A Medium For Mysterious Forces 

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Artists Oscar Alverado and Robert Tatum (R-L) clown around in Tatum's portion of the art space they share on South Presa street. Robert Alverado stands at the bar in the background. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Piggly Wiggly continues to haunt Robert Tatum's art dreams

Last weekend, thousands of devoted football fans traveled to Houston, while millions more watched the game from the comfort of their living rooms. Devoted Catholics make pilgrimages each year to venerate the Virgen de Guadalupe and other saints during their feast days. Elvis fans have Graceland, while conspiracy buffs still scour the Dallas book depository looking for clues, insights, inspiration, and salvation.

Robert Tatum, in contrast, hopes to one day pay his respects to Piggly Wiggly.

A West Coast native, Tatum has lived in San Antonio since 1992. His artwork has graced everything from walls around the city to the shirts on our backs. As a muralist he has worked with school children and graffiti artists, while his graphic design skills and commercial jobs put food on his table, paid his bills and allowed him (along with his partner, Anjali Gupta) to collaborate on a number of experimental exhibition and performance spaces. This weekend, in collaboration with San Marcos-based Propergander magazine, he inaugurates his latest venture, the PW16, formerly (and formally) known as Piggly Wiggly No. 16. "The gods are into creativity," he says, "they totally support us."

Chalk it up to providence, coincidence, or the restless spirits from the cold cuts counter, but for one reason or another, those porcine purveyors of produce have followed him throughout his time in Texas. They appear in his artwork and, in the case of his new warehouse space, were the former occupants of the building.

Once, the South was teeming with Piggly Wigglies, the first supermarket chain in the country. In its heyday, the franchise boasted more than two dozen stores in and around San Antonio, but by the '60s, the local Piggly Wigglies - who had displaced the small, family-run greengrocers - were shutting their doors. (Today the downtown Walgreens occupies what was once San Antonio's first Piggly Wiggly, opened in 1922.)

PW16 isn't the first grocery store Tatum has converted; it isn't even the first former Piggly Wiggly he's rented, as he discovered while researching his previous spaces. He knows the history of the building; now he has his sights on the future.

Over the past decade, Tatum has watched the growth of San Antonio's art scene. "I've been here long enough to watch the teenagers who started coming to our spaces grow up. Now they're 23, 25, 30. They have jobs. They're buying art. They're a lot more open minded." As the arts community becomes more sophisticated, there's a greater need for experimental, original work, Tatum observes. It's the sort of niche which he hopes the PW16 can fill. "We're not trying to be like any other place. We're not a rock venue, not a bar, not a club, not even an art gallery." It is the sort of place, he says, where "weirdness happens."



8pm, Saturday
February 7
2301 S. Presa

The same weird, do-it-yourself spirit which infuses Tatum's spaces also propels Propergander, the San Marcos-based, self-described "anti-comics" publication. "It doesn't have anything to do with the funny pages," explains Grady Roper, one of the creative spirits behind the magazine. Now in its sixth year, Propergander is a cross between graphic illustration and fine art, with a surreal, dark - and, more often than not, irreverent - edge to it. (About a thousand issues make their way to San Antonio every other month; look for copies at Hogwild and Planet K.)

Roper and company - who Tatum dubs the "Propergander boys" - are the guests at the February 7 visual art celebration at PW16. The show promises to be a mix of traditional and experimental art: from acrylic on canvas to what Roper calls "wacky cool art," like a bean bag toss and Shrinky-Dink marionettes. Better make that anti-art. "They're some of the most serious artists I've ever met, but they don't take themselves too seriously," Tatum says. Best of all, he points out, for novice collectors - like a kid making $8 an hour - the art is affordable.

Accompanying the wacky cool art will be music from Austin trio the Zom Zoms, "swamp-alternative" Adult Rodeo, Roper's own Attic Ted, and the Golden Arm Trio. Like Propergander's anti-comics and the show's anti-art, Roper calls the bands part of an anti-rock scene: "The commercial world is so terrible and boring. It's important to throw as many wrenches as you can." •

More by Alejandro Pérez



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