern Europe is some of my favorite art, and the patterning really lends itself to working symbols into it. I also find patterning very meditative, so you will see a lot of that in my work and that is usually my favorite thing to work on.”

Where do you find your inspiration?
“My inspiration comes from the natural world, urban landscapes and my very vivid dreaming. I also get inspired by ancient civilizations and other cultures and the arts and crafts of their societies. Sometimes if I have a heightened experience that feels complex, like it has many layers and it is also compelling, I’ll feel called to draw it out. Mostly, I think because I feel the need to process it thoroughly and that is the best way I know how to do that. Sometimes my pieces take months to complete due to their large size and level of detail, so I really start to be in a relationship with that piece. And I have a lot of time to think about things during the process and sometimes have epiphanies or breakthroughs. I’m usually up working all night when I draw and I think it’s easier to process deeply at night. The quietness and lack of distraction is good for that, plus it’s easier for me to connect to magic with the nocturnal energies.”

Allison Gregory

Allison Gregory was about to pursue graphic design, but knew she’d always regret it if she didn’t at least try making a career out of her true passion: painting. She left California to begin her art career here in Austin, where collectors and art dealers immediately took notice of her colorful work, presented in a variety of mediums. Twenty-two years later, she has sold art to celebrities, participated in many non-profit public art projects and charity auctions, and has a following of supporters across Texas and beyond.

What is your definition of art?
“Art, in the purest sense of the word, is a form of communication. It is also an act of expressing your feelings or thoughts through a technique. Art implores you to express yourself creatively. It is all about imagination, originality and skill. It is also quite simply the reason I wake up every morning, excited to create again!”

When did you know you wanted to become an artist?
“Always! Even at a very young age of five, I was already painting and drawing anything I could get my hands on. My mother had to replace the carpet in my bedroom twice, before the age of 12, due to acrylic paint splattered all over the floor. I was constantly in trouble in elementary school, because instead of taking my tests or doing homework, I was drawing in the margins of all the papers, covering them with doodles. I can’t tell you how many talks various principals had with me, about not drawing in class, let alone all over my tests.”

Can you talk about your path to becoming a working artist?
“I had just received my second degree out in California, where I had planned to ‘play it safe’ and be a graphic designer. However, it haunted me that I had to work behind a desk, creating art on a computer. I left California and went straight to Austin to begin my career as a full-time artist. I taught myself how to market my work, and I hit the pavement. I took every opportunity presented to get my work out there and seen by people. Collectors started to notice, and galleries were asking to represent me. By the second year in Austin, I was showing in every major city in Texas plus New York City, Boston and California. It sort of catapulted from there, and I had my first international exhibition at age 27.”

How would you describe your body of work?
“There are many facets to my art, as I don’t like to be pigeonholed into one category. I am extremely versatile and have been known for many styles throughout my career as an artist. I usually do about a dozen different series a year. The mainstay to my pieces are bright colors — I’m a color fanatic! Often I will use over 75 shades of color in one piece alone.”

Do you have a fun fact about your artwork?
“I was selected to be a part of the legendary Cow Parade when it came to Austin years ago. After two of my designs were chosen, they asked me to do four more cows! I ended up painting six cows total, more than any artist in the world had ever been asked to complete. The CEO/founder of Cow Parade loved them so much, he reproduced them as figurines and small sculptures. They now sell in the Louvre and other major art museums all over the world.”

Where do you find your inspiration?
“I get inspired by keeping abreast of what’s going on in the art world, what other artists are creating, what collectors are acquiring and what trends are taking place. I suppose studying the work of my contemporaries inspires me alone to be a better artist. I love going to galleries. Two fabulous galleries in Austin I’ve been fortunate enough to show with in the past are Ao5 Gallery (formerly Art on 5th) and Austin Art Garage. Owners Joe Siegel and Jake Bryer have been instrumental in keeping good art on view for the city.”

What’s your advice for aspiring artists?
“My motto has always been that there’s no such thing as luck! Luck is persistence meets opportunity. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to market yourself. When I started out, there was no social media. You had to have slides of your work and mail them out to galleries, just praying for a reply. These days, through Facebook and Instagram, the world is your oyster. You have the ability to interface with thousands of potential collectors all in one post! It’s brilliant — but it’s also tough to keep up with the Jones’s. There is a lot of amazing art being posted these days. You must have confidence in your work, and continue to keep getting it out there — open to the critiques of your followers.”

Jake Bryer

After working in corporate sales for Dell and marketing for Austin Business Journal, Jake Bryer felt a strong urge to leave the corporate world for more creative pursuits. He’d already developed an eye for (and love of) street photography during annual holiday trips he would take to explore other parts of the world. He also noticed, while seeking out artwork to decorate an apartment with his girlfriend at the time (now wife), that there was a severe lack of affordable and original art in Austin. So fifteen years ago, he decided to take the plunge and open Austin Art Garage, a welcoming gallery featuring reasonably priced artwork in a variety of mediums by different artists (now over 40). And a few years after he opened the space, Jake started producing his own composite photography, made by layering and collaging digitally manipulated images.

When did you know you wanted to become an artist?
“I have gravitated toward creativity my entire life, in writing, music and graphic design, but I always looked at it as a hobby. As much as I wanted to choose a creative path in life, I always chose practical paths, like business school over liberal arts, and office jobs over artistic trades, and then pursued my creative activities after work and school. Nevertheless, as I grew into adulthood, I realized that having creative outlets was essential to my happiness, and yet, I had less time to be creative.

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I was 28 years old and in my seventh year working in advertising and marketing at the Austin Business Journal, and I was ready for a career change, but I didn’t want to follow the same path. I was in a slump; something was missing. After returning from a solo trip through Western and Eastern Europe, urban exploring, visiting amazing art museums and geeking out with travel photography, it was clear to me that I needed a career change that combined my business skills with my creative hobbies. The Austin Art Garage was the answer. I could use my business talents and be surrounded in a world of creativity, with the hopes of eventually creating my own art for the gallery. It was always in the back of mind that I wanted to become a working artist, but at first, my main focus was creating a successful gallery.”

Can you talk about your path to becoming a working artist?
“Ironically, I didn’t actually try creating art until about four months after opening the Austin Art Garage. Running the gallery, I was immersed in art every day. It was infectious, and I wanted to participate. I tried my hand at painting, but in the end, I honestly wouldn’t have accepted my art in the gallery without feeling bias, as it wasn’t up to snuff. Then I remembered how much I loved travel photography. So I purchased a printer and some frames and started making five to six small titles that I sheepishly installed around the gallery. After a few days, they had sold out, and I guess that’s when I realized I was a ‘working’ artist. It was a great feeling and something that I felt contributed to helping other artists succeed. Knowing the process of selling art, as an artist and gallery owner.”

How would you describe your body of work?
“I thought a lot of photography around Austin looked the same (the same angle shot of the 360 Bridge comes to mind). I wanted my art and photography to be different, so I decided to use my graphic design skills to create layers of photography to look like surreal painterly landscapes, which I called composite photography (layers). My body of work is diverse and yet can be lumped into two design categories — composite photography and digital mixed media (sometimes combined).

However, I would also categorize my art in series, such as the Austin series, space or sci-fi series, pulp collage series, 80’s movie poster series, nature series and experimental digital collage series. The Austin series is the largest, but I’m always trying to progress in other unique and creative designs and themes.”

Where do you find your inspiration?
“My main source of inspiration is movies, music and sometimes video games. These really influence the style of the art. For instance, If I’m really into a new creative sci-fi show with great cinematography, my art gets really epic looking. If it’s a drama or true crime, it gets a little darker. Same goes for music — the vibe of the music can sometimes influence the style.

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