Melding through welding

A cozy bungalow, roughly 6" x 6", perfectly formed by rectangles of thin steel welded into a symbol of comfort and security, sits atop a long, wooden handle in one recent piece of Tony Schraufnagel's work on view last summer at 500X, Dallas' oldest artist-run, alternative gallery. If the artwork were hefted, sledgehammer-style, and pummeled against the concrete floor, alert viewers would immediately anticipate the shattering of the concept of home. The sheer force and abuse the harmless little house would take reveals Schraufnagel's current approach to art, a melding of a 1970s minimalist's purity and simplicity with the sarcasm and humor of 1930s surrealists.

The incongruities and tensions of his own life, and the lives of most young artists, show up in Tony Schraufnagel's art, along with his taste for metal work, sculpture with architectural subtext, a penchant for tools, and a working knowledge of art movements gleaned in the art department at the University of North Texas. Like most working artists, he wrestles with the concept of the day job, a stable way to make a living, and finding time and motivation at the end of the day to make art for himself.

Outside the studio, he's an adjunct faculty member at UNT and Brookhaven College, and he takes commissions for Western-themed, ornamental iron gates and fences from wealthy Texas ranchers. Only three years out of graduate school himself, he knows how elusive critical [acclaim and commercial success can be for emerging artists, and he believes that galleries like 500X must succeed in order for more artists to succeed. As a board member for a year, he's embraced the 21-year-old alternative space with sinewy arms -- installing art, painting walls, and dismantling shows. Last week, his fellow members at 500X Gallery elected him president. "There are a lot of challenges," he says from the former dairy farm where he lives and works outside Denton in Krum, Texas, "and I am surprised and somewhat pleased that the rest of the board think I can do it."

Schraufnagel's plans for the new season at 500X include an invitational show in November, curated by Steve Cruz, that will consist of rows of rearview mirrors to showcase hanging art objects. There's strategy to this theme, Schraufnagel says, as well as an innovative concept that will include diverse images in diverse media. "A lot of people our age are just starting to collect art or consider collecting it," he says. "It's too bad that collecting for Joe Sixpack out there has not seemed accessible. The rearview mirror show will bring art to a venue that everybody has in their cars, and will serve as a kind of democratization of art in that way. People like to have stuff around them that means something, and there's a sense of empowerment for artists if their product is something the regular person on the street isn't afraid of having."

Schraufnagel has a new piece called Doubletree that continues the sledgehammer theme in 500X's Gallery Walk show, downstairs in the "Barely Legal" board members' group exhibit. Upstairs, the gallery is showing "21 & Up" with work by some of the area's most noteworthy graduate students, including Paul Booker, Chris Hart, Mary Hood, Tudor Mitroi, Jennifer Pepper, Johnny Robertson, Luke Sides, and Marshall Thompson. Schraufnagel says new talent keeps 500X fresh. "With the history at 500X, there's a certain pressure. Once you've been defined as edgy, then you're no longer edgy. Quite a few of the members now are at a stage where they're developing their careers, so there's a little tendency to pull back from the edge. I hope we can continue to be on the edge, but there's no map and no manual about how to do that."

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Annabelle Massey Helber