Art: It’s What’s For Dinner

Pedro Ruiz’s Catleya Dowiana available from Beatriz Esguerra Art

Perhaps not dinner, but in many ways art feeds the soul. From the earliest to the latest, art transforms thoughts and ideas into physical form.  But it can be expensive.  For those not bothered by budgets, this coming weekend is the Dallas Art Fair that runs Thursday until Sunday downtown at f.i.g (Fashion Industry Gallery). Tickets are still available starting at $25 for a day pass ($20 if you’re too old or too young to pay $25) and topping out at $500 for a Patron pass.

If you’re like me, art events with a section titled “Works Under $10,000” and more “Contact Gallery for Price” than actual prices, it’s a window shopping outing. For example, Pedro Ruiz’s work (above) with large floral images punctuated by lone tribal figures on rafts are bold in color and subject (the appropriation of goods from native areas for the enrichment of the voracious and fickle West). Beautiful and moving, but too rich for me.

Eternal Ephemera

In the 1960s, Andy Warhol turned mundane items into art by making them larger and concentrating our focus on something used every day and ignored. One of those subjects was the lowly S&H Green Stamp (Sperry & Hutchinson). For the youngin’s, S&H stamps were given out for all manner of purchases (although mostly gas and grocery). Shoppers collected them and glued them in books that were then turned in for merchandise at either an S&H Store or through a catalog (smaller towns).

Before you had your loyalty cards (that track and sell your data), S&H allowed retailers to offer rewards to their customers without surveilling them. S&H faded away as did my childhood many years ago. And then I saw the Warhol lithograph and gasped at its price tag.

Instead of spending thousands on a poster or hundreds of thousands for an original, I got creative.  Armed with an eBay account, I was able to dig up an original sheet of 100 stamps with the design from my youth (Andy’s were before my time).  I also snagged two of the books you licked-and-sticked the stamps (and their awful tasting glue). All in with professional framing, about $110, and I love that graphic from the booklet. It hangs in my kitchen.

Did you love the Campbell’s Soup cans?  Buy a case, steam off the labels and frame them. Save a ton and get your favorite soup to boot. Judging from the number of times Warhol signed actual S&H stamps and soup cans, he’s be honored.

Another tip for fun art are in-store posters.  The image above came from a Jeni’s Ice Cream Shop in Chicago (before they became available in Central Market). They have some neat photography that changes seasonally. The image above showcased their winter 2015 flavors.  Once the season was done, the shop sent me the poster for the cost of shipping. Another frame job later, and it too hangs in my kitchen.  So generous were the Jeni’s crew that I have three posters that I rotate based on my mood.

FYI, a lot of your toitier stores would rather burn their display posters (not to name names Vivienne Westwood). So this is hit or miss, but worth a go.

I’m hardly the first person to think of the lowly menu as “art”, but unlike most, I don’t have to eat there to appreciate them.

In 1936, Eugene Savage painted (with help) the enormous 30- by 80-feet murals that decorate the Texas Hall of State at Fair Park. Savage (no relation to Dan) was born in Indiana and professor at Yale University for 28 years. A few years after completing the Texas murals, Savage was commissioned to create nine 4- by 8-foot murals to decorate the Matson Navigation Company’s passenger ships traversing from California to Hawaii. WWII turned the ships into troop carriers and the murals were never installed. However, in 1948 the murals were shrunk and used as menu covers on the SS Lurline. Today, they’re fairly easy to find on eBay from $10-50 per menu. If you’re a Savage fan, the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida has a large, 113-piece collection.

A tiki bar drinks menu let’s folks know right off what kind of night they’re going to have. This one was snagged from Chicago bar Three Dots and a Dash (which is Morse code meant “V” for victory in WWII).  I was lucky to get the menu as soon after the splashy opening, the menus got considerable cheaper. And no, it wasn’t because I pinched their good ones. I always ask before pinching.

One Man’s Trash

When you travel, do you check out second hand stores and charity shops?  When in Helsinki, I over bought and needed a second suitcase. Rather than spending a lot on something I really only needed once (I had plenty of luggage at home), I checked out a charity shop. I found what I needed for €7, then saw this oil painting and €40 later I had that too. I had no idea who the artist was nor did the Helsinki Art Museum, so no Antiques Roadshow visits for me. Completing the circle of life, the suitcase was donated again to a charity shop in Dallas (I wonder where it’s off to now).

Street Walking

In March 2006 I was walking around London and came upon a street stand for the Evening Standard newspaper. If you’ve been to London, these types of newsprint posters were everywhere papers were sold (although mostly gone in recent years). This beauty had been tossed out with the remainder of the day’s papers.  The headline refers to the death of John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, who in the 1960s was having an affair with Christine Keeler at the same time she was playing with a Russian naval attaché. I snapped it out of a bin and it stayed folded away for nearly a decade before being framed for a cheeky bathroom.

Textiles By The Scarf And Bolt

At $395 this is the most expensive repurposing in this group.  It’s an Hermes scarf.  This selection of bold flowers makes a decided statement. Depending on your tastes, it can take a while for a scarf to appear that you like.  This one took me several years of waiting for collections to turn over.  If you like horsey motifs, Hermes is an easy place. For those men looking through this column, know that Hermes has some butcher prints that will add some masculine class to your décor.

For the men (lower center is a group of marbles)

Sizes range from 18-inch pocket squares to 55-inch shawls with the 36-inch scarf being the most common.  What’s also great is that if you like a design, they all come in multiple color combinations to match the room.  If you want to go Andy Warhol, you can buy multiple of the same design in different colors.  Hermes was very nice to allow me to take several scarfs home to see how the colors worked in the space before I bought.  Of course there are tons of second hand scarves on eBay (7,234 at the minute and nearly all “rare”), but be aware of people trying to sell a current scarf for more than you can buy it in a store. If Hermes isn’t your thing, try Gucci and Ferragamo.

Finally, here’s a great way to decorate humid and echo-y bathrooms. Visit a fabric store like Fabric Factory on Inwood or hit or miss up and down Harry Hines. You’ll see a lot of interesting options to feel your way through.  Just remember when looking at fabric as art, don’t judge on what it would look like as a shirt or a sofa, how would it look scaled down to whatever size “picture” you need.  Also, with all the tile in bathrooms, they can be echo chambers. Unlike framed pictures under glass, an exposed fabric panel will absorb sound.

If you really want to save money, go to Asel Art on Cedar Springs and buy the wood stretcher and some tacks. Lay to all out on the floor and tack the fabric down in a few minutes. If you haven’t centered the pattern or gotten the angle right, you can undo the few holding tacks and reposition before doing a final, more tack-filled tacking. When you tire of the fabric, you can replace it for $20 a yard. Easy-peasy.

That’s what I like about art, it reflects who you are at that moment.  I have a few decades-old pictures that have gotten periodic new life from a reframing. But the majority of what’s on my walls is interesting stuff that struck me at the moment. If I get tired of it, it’s easy to donate and I’m not out a bundle.

Life, and art, is change.


Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.