Best Emerging Artists Show in Texas

Emerging Artists' Show, 2420 S. Irving Blvd. runs through June 19.
Almost Famous    Top collectors around the country and in Dallas are always on the lookout for the next SchnabelBates, or Basquiat, all of whom lived and worked in Dallas in their early careers. If you were smart enough to identify their potential, you could buy their early works for a mere fraction of the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, they go for now. Emerging artists shows have always held a lure for that reason. 

A new exhibit, curated by SMU students Spencer Tompkins and Axel Nussbaumer, both 23, has gathered works by 25 of the most promising young artists in North Texas. It's without a doubt the best emerging artists show I've ever seen. 

Located inside a warehouse at 2420 S. Irving Blvd., that Tompkins and Nussbaumer renovated themselves, the show opened in early June and will run through June 19. The show is sponsored by Celon et Cie (Axel's mom is designer Michelle Nussbaumer) so for more information, call the store. The gallery is open from Thurs-Sat and by appointment.

So many works have already sold that a fresh new wave of young artists' works have been brought in this week, and you can join them at a party on June 14 (5-9 pm) that includes keg beer (most of these artists are still in college, so they're not into wine yet!) and a live DJ. 

Expect to see exquisitely rendered paintings, prints, sculptures, and even furniture, all attainably priced to encourage you to buy. If you're an interior designer looking to help your clients build a new collection, this is a fantastic place to start.

Axel Nussbuamer and Spencer Thompkins, from left

Axel is in his last semester at SMU studying film, and Spencer graduated in May from SMU's studio art program. You'll want to remember their names, because these guys are smart, talented, and driven. I had a chance to sit down with them the day after their show opened for an interview.

HGP: Tell us how the show came together?

Axel: My mom told us this space would be available at some point and we talked about it for months. The idea just snowballed. 

Spencer: The space didn't look like this when we started. We cleaned it out, put tracking in, painted, and hung the art. It was a process of making a gallery and then filling it. 

Axel: We were still cleaning up when people started arriving for the show.

Spencer: There were quite a few sleepless nights. I didn't sleep at all the night before the show because there was so much to do. My sister, Alexis (a former UNT student who is now an art consultant in San Francisco), came into town and helped us hang the art. Some of the artists helped us hang works, too.

HGP: How did you find the artists for your show?

Spencer: I'd gone to school at SMU and seen a lot of the art students' works. I talked to teachers who confirmed who the best students were. We chose ones who were serious about their work, who looked like they were going somewhere. Some were in grad school, or just out of school. But they were all still working, nobody was in a lull, not producing anything. 

Spencer: My sister went to UNT and studied art history. She called her ex-roommate, and we went to Denton and started looking through the hallways at art, looking through the print databases, scouring Facebook, and meeting people. Some of the more serious artists like Josh Banks at UNT recommended other good printmakers. 

Alex: It was definitely a large undertaking. We even took a van to Austin to pick up an artist's gigantic painting when she didn't have a way to transport it. We went through hell to wrap it, then load it up. The whole way back we were looking in the rearview mirror as things were flapping in the wind. 

HGP: What was the criteria for choosing works? 

Spencer: Be good, be interesting, be young and up and coming. 

HGP: Was it hard to narrow down?

Spencer: It was hard. We were not in this to hurt people's feelings. But art is so personal, and it's a tough situation to let them down if decided not to use their work. We tried to see their work first before we met them. Sometimes we snuck into the studios and looked through the work first, then meet up with them the next week if we liked it.

HGP: Did the artists have a common denominator?

Axel: Their work ethic.

Spencer: Yeah, and having it all together. Some have their websites up so you can see their body of work. Being a producing artist with your work ready to go is important. 

HGP: What advice do you give a young artist who wants to get into a show?

Axel: Learn your medium, learn your audience. Make it as easy as possible to put on the show. Know what your work is worth. 

Spencer: Some artists didn't have D-rings on the back of their paintings, and it was like, there's no way to hang this. Some artists didn't have a clue how to price their work, and they'd be asking $15,000 for a piece. We'd tell them, hey, you're up-and-coming, maybe you can get $600. We're trying to get them into people's homes and into their collections, so make it easy for people to buy your stuff.

HGP: These works start at under $100 for an unframed print. The quality is extraordinarily high for everything in the show, so why not price them more?

Spencer: It's not about the money, but it's about getting your name out and getting into collections. What we tell artists is, at least you can buy materials to paint another picture. It may not be a lot of money in the beginning, but materials are expensive. If you go to Asel, it's $60 for a tube of cadmium red.

HGP: What did you learn from the process of putting an exhibit together?

Alex: I learned that art isn't finished, it's abandoned. You are never done. (Laughs) No, really, for me, it's learning how to interact with people. I'm young, so I really got a good perspective on how to work properly with others

Spencer: That was the biggest insight for me, too -- how to work with people in a stressful situation. For artists, it's really important. There is a way to navigate the big bad art world. There's a reason Richard Serra is Richard Serra, and someone else is not. There is a formula of steps taken. Some people say, "you're selling out, man," if you take those steps, but the artists who know how to deal with people and make it easy to get their work into a show are successful. 

Alex: If you're going to make art, you want an audience, and you've got to learn to work with people. You can just do your art for yourself if you want, but don't try to do it full time. 

HGP: Spencer, you're an artist yourself. The piece you have in this show, a log connected by a rope, is interesting because you not only make rubbings from the log after you've dragged it, but the act of dragging makes it a performance piece. The log itself could be considered sculpture.

Spencer: I started dragging the log last summer at SMU in Taos where I spent 4 weeks. I'd drag it through a field with really high grass, and it created a path. It became a sort of metaphor for the path of life. I'm now living at the American Beauty Lofts, and that area is a developing neighborhood with a lot of homeless people and people who've been de-institutionalized. I try to drag it every day about four times around the block. People ask, and I tell people it's my burden -- the more I drag it, the more it gets scraped up and changes. After each drag, I ink the log and rub rice paper over it to make a print. The more I drag it, the more it gets destroyed and changes, and the scrapes will get lighter and lighter until the burden disappears. 

The log's become a conversation with the neighborhood. There are always guys on their corners every day, and at first it was like, who's this kid with that log? It was tough to get their respect. But it became a part of their daily routine, and I'd have a conversation with each person. I'd explain that the log was my burden, and they were like, alright, man. 

HGP: Alex, you're a film student finishing up your last semester at SMU. Tell us how you first got interested in film and what your plans are for the exhibit space.

Alex: My father (Bernard Nussbaumer) is a film maker who used to have a production company in L.A. I decided to study film my sophomore year. But I spend a lot of time -- about 5 hours a day -- making beats on the computer. Music is what I really love doing the most. I was talking last night to a DJ at Rio, and we might do a collaboration for our next show. It's really set up so that we can do a lot of different things in this space. It's got white walls, tracking, ready to go. We're planning a dinner for the artists and we'll set up a Last Supper type table in the middle. I'm sure my mom will decorate it. None of this could have happened without her, so she's a big part of it. 

HGP: You're a filmmaker, yet there's no video art in the show. What's up with that?

Alex: We'll probably do some video art when the sun starts to set earlier. Right now, it's too light to project anything and have it be visible. That big white wall would be perfect, though.

Michelle Nussbaumer, Alex Nussbaumer, and Spencer Thompkins
HGP: What's next?

Spencer: I'm moving to Utah to teach art in an international boarding school. It's well-funded, and it's the kind of school that's sending its kids off to Yale and SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design), so I'm pumped about teaching there. I'll keep in touch wit Axel and we'll probably do some things in the future.

Axel: I'll be doing these shows every month and a half or three months. We'll pick four or five artists in the future and focus on them. I'd also like to start a foundation. I met a principal from a charter school across the Trinity River, who doesn't have an art program. The kids are really intelligent, and I'd like to start working with them.

2420 S. Irving Blvd