For almost 20 years, Yard Dog Gallery has resided at 1510 S Congress Ave. When I first moved to Austin and visited the South Congress shops, I was excited to find a gallery space full of intriguing art. Since my curiosity was piqued back then, I’ve always wanted to know more about this space and the artists whose work lines the walls. Last week, I spoke with owner Randy Franklin about what makes Yard Dog a uniquely Austin art gallery.
Defining an Art Gallery
Jan, Randy’s wife, had considered the idea of a Southern Folk Art gallery for a while. Once the perfect space opened on South Congress, they had to act fast to get started. They dove in without a business plan, consulted their folk art book collection and reviewed art shows done in museums in order to track down artists. From there, Yard Dog was born.
After a few years, Randy and Jan found themselves going outside their original Southern Folk Art definition. The gallery became more visually defined rather than following the typical description of “folk.” Randy started looking for art that “fit in” interestingly with the other work in the gallery, and simply curated artwork he enjoyed.
Today, Yard Dog is often described as a folk and outsider art gallery, though art terminology is often debatable, confining and sometimes controversial. I asked Randy how he defined “outsider art” and he explained that he thinks of outsider art as “art that is done by someone for purely individualistic reasons. They may not think of it as art, or may not be capable of thinking of it as art. They just do it because they have to do it.” Randy noted that many people think of outsider art as work that is “just different or outside of the mainstream, which has a dangerous romanticism to it,” but that can lead to many misunderstandings.
I followed up by asking him how he defines folk art, and he described it as “ordinary people making art for ordinary reasons. Usually it is sort of decorative and comes out of a community or tradition.” Considering these definitions, folk and outsider art can be seen as standing on opposite ends of a spectrum, but Randy does not actually use these terms to describe the work in Yard Dog unless someone asks about it specifically. “Most of the artists in here are neither, they just make work in an outsider or folk art style.” It’s easy to get too bogged down in definitions and doing so can cheat each artist out of their individual story.
Artist Jon Langford
One of the most popular artists at Yard Dog is Jon Langford. Langford is a Welsh artist and musician currently living in Chicago. While attending the University of Leeds, Langford helped found punk band The Mekons. Though he is no longer a member, he continues to make an impact on contemporary music by incorporating country and folk into punk through his solo records and work with other bands.
Besides his contributions to music, Langford is also a prolific artist. Yard Dog has represented him since 1996, and his portraits of country and rock icons mix art and music in a style Austinites respond to. His work also appears on bottles and other items for Dogfish Head Brewery.
Yard Dog has paintings and prints available of Langford’s work. His prints are made in small editions and are mounted on 1” plywood with a coat of varnish over the top so they closely resemble paintings.
Artist Andrea Heimer
One of Randy’s new favorite artists is Washington state’s Andrea Heimer. Heimer grew up in rural Montana where she observed the strangeness of suburban life. Though she is untaught, her work speaks volumes about the complicated happenings within the lives of families in suburbia.
There is a lot to unpack in Heimer’s work. Her voyeuristic paintings can be rather bleak or even mythological in nature. The titles provide a description of each piece which draws the viewer into her world of suburban curiosities.
Artist Bill Miller
Another intriguing artist at Yard Dog is Bill Miller, who uses linoleum and vinyl flooring pieces with no added paint to construct his work. This leaves behind a nostalgia and familiarity to his variety of subjects including people, nature, landscapes and moments in pop culture.
Miller has been very affected by industrialization. His grandfather died in a coal mine, his father died in an auto factory and, once Bill moved to Pittsburg, the steel industry collapsed. Despite this negativity, Miller discovered what would become his signature style while working with the Industrial Arts Co-op in Pittsburgh. The Co-op made large sculptures from items in abandoned industrial sites, and Miller would pick up discarded pieces of linoleum from these locations. This collection would eventually lead to his innovative and compelling collages.
Visiting Yard Dog
South Congress has changed greatly since Yard Dog first opened their doors. Currently, they get many visitors who are just passing through on their way from shop to shop, but this gallery is worth a closer look.
A work-in-progress poster for Yard Dog says “20 years of freewheeling art, culture and music,” and it is truly the perfect way to describe this gallery. Often, music and art blend together at Yard Dog since several artists are also influential musicians. During SXSW, Yard Dog has three unofficial daytime shows. The integration of art and music, individuality and expression, reflects Austin and what its inhabitants crave.
Yard Dog Gallery holds art openings and new artists are showcased on the right wall. The rest of the space serves as a shop/gallery of their inventory. They are open Monday-Friday from 11 AM-5 PM, Saturday from 11 AM-6 PM and Sunday from 12-5 PM. Follow them on Facebook, and check out their website.
@MadameKLM wants to know:
Have you visited Yard Dog Gallery?