Dallas Observer Masterminds 2014: Meet the Winners of Our Annual Art Awards

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Heyd Fontenot: Artist, Gallery Director and Community Builder
In a tan building on a street corner in Exposition Park, CentralTrak is modestly revolutionizing the local art scene. In its sixth year, this University of Texas at Dallas artist residency program is part gallery space, part community. Behind the scenes, CentralTrak Director Heyd Fontenot keeps the project alive, programs the space, mentors the artists and, oh yeah, practices his own art.

"There is always something else that needs to be done from fundraising to paperwork," Fontenot says. "But I always find time to paint. The weeks when I don't, I feel like something is amiss."

Fontenot and I are sitting outside Murray Street Coffee in Deep Ellum, just a few feet from the rack where he locked his bike. During the hour we chatted, several local artists stopped by our table to say hello, including Sally Glass, a former resident of CentralTrak and founder of semigloss. magazine.

"Accepting the position of director was my way of putting community in front of my own art," Fontenot says. "If I wanted the arts to grow, I knew I needed to invest in them." Fontenot moved from Austin to Dallas for a residency at CentralTrak as an artist and became the project's director in 2011. A native of Louisiana, Fontenot studied radio, television and film at UT and worked in the industry for decades on projects that vary from experimental film to the History Channel's Swamp People to more adult subjects. He's also earned a national reputation for his paintings of nudes, a subject that has fascinated him since childhood.

"I grew up Catholic and gay. When I was a little kid my mother was always repainting the wall in my closet," Fontenot says. "I would lock myself in there and draw naked ladies behind the clothing. I don't really know why at the time, but later in my life the symbolism of that is pretty rich."

His paintings of nude friends and models are more intimate than erotic. Often Fontenot takes photographs of single subjects and paints them into groups to build an implied narrative. In each painting he "interprets" the person by exaggerating the size of heads or hands and the subjects' wide eyes seem to invite the onlooker to continue looking. "Art doesn't just exist on its own, it interacts with its public," Fontenot says. "I think there can be humor in art and I think you can see that in much of my work."

Although Fontenot may find less time to paint than he did before working at CentralTrak, in many ways his two careers complement one another. He continues to exhibit his own work throughout the country, while also expanding the number of exhibitions at CentralTrak, bringing in panels on a variety of subjects, and last year Glasstire named the space one of the best contemporary art galleries in Dallas.

"When I came to Dallas, I found this city very welcoming, but much of the support was institutional and not for the artists," Fontenot says. "Growing up on a farm, I understand the importance of being an active part of a team. We're not allowed to not participate in this. We all have to contribute to the arts community in Dallas for it to grow." -- Lauren Smart

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