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The Fabric of Art

(June 2010) posted on Mon May 24, 2010

Find out how Rusty Arena applies his passion for art to a long-running career of creating unique, screen-printed home décor.


By Andy MacDougall

click an image below to view slideshow

Rusty took the can of spray paint home and used it to paint a cabinet, still frustrated with the entire episode. He then started in with a putty knife, scraping the wet paint off, revealing the color beneath. ”Voila! A new means of expression,” he recalls, laughing about the whole thing. “No one was really doing the distressed look yet. Faux finish was not a household word back then.”

He took a chance and opened a retail studio for creating all forms of art—not just pictures, but functional art: folding screens, furniture, lighting, and sculpture, always experimenting with the finishes, mixing patina and pattern and classical influences in a new way. Teaming up with his brother Ron, also an artist, and backer Delores Mitchell, they produced an array of one-of-a kind treasures. The shop was one of the first producing this type of material in the U.S. and gained the attention of New York Madison Avenue retailer Janet Carrington, which led to the creation of a new collection of functional art to sell through her shop. In addition, they began to receive commissions to create murals and trompe l’oeil in residential and commercial venues all over the country.

Although more successful than they could imagine, Ron left to get married and pursue his education, and Rusty closed the Houston shop and moved to New York to be closer to the center of the design world, which included a lot of parties, the Studio 54 scene, and rubbing shoulders with Warhol and the rest of the 1980s art and rock-star world. In 1986, ready for a rest and to refocus on the business of making art, Rusty returned to Houston, rented a loft, and began to paint. This started a chain of events that eventually morphed into today’s operation, housed in a former steel-fabrication plant that was purchased three years ago, thereby ending 20 years of renting space and moving 100-ft tables (Figure 1). Here, he and his long-time crew print his designs on rolls of paper, fabric, and other materials, producing orders for yardage from his catalogue of more than 300 existing designs and variations, taking on custom work, or working on new creations, applications, and techniques (Figure 2).


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