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Gallery pays homage to its video store roots

Luke Quinton

Unless you're steeped in the lore of Hyde Park, it may not be all that obvious why there is a yellow and black mural of an alien monster on a building at the corner of Guadalupe and 43rd streets.

The building has been home to Gallery Black Lagoon for the past two years, but before that it was the Movie Store, with a sprawling mural of film icons, from Godzilla to sci-fi robots and, of course, one of the creatures from the black lagoon. (Before the movie store, it was a Korean restaurant and, apparently, an office for a private detective — simultaneously.)

When Singer Mayberry and her husband, David Lujan, moved into the space, they were aware of the Movie Store's devotees, and so they found a name that seemed to tie it all together. They kept the old-fashioned marquee lights, and Lujan, an artist and versatile handyman, painted the stylized creature on the wall, returning it again to its rightful spot.

"I think you could say we've fallen into a business that we're good at," Lujan says as he and Singer wait for artists to drop off work for their latest show, "Blurred Lines." It's a drawing and mixed media show in their Austin Series, Vol. 2, a grouping of local work.

Mayberry and Lujan didn't know exactly what they were getting into, but they do know Hyde Park and its quirks.

Although Black Lagoon is entirely theirs, the couple are deeply connected to their next-door neighbor, the Parlor, a pizza joint owned by Mayberry's mother and stepfather. Lujan works there as a bartender.

They flirted with the idea of having music in the space, a logical step for the couple who also have a "dark pop" band called Bitter Birds. But, says Lujan, "It's hard to clean up after a live music show."

So, instead of renting out the space to artists, one way they pay the bills is to rent out the 1,700 square feet for private events and jewelry trunk shows. "We actually have sold a lot of stuff at the private events," says Mayberry. And it's working, says Lujan. That way, "the gallery pays for itself. The next step is for the place to fund us."

Mayberry notes that there are "other galleries (in Austin) that opened up two years ago and are now closing." It's the plain truth that local art in Austin doesn't entirely carry its own weight yet.

One of the couple's favorite artists is Jamie Spinello, a San Francisco transplant who makes skillful clusters of organic shapes, with strange plants, human hands and bugs. Spinello is also responsible for Black Lagoon's beautiful corner mural, with swirling plants in a crush of details, climbing up and above a handsome wooden screen that covers the window.

Lujan, dressed in black shirt, jeans and dress shoes is wary of the art jargon that predominates many descriptions of artwork; he calls it "double speak."

"That's why I never went to grad school," he says.

Mayberry, an art history graduate, whose wardrobe is considerably more colorful, is responsible for filling the space for events.

Between Lujan's slightly jaded look on things and Mayberry's penchant toward brighter colors and jewelry, they say they balance themselves out, with shows that mix young, untried art students with young veterans in full practice.

In the meantime, they're working to keep the gallery's identity their own. They curate some of the art hanging on the punk rock pizzeria's walls, but aside from that, they try to keep separate as possible from the family business next door. No family business is easy, but Lujan and Mayberry seem content starting one of their own.

"Blurred Lines: The Austin Series, Vol. 2"