The clay-and-wire sculpture emerging on the folding table depicts a tree, pregnant with pollution, with oil spills, airborne toxins and a trash island floating in the ocean.
The hands making it are dark and stained, a bit scarred, but fast-moving and certain of their purpose.
They belong to an anxious and soft-spoken 33-year-old known on the streets as "Denver," who has been homeless in Austin since he was released from jail on a felony marijuana conviction eight years ago.
Each week, Denver finds some peace at an informal art workshop for the homeless that has emerged near a bus bench at the corner of 6th and Brazos.
Dark Side of the Street Collective offers bright spot for homeless on Austin's Sixth Street
Karen Brooks Harper/Austonia.com
A man holds up a T-shirt he painted on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020 at the art group on the corner of Sixth and Brazos in Austin, Texas.
Across the street from the iconic Driskill Hotel, in front of a mural that says "Spread Kindness," the workshop is a world away from the hardscrabble life Denver leads under Austin's urban bridges.
He began sculpting, drawing, painting and writing about three years ago when he "built up too much anxiety and started to go manic."
The workshop has been dubbed the Dark Side of the Street Collective by founder Justine Decker, a 25-year-old street artist who arrived in Austin in April and who, until recently, lived in a room above a Sixth Street bar before moving to an apartment.
Decker, 25, is a prolific artist whose work includes colorful murals on the plywood boards covering Sixth Street bars.
Decker recently escaped the streets after spending 10 years with a heroin addiction that began in her adolescence in Florida. Now clean, she earns commissions for her mural art and drives for delivery companies to make ends meet.
She has an associate's degree from a college in Florida, which she attended on a scholarship and work-study program as a teen. Now she studies at an Austin art school, with funding from a student loan. Decker uses art supplies she buys with her own money and a few occasional donations for the group, operating for about seven weeks now.
"This helps me as much as it would help anybody else," she said. "Collaborating with people and other artists, and just remembering there's so much more to life than (using)."
On a recent Wednesday evening, the project that week was stenciling T-shirts. Will, a 35-year-old who spends much of his time on the streets, suggests a Medusa design.
"Sometimes a person can look at you, and the way they look at you, it turns you to stone, and you're just stuck for a minute," he said. "You know what that look means, and you're asking yourself why."
Decker sketches the pattern and shows Will how to trace it. Then they cut it out with an Exacto knife, put it on top of the T-shirt, and Will spray paints it black and gold.
He holds it up proudly."That's dope," he says with a grin.
He replicates it on a canvas. The design catches on, and two more people make Medusa shirts, too.
Decker's dream is to create a website with artist profiles to help sell their art, create P.O. boxes and bank accounts for them, and give them a way for their art to get them off the streets.
Denver is one of the group's most prolific and talented artists, Decker said. He has no birth certificate—he was born in Mexico with no birth certificate and taken in by a Rio Grande Valley family—so it's hard to find a job to pay for housing and a safe place to keep his art.
"That's one of the hugest problems I have right now, is protecting my intellectual property," he said. "I thought I wanted to live on the street the rest of my life, and now? No, I don't."
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A Union Pacific cargo train hit a man in his 40s, killing him Thursday morning, Austin police said.
The train's driver called the police after the train hit the man at around 12:45 a.m. in the 300 block of Orchard Street, nearby Fifth Street and Lamar Boulevard.
Police have not released the identity of the man.
Over a year after they took the stage for the first time in Los Angeles, Austin FC returned to Banc of America Stadium to snatch the No. 1 spot from LAFC in a 2-1 statement win late Wednesday night.
Austin FC, which has flirted with the top spot in the MLS West this season, has now solidly reached the summit just a year after its second-to-last first season finish. The new top dogs are now 7-2-3 overall.
Here's a look at three highlights from the match:
Flashback in LA
For many Austin FC fans and naysayers alike, the match was more than a fight for the MLS West throne: it also served as a symbol of how far the team has come.
The two clubs first met on the Banc of America pitch as Austin FC saw its first game and first loss all at once in a 2-0 battle last April. It was an exciting but shaky start to the club's first season, and the loss seemed to set the tone for the rest of its inaugural year as the club dipped to second to last in the conference.
If Austin's first season was hallmarked by its first match, then its second-year success was foretold by its back-to-back five-goal victories to kick off the season.
Since then, the club has battled its own first-year shadow, claims of "bonus games" and a few unexpected obstacles—both on and off the pitch—but it has almost always come out on top.
That fight to the top was fully realized Wednesday, even as the club played its toughest opponent yet. Even with a man down in the middle due to Daniel Pereira's red card last game, the club kept its cool through even the trickiest moments of the match. Jhojan Valencia, who patched the Pereira hole in midfield, got his first MLS start and first MLS assist as Ruben Gabrielsen scored the first goal of the game.
Gabrielsen came to Austin FC as a potential hero for the team's center back position, but the club's resident Viking has already nabbed two goals in his first season with the team.
"That's center forward material," Austin FC announcer Adrian Healey said as Gabrielsen took control of Valencia's pass, paused to fake out the defense, and calmly tucked the ball into the left corner to complete the first goal of the match.
Even as LAFC dominated possession for much of the match, Austin FC saw another wide-open goal opportunity crumble as midfielder Diego Fagundez's shot hit the corner goalpost in the 23rd minute.
But Fagundez wasn't finished. The midfielder was short on his Verde hair dye but full of surprises as he nimbly sunk a shot over LAFC defense to make it 2-0 with 10 minutes to go.
Fagundez, who has spent more time setting up goals for his teammates (becoming the No. 1 assister in the MLS in the process), finally took the center stage with his second goal this season.
Owen Wolff, head coach Josh Wolff's own son, had a scoring opportunity of his own foiled by the goalpost as he started his first MLS match as one of the youngest starters in the league this season.
But Austin FC wouldn't score again; instead, LAFC powerhouse Carlos Vela made the win a bit trickier in the 86th minute as he got past Austin keeper Brad Stuver to cut the lead in half. The other Wolff quickly subbed in a five-prong defense as the club kept steady for the final 10 painstaking minutes to win the match.
BONUS: Stuver's career-making match
Six saves on the night in LA for Brad Stuver! 🚫 pic.twitter.com/02V6hcUd3Y— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 19, 2022
After two weeks on the bench due to a knee gash, Austin's star keeper Brad Stuver had the Stuver-iest match of all time (yes, we're making it a word) as he pulled off six saves to help his team to No. 1.
Stuver looked like a pinball machine as he pulled off save after save with his feet, hands and body to keep it nearly 100% clean on the back end.
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