Austin's newest art gallery is drawing attention for its rather unusual location. Instead of an east side industrial space or a South Austin storefront, Contracommon, a 1,200-square-foot gallery and affordable private studio/workshop space, recently opened in the Hill Country Galleria.
The galleria has become quite the creative hub in recent years. In addition to the new gallery, the mall is also home to The Hive, the new center for the Bee Caves Arts Foundation; Jules Design Bar; and Flip ‘N Art.
Empowering artists and uniting community
A nonprofit collective, Contracommon aims to empower emerging artists and while also providing a sense of community for the town of Bee Cave. It is run by director Monica Bushong, who presents her work under the moniker MB and refers to herself as a visual composer and performance artist, along with executive director/artist Taylor Bailey.
“We focus on people who traditionally haven’t been able to afford studio spaces, and we give them opportunities to display their work, make work in community and get to the next level of their career,” says Bushong. "The gallery is also available to rent, and you can propose your own exhibitions."
Upon entering Contracommon, there’s a white-walled gallery space where art for purchase from its resident artists, as well as special guest artists, is shown off during rotating exhibits.
Currently, the organization has seven artists, but has space for 16 to 20 in total. Each artist is given a membership and private studios with 14-foot ceilings at 100 or 200 square feet in size. The nonprofit has become a refuge for each to create something truly unique.
“We like that people can experiment with new things and that [Contracommon] can be a buffer zone where they aren’t afraid to make a mess in something they’ve never done before or even fail,” she says. “We are all very encouraging.”
Along with Hill Country Galleria’s wine walks, Bushong says the gallery's Drink and Draws, an event where the public is invited in to draw and tour the studios, “has become an opportunity to reach younger artists and more diverse people than you’d typically see shopping at a mall in Bee Cave.”
Healing through art
For Bushong, art is the “visual language” through which she has been able to process trauma from her past.
“I was living and working in Memphis, and it wasn’t a great space to be in, especially living alone as a woman,” she says. “Someone broke in one night and came back the next day pretending they had witnessed the burglary. I turned to go back inside but they followed me in and ended up attacking me. I spent the next day in the ICU.”
After the horrific event, Bushong came back to Austin and moved in with her parents, struck with both anger-management issues and depression. But, then something magical started to happen, and an unexpected pattern emerged.
“It was scrolling through my brain like movie credits, and I physically had to purge it like this swirling energy I couldn’t still until I drew,” she recalls. “I had never used art in that way and finally could find some peace and calmness.”
The pattern, which she calls blops, are multi-angled images that she began to draw anywhere she could. She saw them as a form of alchemy, spending every day for months condensing these so-called “mind maps.”
Now, she uses color-changing, holographic materials, turning a negative experience into something from which people can take joy.
A beautiful future
Like Bushong, the other artists in the collective have found their own path through art and exploring new avenues with their craft.
"We recently got two new members," she says. "One is photography based, but he does drawing and multimedia work as well. He was such a hit at the last wine walk, and it was his first display of any work. He sold three right off the wall instantly."
And while Contracommon has officially been open since March 30, Bushong is planning another large-scale event — another grand opening party on August 30. “The show will be called HEATWAVE to honor the Texas summer and show off our up-and-coming, hot young artists,” she says.