Exhibit of Inebriate Art
seems to me that bar art is a subject frequently left out of chamber
of commerce brochures. This is a mystery, considering that murals
on taverns and beer joints often surpass the quality of sanctioned
murals and they
seldom take themselves as seriously as do “official” wall paintings.
For those who remember the Coca-Cola
advertising campaign of the 1970s, America was told that [various
wholesome activities] went better with Coke. Bowling goes better with
Coke, Taxidermy goes better with Coke, etc. Taking that campaign as
a model, it would be easy to argue that art “goes better” with alcohol.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that wine is served at gallery openings?
After enough beverage alcohol, most “art” can be understood (or at
signage on restaurants, bars, dancehalls and clubs
feature showcases what academics would call primitive commercial urban
art. As bars and taverns evolve into more sociably acceptable [sanitized
for your protection] chain “restaurants” - signage likewise has evolved
into lighted signs of an altitude that can distract commercial aviation.
But there was once a time when the pedestrian was king and neighborhood
bars were so numerous they only had to compete with neighboring neighborhood
bars. The purpose of the signs was direct - to lure or temp passers-by
into shaving a few minutes (or hours or days) off their schedule to
enter a slightly sour-smelling oasis of shade and liquid refreshment.
Sign painters in the past often exhibited a fondness for alcohol and
it was sometimes said (by the painters themselves) that paint and
thinner fumes kept them permanently in a semi-altered state. Frequently,
bar owners paid for signs with drinks or painters paid off bar tabs
with signs - at least that was the case in my neighborhood.
We seldom include contemporary topics – but since painted signs usually
change with ownership – allow us to present this gallery while they’re
Mexico has a long tradition of painted signs. Propinquity and immigration
has given Texas a vibrant ever-changing outdoor gallery showcasing
the talents of immigrant sign painters.
early 20th Century East Texas Painting reminicent of 19th Century
Photo Courtesy Museum of the Gulf Coast, Port
one were to believe the cinematic West, what was then called “Saloon
Art” consisted of a single large painting that was placed high behind
the bar. Usually the subjects of these paintings consisted of reclining
women cavorting with satyrs, holding mirrors (or asps) or simply staring
into space, wallowing in ennui while posing as hard as they could.
A notable exception to the rule was the popular lithograph of Custer’s
Last Stand which was given out by the Anheuser-Busch Company of St.
Louis and displayed for decades in the seedier bars that couldn’t
afford real oil paintings.
of the familiar painting named "Custer's Last Fight."
Photo taken in an antique shop, 2000
was little to interpret in these paintings. These simple odes to
womanhood / pulchritude were placed as a sort of early public service
announcement. They reminded the saloon patron of his wife or sweetheart
patiently awaiting his arrival. Custer’s Last Fight was also
a PSA; a reminder that biting off more than one could chew could
sometimes have fatal results.
Saloon paintings, made with varying degrees of talent have never
been fully addressed by critics. Don’t worry. There’s no lecture
here – just a sampling with captions of what now passes for art
in and around drinking establishments.
Bar Art primary purpose has gone from entertaining patrons within,
to luring would-be patrons inside. It would be nearly immposible
to resist these enticing offers of camaraderie, sympathy, and /
or air conditioning, if one were confronted with them in reality,
but through this gallery, you can take your time without worrying
about parking, vandalism or being seen by the pastor of your church.
with these risks and annoyances removed, come on in. There’s no
cover charge. No chalk outline and no screaming-yellow police tape.
You’re safe right where you are now sitting and you already know
where the restroom is. Pour yourself a schooner of beer and let’s
vendor ponders a resemblance on Austin's
East Side in 2005.
awaits a call across the highway from Austin's
waitress wants to see the color of a patron's money at El Sapo Verde
Austin's Eastside, 2002
Williams on Concrete Block
Downtown Houston, 2002
blue-tinted dancers appear to enjoy the air-conditioning on Houston's
West Dallas St., 2000
proper ratio of beer to food is demonstrated on this Quitman Street
Sign Houston, 2004
of a painting over the door at the Museum of the Gulf Coast, Port
The multi-paneled painting was said to have been bartered for drinks.