Against the walls of sculptor Rafael Consuegra's studio, the archangel Gabriel rests in pieces. When soldered together the stainless-steel seraph will stand nearly 36 feet high. Holding a trumpet aloft, this messenger from a vengeful Heaven threatens to usher in the apocalypse. Instead Consuegra's creation will welcome visitors to this month's Bird Road Art Connection Open Studio Night.
Once a month since 1983, Consuegra has opened his studio in the Bird Road warehouse district to the public. Three years ago he broadened his endeavor when he founded the Bird Road Art Connection (BRAC) with colleagues Guy Haziza and Vincente Dopico. Since that time the organization has grown to serve a shifting group of anywhere from 14 to 30 artists, as members move in and out of the neighborhood studios. Other than low rents, the warehouses provide so much space that Consuegra estimates roughly a third of the BRAC members actually live as well as work in their studios.
Consuegra believes this real-life environment offers the public a different experience from the usual schmoozing in art galleries. "The atmosphere at a gallery walk can end up being basically social, almost frivolous," he explains. "Here, you see the artists sweating over their work. You might even catch them in a bad mood."
For ceramicist Christine Lush-Rodriguez, the artists' congeniality makes the Open Studio worthwhile. "It's a really neat atmosphere," she observes. "It's not a slick gallery scene. These are working studios that we clean up for the public. You can see the whole process and ask real questions of the artists. The district is much smaller, and the studios are closer together. We hope the Open Studio events will make more people aware of us."
According to Consuegra, the participation of Lush-Rodriguez and other U.S.-born artists in BRAC is a healthy sign of the organization's internationalization. The clay sculptures by Pennsylvania native Lush-Rodriguez, however, belong to another world. "My work is related to plant life," she notes. "It's oceanic, like fantasy fruits or vegetables from another planet." The bizarre flora that line her shelves look like mutant versions of the ceramic fruits and vegetables so popular with amateur craftspeople. The tentacled vegetation, measuring four inches to two feet high, sprout first from her imagination. "After I make a piece I go back through plant books to find the name of something similar that grows on Earth." From bearded lilies to apocalyptic angels, the artists at BRAC give familiar subjects a far-out twist.