Legitimizing an Underground Gallery

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Grocery store, squatter’s paradise, auto-body shop, roof-top venue, living quarters, an escape. Nestled between the local magistrate’s office and multiple abandoned buildings at 531 E. El Paso St., the impromptu street art gallery and music venue known as Café has been in a constant state of transition, an idea clearly illustrated by simply glancing at the walls that construct the three bedroom, commercially leased flat.

Tonight’s “Second Friday” tentative musical lineup includes: Ghost Electric, Lotus Tribe, Creatura and Lonely Horse in addition to DJ Fernando Fernandez. Event coordinators are awaiting confirmation from several artists, but Exhaust and Werds will most likely make appearances. As typical for new venues, entertainment is slightly unpredictable – last minute changes and additions are frequently made. However, guests will more than likely be pleasantly surprised and definately entertained.

During their first “Second Friday” event in October, each wall was allocated to a different graffiti artist. Event organizers Michelle Yetman and Josiah Boone (a.k.a Amaze) then issued a set of simple instructions: use the wall or the designated section of a wall and create.

Eager fingers caressed triggers of spray paint cans as various local artists including Awfset Collective, Werds, Bluzilla, Supher, Dabs, Bad Habits, Amaze, Rabbit Rye, Cruel Town, Deleted, and Duo gathered at this strange location, a junction of residence, venue and gallery, for the rare opportunity to express themselves without fear of consequence.

Cafe's illustrious rooftop. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Cafe’s illustrious rooftop. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Musicians later gripped drum sticks, necks of guitars, basses and mic stands in anticipation as local bands were added to the bill. To date, Tumbleweed, Last Nighters, Animal Spirit and Ferno have graced the living room floor. Shoes used to caress roof-top gravel as guests danced to amplified melodies, but the building owner is presently concerned with stability issues, so everything has been moved inside.

Cafe's main living room. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Windows illuminate heads both iconic and imagined in Cafe’s main living room. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Relocation is again a necessity, however, after November’s “Second Friday” event. Local powerhouse Lonely Horse began strumming the first chords of their set when police shut off power to the building. Yetman and Faye attribute this to miscommunication with the authorities. Two individuals were arrested and a citation was issued.

Boone thinks the police’s knowledge of the events will, “Affect [‘Second Friday’] in a great way because now they know what we’re doing. In order to enact change, you have to bring awareness first and they’re aware of it now.”

Café is occupied by roommates Yetman, Sammy Faye and Daniella Velasquez.

Tonight’s “Second Friday” was scheduled to take place in Café’s back lot. Boone and Yetman planned to organize large canvases for artists as well as a stage for local bands and DJs, but the event has been moved inside due to the weather.

Plans for the huge lot don’t stop there. Preliminary steps are being taken to build a skating ramp. Future events the Café family would like to organize include movie nights, music sessions and poetry readings.

“These are things in the community that we enjoy and are trying to encourage,” said Yetman. “It is a meeting place for creative minds to come together.”

“When we first moved in it was just us trying to make it livable,” said Faye. “We are still in that process. I’ve never really moved in thinking it was our house though…it’s a place for the community.”

Michelle Yetman and Josiah Boone guard the exit to Cafe's rooftop deck. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Michelle Yetman and Josiah Boone guard the exit to Cafe’s rooftop deck. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Yetman and Faye had originally signed a lease on a house nearby, but abandoned the endeavor when they learned of Café’s vacancy. Rent and broken lease fees exceeded budgets, but art took precedence. What quickly transpired was the execution of a life-long fantasy.

Yetman noted, “Sammy and I wanted graffiti arts on our walls. We just wanted art around us everywhere.” Yetman was later introduced to Josiah Boone. His character would become the knight in shining armor within this quirky fairy tale. He was the catalyst.

AAron Garza adorns a wall near the kitchen with his iconic astronaut kittens. Photo by Michael David Garcia.

Aaron Garza adorns a wall near the kitchen with his signature astronaut kittens. Photo by Michael David Garcia.

Finished product. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Garza’s finished product. Garza also owns and operates Espresso Gallery, 529 San Pedro Ave. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We were waiting for someone who was more involved in that world to help us out,” said Yetman.

It proved to be a beautiful collaboration. It was the symbiotic relationship that Café needed.

Yetman was an Art major who volunteered at Blue Star and the McNay and interned at Alternative Photography. Her knowledge and appreciation of art was expansive, but she grew tired of the distance she felt between herself and the medium. After visiting with some local artists and viewing their work first hand, she wanted to get more involved.

Boone, on the other hand, began his artistic career after seeing graffiti artists painting in high school. He was also heavily influenced by his mother, Irene Boone, a mural artist who has painted all over the city. Boone has become a prominent graffiti artist in the community.

Both Yetman and Boone see great potential in San Antonio’s art scene.

“Austin has the music scene, but we have culture,” said Yetman.

Boone believes that the scene’s biggest downfall is the lack of organization and marketing. Café is quickly filling that void.

Boone, Yetman, Café roommates and supporters seek to continue gathering arts enthusiasts in one place for a hodgepodge of artistic demonstrations. Strategically scheduled so as not to step on the toes of the illustrious First Friday, “Second Friday” was created and continues to showcase local talent, connect artists and help legitimize art forms previously ignored.

A two-foot painted gorilla guards the residence while two industrial size lime-green doors beckon guests inside. Stepping over the threshold prompts eyes to dance across walls that serve as bike racks most days. A technique creates neon images that illuminate the dimly lit room.

Cafe entrance. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Cafe entrance, seemingly electric. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Painted in glowing letters, the words “Life, Art, Love” guide guests up two flights of stairs to the life-sized collage functioning as a living room. Two “Second Friday’s” after the events conception, each wall reflects a different stage of progress. A Buddha head stares at a lone drum set on the right side of the room, a cross-legged female figure splattered with blotches of strategically placed color is to the left, cats in space suits adorn the bottom of a cabinet and multiple abstract pieces color the remaining sections of the interior walls. The rooftop balcony is adorned with creatures on either side of the doorway including a monkey and nightmarish figures.

Faye summed it up it best, “Café is a junction. It is a mixture of everything coming together.” All arts are embraced, all artists are supported and everyone is encouraged to create.

Melanie graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Concentration in Professional Writing and a minor in Anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio in December 2011. Her current Marketing position at the local nonprofit organization ARTS San Antonio has afforded her the opportunity to further explore her love of the arts. She now spends her nights among local musicians, artists and poets – finding beauty in self-expression. You can contact Melanie through her Facebook.

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