Feature Stories

How Rubber Gloves Became the Crossroads of Music and Visual Art for Denton

A little less than a month ago, Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios announced that they'd be closing their doors on June 5. Rubber Gloves has been called the CBGB of Texas; it is a venue that has been crucial to North Texas music over the past 20 years.

But it's also been Denton's primary convergence point not just for music but art as well — a fact that's ingrained in the club's DNA. “It's a long-standing collaborative art project, to which a tremendous amount of people have contributed,” says current owner Josh Baish. “I just happen to be lucky enough to find myself as curator.”

The club opened in 1997 under the ownership of Memory and Jayson Wortham and began as a place for bands to practice. However, since their doors opened that March, the venue’s been one of the biggest supporters of the arts in Denton. Where else do bands go to practice their music (aka art)? What other public venue is going to host events that let people drink and draw?

“Then, it was a wide-open warehouse ripe for exploitation,” says Martin Iles, Director of the Good/Bad Art Collective in both Denton and Brooklyn from 1994 to 2001. “I attended, and videotaped, the first show at RGRS, which involved the band the Sillies. The Sillies were known for lead singer Jeff Silly being totally nude at their shows."

The Good/Bad Art Collective was founded in Denton in 1993, four years before Rubber Gloves came into play, holding numerous art events and fundraisers. They had a headquarters just a couple blocks away from where Rubber Gloves is now, too. “Over the course of our decade of activities,” Iles says, “we hosted over 200 one-night events of art, music, performance and film.”

In order to fund their organization, they held monthly benefits with bands hailing from the DFW area. “Originally, we held these events in our little shithole building,” Iles says, “but we quickly outgrew the facility and started having our benefits at other venues like The Argo on Oak Street in Denton and the original Dan's Bar on Elm Street in Denton.”

After Fry Street staple The Argo closed in 1997, Iles says Good/Bad transferred their benefits to Rubber Gloves. “Our benefits were known for outrageous concepts and our positive relationships with the music community allowed us to challenge the conventions of how live music is presented,” Iles says. “The musicians in Denton were always game and we loved making wild things happen.”

In 1997, the G/BAC held a show inside DIverseWorks in Houston, where they built a faux Denton-based headquarters inside the space. They hung art in the fake building and made it into a functional roller skating rink. After one night, they tore their fake building down and hauled the wood back to Denton where said wood was later used to build the outdoor stage at Rubber Gloves.

“There was little existing infrastructure in the 1990s for outré music and art in Denton and we all approached this vacuum by filling it,” Iles says. “Renting a building, working and making it happen. Good/Bad inspired The Argo, which inspired RGRS. Shared culture and belief in a community of creative weirdos can make even a former cement factory (RGRS) a holy place.”  The Good/Bad Art Collective had about 130 members who helped make their events happen. Events held at Rubber Gloves included the “Upstairs Neighbor” event, where there was a fake apartment building built above the main stage. Good/Bad member Erick Swenson pretend to be an enraged upstairs neighbor who was annoyed by the music from the bands playing beneath him.

Other events included the “Dueling Bandos,” where two stages were built opposite one another and two different bands would alternate songs while the audience would have to turn back and forth as the bands battled it out. Once they even had a flashlight event where they turned out all the house lights at Rubber Gloves and handed out flashlights, giving the audience the control of the show and lighting — “And the band's ability to see well enough to play their instruments,” Iles says.

“Along with these events,” Iles adds, “RGRS also hosted the third and fourth iterations of the Rock Lottery.”

The Good/Bad Art Collective filled Rubber Gloves with art shows up until 2001. That, however, was not the end of arts at Rubber Gloves — it was simply a creative inspiration that kept the town weirdos thinking about what they could do next. 

Some years later, the bar manager at the time, James “Shep” Shepard, came up with the Drink and Draw concept, something he had done for years before just at his friends’ houses. The concept was simple: you drink, you draw. The bar provided the medium, media and booze for purchase.

Another event that was slightly more popular than Drink and Draw were the BS Art Fusion nights.

“Art Fusion was not an entirely original idea,” says Bryan “Wally” Walior, founding idea person for BS Art Fusion events. “ A famous tattoo artist by the name of Paul Booth was hosting a similar event at Tattoo Conventions at the time. I took his idea and expounded on it. I wanted a reason to throw a party for creatives every month. Gloves hopped on board.”

The concept began with multiple artists assigned to a station. Each artist would then work within a specified time creating spontaneous ideas on canvas. When the time was up, the artists would rotate to the next canvas to pick up where the previous artist left off. The end result was a unique, multi-dimensional piece of artwork that could never be reproduced.

The creative minds working at Rubber Gloves in 2010 decided to take art up a notch and open the Meme Gallery that February. The then-unoccupied space was in the same building just a separate room dubbed La Meme Gallery. Hundreds of artists would show their work in the new gallery space that, at the time, filled a huge void in the arts scene.

“That’s how I met the Pan Ector kids,” says Shepard. “They started coming to the Art Fusions, and it got to where I was seeking them out. I was purposely trying to find them because people liked the art they were doing.”

Taylor McClure and Drew Elam, former Pan Ector designers, along with Nevada Hill, were among a group in the vanguard of a new age of Denton art.

“If you’re talking art in the terms of visual art,” Baish says, “Nevada [Hill] should be at the forefront of it all.”
A couple years ago, the club needed new shirts designed, so Baish talked to McClure and Hill. “The Rubber Gloves logos, there's been a couple, but there’s always going to be the scorpion in Texas and there’s always going to be the original logo, the woman, that Memory did — which is brilliant,” Baish says. "Hill went for the scorpion and McClure went for the lady in the gloves.”

Hill passed away earlier this year, almost six years to the date of Meme Gallery opening, following a long battle with cancer. Before he passed, though, Hill created the mural that is on the wall closest to the parking lot.

“I look at that fucking thing,” Baish says, looking at the mural, “and I see things that he did knowingly. And he knew his own mortality.” His mural is, quite literally, the heart of Rubber Gloves. “I asked him to take a picture in front of the mural when it was just bare bones, and he knew. He knew then. And he didn’t tell anyone,” Baish says.

He trails off. "And that's where I'm going to start crying."

Denton’s relationship with music and art are changing, and seem to every couple of years. Whatever happens next, it’s nice to take solace in the fact that Denton is, and has always been, filled with a ton of creative people with creative ideas to make the town a better place to live.

"My relationship to this place is as an artist," Baish says, "because that’s all I've fucking been is to know that you live your life and things happen. Your relationships with people change constantly."