He stands at about six feet tall with dread locks down to his lower back. Tattoos line his limbs and black rims frame his perspective. “Soup,” as he is fondly known, is a household name around San Antonio … if your house is filled with street art aficionados of course. An outward appearance some would define as “unapproachable,” combined with a reputation that prompts local police to ask for his autograph, I approached this interview with intimidation on my tongue and admiration in my fingertips. I left enamored by a presence both humble and inspirational.
Nike Soupé is notorious for his vivid black and grey work that can be seen on several venues across town including The White Rabbit, The Korova, The Falls and On The Half Shell Oyster Bar to name a few. Soup continues to paint around town – perhaps on walls near you – but he's curator of a small gallery just north of downtown, The Paintyard.
The gallery business isn’t easy or cheap, but as Public Art San Antonio (PASA) Manager James LeFlore explains, galleries are a critical part of a healthy and thriving arts and culture scene.
“Whether in downtown or in neighborhood centers, galleries are an important opportunity for cultural exchange to take place," LeFlore said. "San Antonio is on a different path than other cities and has an unfinished script that is still being written by those actively engaged in creating it still today.”
Why not go to a city with a better-developed arts scene? LeFlore believes that San Antonio is appealing to artists less likely to define success in commercial terms and more likely to interest artists that "consider success to come in the form of collaborations, open celebrations, and transformations that occur at a slower pace but that are often more inclusive overall.”
LeFlore also advises gallery staff to be entrepreneurial and consider diversifying the traditional business model, for example, a gallery that would work optimally alongside another business such as a specialty store, café or office space. The Paintyard took this advice to heart.
The gallery, which opened last fall, is nestled within a retail store that boasts some of the best spray paint in town as well everyday wardrobe needs. In what little time the gallery has been in existence, The Paintyard has already gained notoriety for showcasing amazing national talent. Most recently on display were works of New York graffiti artist Miguel Paredes and L.A. collage-heavy artist Kyle William Harper.
The trip to this gallery on the corner of San Pedro and Warren Avenues was well worth it for Paredes’ breathtaking work alone. He raises eyebrows for pairing portraits painted so well they are easily mistaken with photos with out-of–the-ordinary elements. One of his paintings, for example, featured a young boy about to munch down on a rat. He also has manga-inspired works that, as a girl, I can only describe as adorable.
As the curator of The Paintyard, Soup said he wants to help other artists come up and is constantly trying to repay the woman who gave him a break when growing up on South Padre Island: Dainty Louis ran a shop called Isla that is still in existence today. Dainty learned of Soup’s interest in the arts and eventually handed him a key to her studio. Over time, Soup studied other artist’s work at 3 or 4 in the morning and would note the changes they had made from one day to the next. Eventually, the artists began leaving him notes with advice on technique to study. Soup’s art education was informal but clearly beneficial nonetheless.
GED in hand at the age of 15, Soup went straight to college and obtained a BA in English from UTSA. He is well versed in the various forms of expression and is eager to teach anyone willing to learn. “I want artists who visit the shop to constantly be doing something constructive. I don’t care if it’s sitting in the corner with a pencil, painting or taking pictures.” He operates on the premise of, “If you’re not doing something, get the hell out.”
Soup says the hardest part about curating is trying to get people out to the events. He comments on the art of conversation needed to promote events. Lesson learned? Networking is as important, if not more so, than creating an event page on Facebook. Get out. Go to events. Talk to people.
Small, local galleries often cluster in neighborhoods and buildings (e.g. South Flores Arts District, Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, North St. Mary's Street, etc). Another quaint gallery can be found literally less than 20 feet away from The Paintyard’s front porch.
From the Paintyard, just drive those Toms… or Chucks… or Sperrys just past the tattoo shop on your left, and there is the Espresso Gallery.
Owned and operated by Aaron Garza, Espresso houses SA’s artistic souls in the form of musicians, poets, photographers, and a horde of other visual artists. The Jazz Poets of San Antonio host open mic nights every Tuesday evening at 8 p.m., during which poets read their pieces to the sounds of smooth jazz.
In addition to gallery openings featuring local artists (Pompa, Aaron Moreno, Cindy Palmer, Matthew Mendez, Raul Castellanos, Nick Glenn and Serg Shirkov – just to mention a few), Garza has made sure to spotlight just about every local band you can think of as well.
[Video: A performance by the rock/folk powerhouse, Lonely Horse, at Espresso.]
Opened in February of 2012, Garza decided to enter into the not-so-lucrative art business out of a sheer love for art. Before he opened the gallery he remembers thinking: “Why not?”
He couldn't think of a reason, so Espresso was born. A coffee bar is currently being added to the space, combining two of Garza’s loves: promoting and coffee. “I've always wanted a coffee shop, I just so happened to open a gallery in the process.”
Garza’s background as an artist began in late 2009 when he started painting on t-shirts for bands. He moved into a studio at High Wire Art Gallery in January 2010. There he began absorbing the gallery environment including artists meetings, curating, hanging, and shows.
Garza is learning quickly, however, that running a successful gallery isn’t simple. Rent and bills stack up quicker than you can say unsupportive city, but he is hopeful. One of his pieces was recently purchased by the San Antonio Museum of Art, so there is reason to be optimistic.
Next up for Espresso is a live vinyl recording this Saturday, April 6. Garza is teaming up with local booking group Die Happy Productions for the event to feature and promote some of SA’s heaviest hitters in the music scene like Lonely Horse and The Last Nighters as well as some lesser-knowns, but equally awesome, like Creatura and Ghost Electric. Ten bands will be housed under one roof for a day of music and art. Donate and/or preorder the vinyl at www.indiegogo.com/diehappy.
Though the official Contemporary Art Month has passed, I would argue that it's contemporary art year. Decade. Eternity. Find some of these gallery gems in San Antonio (The Current has an insanely thorough list, click the "gallery" filter). Purchase or admire – depending on the thickness of your wallet – however you choose to support.
Melanie Robinson 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.