Tribeza Talk: Arts
An insider’s guide to what’s buzzing around Austin
by Nicole Beckley
Betelhem Makonnen is the winner of the 2019 Tito’s Prize —an honor given to one artist each year that comes with $15,000 and a solo exhibition in the Big Medium Gallery. Makonnen initially resisted becoming an artist like many in her family. Born in Ethiopia, she studied history and literature at UT Austin and spent 10 years as a chef before surrendering to art. “I realized I was doing everything else to avoid doing what I really wanted to do,” says Makonnen, who works with video, photography and other materials.
Since 2015, ICOSA has produced exhibitions featuring a wide variety of media and styles — from glass sculptures to colorful figurative paintings to paper craft puppets — earning accolades and getting name-checked in The New York Times. The artist-run collective continually surprises in its gallery space, currently housed at Canopy on Springdale Road.
Guided by Stars
To create the intricate inlays in his carved serving boards and tables, Dave Massman turned to a surprising source for inspiration. “My grandfather was a navigator in the Air Force and had to use star charts to guide and make sure the plane was on course,” Massman says. “The templates I use for the constellation [cutting] boards are all from original star charts that he used decades ago.”
Massman learned woodworking in his father’s shop as a kid, and in 2013 he officially started Watchman Woodworks. Massman hand-carves a variety of hard woods into wall hangings, cutting boards and sculptures. “They serve as a reminder that my dad and my grandfather and generations before took time to work with their hands and be a part of that slow process,” Massman says.
“Since I was very young I found that art was a way to express those things about me that I might not necessarily be able to say, whether it’s because of the language barrier or simply being in a culture that’s so different,” says Soledad Fernandez-Whitechurch.
Fernandez-Whitechurch, who grew up in Paraguay and Argentina as well as the U.S., studied psychology at the University of Vermont before finding her way to Austin. In her home studio in South Austin she creates abstract paintings in acrylic, inspired by themes of identity. And this year she embarked on her biggest projects to date — murals for Native Hostel and Big Red Sun.
The work of 20th-century artist, activist and educator Charles White is on display at two exhibitions this month. UT’s Art Galleries at Black Studies and the Blanton Museum of Art are showing White’s realistic drawings and illuminating his impact in creating powerful and dignified depictions of African American life.
This fall, TEMPO, part of the City of Austin’s Art in Public Places program, celebrated seven years with seven sculptures from Ender Martos, Brandon Mike, Darcie Book and other local artists. The sculptures, which have been on view at different public library branches, will all be transported this month to Edward Rendon Sr. Metro Park for TEMPO Convergence. Among them will be Christy Stallop’s “Ganador,” a 6-foot-tall grackle with a luchador mask, composed of recycled bicycle tires.