When I go up the stairs into the Monstrosity Gallery, I’m first drawn to the work of Justine Beech. I find a collage featuring a menacing, multi-headed white male hydra, the words “We Own You,” spewing out of their mouths. She’s like a Salvador Dali with a bright color palette, mashing together words, geometry, and animals in a frenzied froth.
I find Justine Beech upstairs on the rooftop listening to Bottom Dollar String Band and eating s’more. She’s a tall, tomboyish woman with her hair in a braid. She takes me downstairs to talk about her art. She talks quietly, smiling.
“I paint because I’m not good with words. They’re all so much noise. I communicate with lines.”
Several of her figures feature shouting figures, including a woman spewing snakes and a man yelling down at her from the sky. The lines represent illusion, the calm words that hide dangerous intentions.
Often her works are metaphors for environmental and political issues. She takes me into the small bathroom and shows me a line drawing she’s titled “Sendai,” which is about the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. “Sendai” shows the anthropomorphized sea rising up in a kimono to strangle a screaming power plant. Another painting shows a Bacchius party scene of colorful men groping and kissing.
I head upstairs for a while to listen to the rest of Bottom Dollar String Band’s set. They’re an acoustic bluegrass band featuring fresh-faced youth that were found busking on Congress Street. They huddle around a microphone with a lighter taped to it as girls in flowing dresses dance in the last light before sundown. It’s a scene straight out of the 19th century, in sharp contrast to the modern marble and stone S’mores bar set up by The Clubhouse Scene. I skip the s’mores bar and walk downstairs again for my third beer from Black Star Co-Op, a pale ale appropriately called Nemesis.
The next artist I meet is Warren Sawyer of Austinized Art. His art consists of collage paintings of popular Austin landscapes, cut out with an exacto knife and paired with bright matte colors and newspaper clippings from the 1930s found in vintage shops.
Later I go online to check out his Surrealist art, and it’s unmistakably from the same artist that cut out and painted over photographs of downtown Congress. Both feature bold circles and fat lines that remind me of summer Texas heat, with glowing cosmic backgrounds and exaggerated shadows.
Claire Webb’s jewelry display is what I’d imagine stumbling upon in a vintage pagan shop. She’s crafted rings made out molar teeth, ornate golden cage necklaces that house debris and trash, and paper cut out earrings of green landscapes and magical Third Eyes.
Webb’s art is all about changing the perspective and preconceived notions of the viewer – to transform decay, such as a broken tooth, into a beautiful, wearable piece of art. Her jewelry explores the line between the grotesque and the sublime. Women approach the table and try on the molar teeth rings, admire themselves in the mirror.
Gus reminds me of an Austin version of Andy Warhol. He’s a homeless man from New Zealand who creates colorful graphic print pop art. Instead of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, he has prints of Austin’s iconic cupcakes and tacos. Giant prints of repeating armadillos and bats, all in different colors, also line the walls.
“They’re so clean and simple,” a guest tells me, “I could take mushrooms and just stare at these pictures for hours.”
Two other bands play on the rooftop. Second is Omar Escoffie, a tattooed singer/songwriter who plays soulful folk rock, including a Lionel Richie cover. Finishing up for the night is Slam Gibbons and The Republic of Texas, a country band that makes me nostalgic for those whiskey-soaked nights in dive bars that usually ended in someone getting punched in the mouth.
I head downstairs for the last time. Before I leave I overhear a kid saying he’s been trying to impress women all night. I drag him over to Justine Beech’s painting titled, “The Wolves,” and ask him what he thinks.
“Very Grecian,” he says, “reminds me of Leda and the Swan.”
“Good job, kid,” I say, and discard my fourth cup of beer in the trashcan by the stairs before heading out into the night.