By Cain Hernandez
Blog Content Contributor
Presa House Gallery co-owners Rigoberto Luna and Patricia Alice Lujan reveal the intricacies and struggles that come with opening a gallery in San Antonio’s ever evolving art community.
On Friday October 7, Presa House Gallery will be having their opening reception, showcasing the works of San Antonio based artists Beer Fang, Michael Menchaca and Elizabeth and Maurice Trevino. I had the opportunity to speak with Lujan and Luna where they both detailed to me the ins and outs of operating a gallery in the Southtown art district of San Antonio, as well as their humble beginnings in the art world.
Patricia Alice Lujan grew up in the historic King William district of San Antonio, which is considered to be within the confines of Southtown, San Antonio’s artistic and cultural hub.
“I grew up in an art neighborhood,” Lujan said. “I didn’t even know what that was at the time, but nonetheless, I was influenced by the scene. Not just the scene, but my parents and numerous friends who were involved in the arts in one way or another.”
Although not an artist herself, from a young age, Lujan was constantly exposed to classical music recitals, plays and ballets. She grew a particular fondness for art, however, she describes herself as someone with more of an entrepreneurial mindset, which is part of the reason she decided to open her own business.
After some time running her own hair salon, Studio One Zero Three, Lujan was approached by friend and art curator Rigoberto Luna, who saw potential in the location of the salon.
“You know, Rigo liked the space a lot, and was constantly bringing in clients,” Lujan said. “To some extent it became his brainchild, that we turn the salon into a small gallery. Naturally, I was all for it. I had always wanted to play a more active role in the community that exposed me to so much culture.”
Luna, co-owner of Presa House Gallery, had his start as an artist since grade school, being greatly influenced by his brother, who was also an artist. As he got older, he came into contact with the late Manuel “Manny” Castillo Jr. who was, at the time, executive director of the San Antonio Cultural Arts Center (SACA).
“I had known Manny since I was really little, maybe 6 or 7,” Luna said. “He encouraged me do a mural with SACA when I was 16 or so. Since I had dreams of going to art school in New York, doing a mural was like a way for me to build up a portfolio so to speak.”
Through Manny, an entire door of opportunity was opened for Luna. He figured that through murals and work with SACA, he would have something to differentiate himself from what other art students were doing.
“When I came back from New York, everyone I had grown up with was moving on to bigger projects, so I felt like I was just kind of in the thick of things,” Luna said. “Honestly, after I came back from New York, I sort of stayed away from making art.”
Luna began to focus more on graphic design after his time in art school, working for Express News and various design houses. Being a sort of jack of all trades, he also worked jobs for galleries as a preparator, hanging paintings and setting up instillations.
“When Patricia opened her salon, I saw the possibilities the space had as a gallery,” Luna said. “After she agreed, we planned this huge show with 30 or 40 female artists called Blue Stocking.”
Sadly, just before the opening reception of the Blue Stocking Show, Lujan’s husband passed away. Lujan was dealing with the stresses of the gallery as well as the harrowing loss of her husband, Moses Lujan.
“We basically had to decide whether or not to pull the trigger on the Blue Stocking show,” Lujan said.” Rigo told me, ‘If you want to do the show, let’s just keep going with everything we’ve been working towards, and if you decide you don’t want to do it, we can pull the plug.'”
Despite the unforeseen tragedy, Lujan and Luna decided to move on with the show, turning it into a benefit, with the proceeds going towards the expenses incurred after the death of Lujan’s husband.
After a number of successful shows Lujan went on to acquire the space next door to her salon, which would later become Presa House Gallery. They ran the gallery for the next two years, being recognized around San Antonio and winning awards such as Contemporary Art Month (CAM) as well being invited by the McNay Art Museum to participate in their annual fundraiser Art to the Power of Ten.
Re-Branding and Future Aspirations
They’ve now decided to rebrand, under the name Presa House Gallery, with Luna becoming co-owner alongside Lujan. I asked Lujan about the plans her and Luna have for the new gallery, and what they expect to achieve.
“Our main goal is to have exhibits every month featuring, not only artists, but musicians and DJ’s too,” Lujan said. “We love to work with local artists, but we’re also open to working with national artists as well.”
Luna specified that he’d like to work with artists from the bay area and also feature friends from his time spent in New York and Chicago.
“In November, we’ll be putting on a Morrissey exhibition and after party in light of his upcoming concert,” Luna said. “So we’re bringing in a good friend of ours from San Francisco for that show, and another artist working out of Brooklyn right now. I’d really like to have mix of local and national artists showing at Presa House.”
Another idea they expressed to me was having an exchange program, bringing in local artists from other cities like Chicago and sending San Antonio based artists to exhibit in galleries over there.
Since Presa street is a bit out of the way from the numerous bars and galleries around Southtown, Presa House aims to be an alternative to the party focused nightlife of the main strip on South Alamo street.
“In the six years I’ve been here, I’ve seen numerous business popping up around our little gallery on Presa,” Lujan explains. “Because of these new businesses, people are now making it a point to stop by our spot, which is exactly what I was hoping for. My vision is to bring a little light and attention to Presa street and our little corner.”
Feeling grateful to the studios and galleries that came before, Lujan intends to expose her own children to the culture that she had the privilege of experiencing when she was young by working with local schools and getting children more involved in art.
“We very much want to involve everybody,” Lujan said. “You know it’s not just about making money per se, but it’s really more about the community. This is not a lucrative venture for me.”
San Antonio is changing drastically. Neighborhoods are being gentrified, the music and art scene is evolving and Presa House aims to be a testament to a time before all this change and growth. A throwback to the old days, so to speak. Both Luna and Lujan are optimistic that they can achieve this.
“We want a space driven towards things that have been going on in this neighborhood for a while, things that we don’t want people to forget,” Lujan said. “A space where we can highlight all the things that at one time made this city and community special.”