As part of an explorative trip to the southernmost part of Texas, Glasstire News Editor Jessica Fuentes and I met with artists, curators, museum workers, and collectors to better understand the needs and desires of the region’s creative community. South Texas contains multitudes; The city of Laredo falls on the U.S.-Mexico Border and sees tens of thousands of people crossing in and out by foot every day. The region also contains the Rio Grande Valley, which features a smattering of small towns, each with their own unique artistic movements and collectives. Finally, Corpus Christi and Rockport, both along the Gulf Coast, have the benefit of tourism in addition to their museum and gallery offerings. I took portraits of the people we met along the way in order to help put faces to the names of those who contribute to the cultural production of South Texas.
Michelle Smythe, Executive Director, K Space Contemporary
Michelle Smythe was in the galleries at K Space Contemporary during our stay in Corpus Christi to give us a tour of their members only show. It turns out that K Space is really two separate entities: exhibition galleries on the downtown building’s first floor, and the K Space Studios on its top floor. Though the two organizations are formally separated now, Smythe was instrumental in connecting us with the artists of the area, some of whom worked upstairs, and helped us gain an understanding of how their practices are developing. I asked Smythe to give me a primer on what is coming up at the galleries this year:
“What I’m most excited about this year is an upcoming mural that we will be installing. The designer is the popular local artist Jimmy Pena, and the mural will be painted during our Summer Mural Arts Program by our teen students and mural instructors. I really look forward to our mural projects, because I get to jump in during the last week to help paint the finishing touches. With my busy schedule nowadays, it’s one of the only times I get to paint and sort of be an artist. Large projects are always exciting!
As always, I love working with our exhibiting artists. I am always inspired by their imaginations and personalities and I learn so much from them. Two stand-out exhibitions this year are Josias Figueirido and Chad Rea.
Josias Figueirido, originally from Spain, is an artist and painting instructor at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. Figueirido’s exhibition involves a fictional world in 3D modeling that channels his personal experiences and reflections on topics related to immigration. He is inspired by biographical events, life at the Mexico-U.S. border, and stories from his students, who cross the border every day of class, from Nuevo Laredo (Mexico) to Laredo (U.S.).
In August, we will be working with mixed media artist Chad Rea, who creates social commentary works in a style that has roots in pop art and graffiti. A former advertising copywriter, Rea combines colorful imagery with text that is surprising, informative, though-provoking, and entertaining.”
Elena Rodriguez, The Barrow Foundation Curator of Exhibitions, Rockport Center for the Arts
Elena Rodriguez has the fortunate opportunity to curate exhibitions at the Rockport Center for the Arts’ newly realized campus. Alongside expanded exhibition space, the campus also features a convention center, which offers greater outreach to the local community. She gave me a few words about what is in store:
“2023 is a really exciting time to be the curator of Rockport Center for the Arts (RCA). I’ve been here ten years, and I’ve seen RCA grow into a vibrant center full of contemporary and diverse exhibitions and stellar events and workshops. And that was before the move to the new RCA campus. Now we’ve tripled the size of the galleries and classrooms and the number of exhibitions and workshops we can offer. The new facility allows us to seek out more shows and artists from across the state and nation, and is really going to make us a bigger player in the wider art community. Rockport has always had an eclectic art scene and an incredibly supportive community, and I’m excited to be a part of this new growth and bright future.”
Catey Arnold, Leticia Gomez, and Clay Reuter are three of the artists who create work in the K Space Studios, in the same building at K Space Contemporary in Corpus Christi. The fact that a major art museum (the Art Museum of South Texas), a nonprofit exhibition space, and artist studios are all in close proximity to each other made Corpus Christi feel like a uniquely accommodating locale. Though the broader South Texas region has all of these amenities for creatives to take advantage of, they are not always in the same city. To get an angle on what these K Space Studios artists were looking forward to about the future of their practice, I asked them all the same question: “What are you excited about?”
Catey Arnold, K Space Studios Artist
“My excitement for this year of creation is in part fueled by these kinds of new experiences, which provide opportunities to ‘follow the bliss.’ It’s a strange thing to be away from my studio for days on end whilst contemplating what I’m looking forward to regarding my practice. I will say I’ve been immensely inspired by the Art Village at the University of Dallas [where I’ve been traveling] this weekend, and am seriously considering applying to their MFA program after many a fruitful conversation.
My recent small artworks echo the immense excitement I feel when exploring what is and what could be. Honoring my process, work, and the vulnerability of my studio space allows me to free-flow in the moment, feverishly moving between small- and large-scale pieces that radiate a bold color palette of neons, found objects, and purposeful, playful palettes of relational aesthetics. There is a sense of wonder and novelty in my art, and I look forward to returning home to my studio space and nurturing that evolutionary diversification.”
Leticia Gomez, K Space Studios Artist
“Truly, it is the ability to create, to continue being in this mental/physical space and to have the mobility, flexibility, and ability to make artwork actively and daily. 2023 marks a milestone of 26 years devoted to momentum, tenacity, and relentless adoration for my practice and process; it commemorates my passion for this unconventional lifestyle. One that often faces judgment, heavy scrutiny, and waves of insecurity; both within the art world and the personal realm I exist and create work from in my studio space.
The term ‘coming out’ speaks volumes for me, in the societal acceptive sense of that phrase, but also in coming out as my most authentic self: queer, indigenous, lifelong artist, recovering from a scarcity mindset that is learning to take up space — primordial, present, direct, and within spaces that are typically gate-kept within select communities. It is an honor to be where I am and to have continued this practice of expression well into my 30s. I’ve sacrificed a lot to be here and I’m endlessly grateful I made the choice to be actively involved in my practice in 2023, and not where the traditional obligations of culture and family expected me to be. Believing in myself was half of it, believing in my work allowed me to fall in love with it.”
Clay Reuter, K Space Studios Artist
“I’m excited about using the local seasons to inform my work and studio practice. This spring I’ve been making risograph prints of microscopic oak pollen (the yellow dust covering everything in Corpus Christi right now). I’m also looking forward to using field recordings of cicadas to create soundscapes for pop-up art installations this summer. For the fall and winter, I plan to be busy in the studio making homemade vine charcoal and leaf paper to give as gifts to friends during the holidays.”
All photos by William Sarradet. William Sarradet is the Assistant Editor of Glasstire.