Tour Outside Art Installations By Henry Gonzalez
“Sometimes people don’t even know to go into the building,” says artist Henry Gonzalez, arms crossed, as he looks over the art installations surrounding the South Austin Popular Culture Center.
“This is the legacy I’m going to leave behind,” Gonzalez says. Each piece is a reflection of South Austin, and as one of the founders of the Center and creator of the Center’s outdoor work, Gonzalez loves to share the stories with visitors.
Across from an overgrown cactus swallowing a compact car is a 125-foot memorial wall. The inspiration was to honor those who have kept Austin weird.
“Originally it was done for an exhibit for about a dozen of my friends who were in the music business, artists and different folks… I built them an altar,” he says. “These are the folks that actually made Austin the special place it is and that’s why we’re honoring them.”
The altar was built for a Dia De Los Muertos exhibit five years ago.. Dia De Los Muretos is a holiday in the Mexican culture when loved ones honor the dead. Children are remembered and celebrated on November 1, while adults are honored on Nov. 2.
Photos of the late Townes Van Zandt, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Ann Richards hang on the wall above homemade shrines of candles, guitar picks and flowers. A multicolored banquette running along the wall allows visitors to sit beside the shrines and take in the Center’s other outdoor features.
A large stage in the northwest corner of the lot is adorned with the messages and drawings of visitors, along with a uniquely South Austin spiritual icon.
Gonzalez originally created the 5-foot wooden cutout of the Virgin of Guadalupe for the Good God Clothing Company. The thrift store buys and sells jeans, which is why the Virgin is painted in jeans and flip flops.
When the store relocated to South Austin from Guadalupe Street, the virgin was given back to Gonzalez out of fear of retaliation from the new neighbors.
Gonzalez decided to make her the center piece of the Center’s stage. “She over looks the whole parking lot,” Gonzalez says, sweeping his arm across the space.
Live music is played on the stage during the Center’s opening parties every six weeks.
The newest addition to the Center’s outdoor theme park came last June when Gonzalez began work on the south side of the property.
“(The Center’s neighbors) put up a chain link fence with razor wire on it. It looked like a concentration camp,” Gonzalez said. So he built a decorative fence to block out the eye sore.
His initial vision to take the fence as high as possible was curbed by city regulations. Following negotiations with the city, which included keeping the fence 75 percent open, it was re-designed with a star motif. “So now it’s turned into an art project that will join up to the other fence.” Gonzalez says.
The west side of the property features the ‘Back to the Beach’ installation, chronicling the migration of musicians and artists from Corpus Christi to Austin in the 1970s. The late Farrah Fawcett is one of the wall’s honorees, along with Pepe Cerna of ‘Scarface’ and ‘American Me.’
Larger scale projects are in the works, and the Center grounds will continue to evolve in the months ahead. Gonzalez is working on covering his side of the building with a tile mosaic. He also has other plans in mind.
“Eventually this whole parking lot is going to be painted up,” he says. “We’re doing a take on L.A. with Hollywood on the hills. Ours is going to have ‘South Austin’ in the parking lot in 15-foot letters and more art work on top of the roof.”
“When you go to Google Earth for 1516 S. Lamar, you’ll be able to see our parking lot mural,” he continues.
Gonzalez laughs as he raises his hands and says, “The only problem is – where to get all the (expletive) paint!”