By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In cyclones of Arabic words, the sculptural pieces by Simeen Farhat tell stories of poetry and pain. Born in Pakistan, Farhat came to Texas with a now ex-husband and earned a graduate degree from Texas Christian University. At 38, she divides her time between teaching art at community colleges and making art in the dining room of her century-old apartment on Swiss Avenue.
Using a jigsaw, Farhat cuts Arabic letters and phrases out of medium-density fiberboard, words chosen from Persian poems in Farsi and Urdu (her first language). Pegged together with tiny pieces of wood, the words are assembled into tornado-like shapes that convey a frenzied energy. The messages in the whorls of words reveal Farhat's responses to such issues as the "honor killings" of women in the Middle East.
"My work is feminist," she says. "After 9/11, I started questioning my identity as an artist."
She also makes ghostly figures of veiled women, three-dimensional sculptures that spew from their mouths Arab script in red and yellow. These pieces were featured last year in a one-woman show at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary titled "We Won't Kill You."
"I tell my students to question, challenge that which puts you on edge," Farhat says. "Art should always start with what bothers you."
At South Garland High School, Joey Folsom fell in love with acting in a school production of Much Ado about Nothing. He gave up soccer, track and swimming to hang out with the drama department and hasn't stopped acting since. Now 26 and two semesters short of his B.A. at University of North Texas (his financial aid ran out), Folsom is the founder and producing artistic director of Broken Gears Theatre Project, a 10-member company devoted to producing plays with social and political relevance.
Broken Gears debuted in 2009 with a well-reviewed production of Eugene O'Neill's rarely produced drama The Hairy Ape. Budget: $50. The company just opened its second season with Philip Ridley's Pitchfork Disney (running through November 13), followed by Romulus Linney's Gynt, Strindberg's Miss Julie and a new version of Oedipus the King.
"We call it Broken Gears because so much theater is not functioning," says Folsom, recently named "Emerging Artist of the Year" by the DFW Theater Critics Forum. "We have a collaborative environment, selecting shows by vote as a group. And we are all required to audition for outside work, as well. But our plays must have social relevance. Why do a play if it doesn't relate to what's happening all around us right now?"
Still paying his bills and keeping his "beater truck" running with a day job waiting tables at Carino's restaurant, Folsom leads free acting workshops in his spare time and dreams of videotaping Broken Gears' plays for public access television. "One of Broken Gears' initiatives is to make theater accessible," he says. "We want to create new opportunities for people to do theater and to see theater."
For artists, inspiration can come in the most unexpected places. For Joel Hester, 39, it came this past July 4 in an auto junkyard, looking at the rusted hood of a 1970s Cadillac Coupe de Ville. "A light went off in my head," he says. "It was a rush. I instantly knew what I was supposed to do with my life. And I've been chasing it ever since."
From that 55-pound piece of decaying Caddy, Hester, a former printing press worker who'd been making steel-frame furniture in his garage for several years, created a beautiful table welded onto custom-made steel legs and finished with velvety-smooth joints. It was his first piece as a full-time maker of one-of-a-kind handmade steel furniture. He left his printing press job, opened a 600-square-foot shop called The Weld House and has been working ever since, all by himself, 12 to 14 hours a day, often seven days a week, creating heirloom-quality furniture out of old car and truck parts.
Using welding skills he first learned as a teenager on a summer job in a dairy barn, Hester turns out an average of one large coffee table or dining table a week (prices start in the $850 range). He recently made an 11-foot-long, 500-pound "community table" for a Starbucks in Miami. Many of his orders come from seekers of industrial-chic furniture who live in Manhattan or Seattle and find Hester's work on the Internet.
He prowls North and East Texas junkyards, salvaging the hoods and truck beds of American-made vehicles from the 1960s and '70s. "They have the best steel and the nicest rust patterns," Hester says. "I can't use German cars. Paint's too good." He once paid a guy at a gas station $100 on the spot for the hood on the old beat-up truck the guy was driving. "As I'm working on a piece, I think about what that truck has seen in its life," Hester says. "As for my life, I've switched over from wondering if this is what I'm supposed to do. I don't use the word artist—maybe craftsman is what I am."