He was on his way to Austin when we caught him on the phone, and Bruce Lee Webb was breaking up. "That's when I came across....baboon skull...gone too soon." Even with a Texas highway's splotchy reception, Bruce Lee Webb is fascinating. He's currently on a mission: he must replenish his stockpile of merchandise at a boutique on Austin's well-heeled shopping region, South Congress. With SXSW coming up someone's got to pack Uncommon Objects full of secret society vestiges and artistic curiosities, so that when famouses like David Byrne, Yoko Ono and Arcade Fire blow through town they'll be able to swing by and reload their collections. Bruce and his wife Julie are just the pair for the task; they've built a life around junking, creating original art and showcasing the work of others. So when 35 Denton recently announced that Waxahachie's favorite outsider artist and salvager of sacred treasures will be Keynote Speaker at this Friday's Art Of Rock day panel, we got a little (read: very) excited.
"I've been doing art since I was a teenager," says Webb, from a patch of good-signaled highway. "I first got into it back in the '80s, listening to punk rock. You'd just get your dad's old tee shirt and draw over it with a Sharpie." It was that kind of D.I.Y. re-creation that formed Webb's artistic ethos of taking the world's discarded items and giving them a new purpose. The project he's been working on lately utilizes scrapbooks from the early 1900s; they're filled with fabric samples and fashion branding -- Webb takes a brush to the pages and reworks them into quirkily beautiful storybooks. "Old things have a certain spirit or energy to them," he says, with a wistful sense of eagerness, "I can't stand a blank piece of white paper."
Webb is a product of a couple generation's worth of influential people. His grandparents were missionaries in India and raised his mother there until her late teenage years. When they returned to the states, his grandparents taught religious subject matter at Southwestern Assembly of God Bible College -- Jerry Lee Lewis was a student, until he was asked to leave. The college's higher-ups did not want their flock to be demolished by "that demon rock and roll of the 1950s." His mother was an avid scavenger of flea markets and Webb was brought up in those environments as well as surrounded by statues and religious artifacts of his family's time spent in romantically distant locations. So when his grandparents passed away and left Bruce and Julie their Waxahachie home, they moved in and planted their artistic garden, tilling the soil for Webb Gallery.
They have since sold that original home and moved into the loft space above the gallery proper, which sits directly on Waxahachie's historic town square. The entire venue is a tribute to the creative energy of lessor known artists, the self-taught and the outsiders. It's also a space that fuses art and music and celebrates their marriage, daily.
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Jad and David Fair are known by many for the music they've created in their band Half Japanese, but their album art has always felt otherworldly, drawing from a magical dimension of love and chaos. Along with fellow artists/musicians Tim Kerr, Dan Philips and Will Johnson, Webb Gallery's latest exhibition showcased the diverse visual spectrum of a group known mainly for being musical heavyweights. It was lovely, thoughtful and bursting with a diversity of styles. While pieces by Jad Fair were done as two-tone papercuts, Tim Kerr painted folksy historical figures over abandoned pieces of wood and other found items. Framed by the Webb's treasure collection -- a toothpick ferris wheel here, ancient society emblems there and even a bottle cap throne placed in the room's center point -- the visual overload was refreshing. There are no blank walls at Webb; it's a sort of salvaged outsider version of the original Barnes Collection.
Bruce Lee Webb himself isn't a terribly practiced musician, he leaves that to others. But he does dabble."The only instrument I play is the electric jug," says Webb. His tool of choice has served him few times, once in a band called the Parody Cowboys that had the good fortune to open for the the Flaming Lips and the Butthole Surfers, and again in a band called Outhouse Moon. It's a damn shame that no records were ever released; that album art would have been astounding.
When Bruce Lee Webb speaks at 35 Denton's day panel at Sweetwater Grill and Tavern on Friday, March 9, he'll be joined by fellow artist and silk screener, Nevada Hill and musicians Steve Altuna and Tony Ferraro. He plans on bringing examples of art -- either actual artifacts or a prepared slideshow -- as well as delving into the DIY nature of art and music's ongoing courtship. In Webb's case, each form of expression is also intimately bound through reinvention. Both his personal art and music's inherent nature require building off of previously created sounds or items to create something new, different and thrilling. "Sometimes I'll paint right over an old painting or photo and think that person [who originally authored the work] might get mad, but I think I'm kind of giving it a second life," says Webb. "I love the old stuff; to me that's the stuff of dreams."