The Rock House Cafe displays art and sings freewheeling poetry

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EL PASO — Though it has survived for more than a year in El Paso’s Union Plaza Entertainment District, the Rock House Café & Gallery, which seeks
to attract artists in a venue that allows them to directly connect with the public, remains a work in progress.

Located on 400 West Overland, the river rock structure boasts large colorful murals that invite passers-by to take part in El Paso’s underground art scene.

Owner Michael Patino who is an army veteran and combat engineer said he seeks to feature a different artist every month and the space to showcase their work is free of charge.

“Whatever they sell they keep,” Patino said standing among the paintings of the featured artist for the month of March, Alejandra Santiago. Her works are priced between $20 and $250 and they mostly depict her deployment as an active duty soldier in Afghanistan.

“We just ask them to come back and produce more art,” he added.

The Rock House Sunday Art Market

Danny Green, a tarot card and palm reader waits for customers in front of The Rock House. Photo credit: Benjamin Woolridge

The gallery’s curator
and folk artist Jaime Santiago can often be seen standing outside of the entrance,
eager to offer a tour to anyone walking by. “At the Rock House we have
something for everybody,” he said as a matter of fact.

Scheduled events including open mic poetry slams, are posted on the gallery’s Facebook page with dates and times. The cafe offers a BYOB affair every other Friday for those of age and the poets are uncensored.

Weekend art markets allow vendors to set up tables on the gallery’s sidewalk to provide services such as card reading and henna tattoos.

“I get a pretty good turn out,” said Danny Green, a regular vendor at the Rock House who reads palms and tarot cards. “I do about 10 a night and maybe about 10 people during the day.”

Rock House Owner

The Rock House owner, Michael Patino, sets up for the night's poetry slam. Photo credit: Benjamin Woolridge

Yet, on a recent wind-swept Sunday afternoon customers were few and far between and the henna artist never showed up. There were only the faithful — a small group of regular customers and artists enjoying a bowl of menudo inside of what Patino hopes will become a fully functioning café.

The following Saturday former El Paso Times cartoonist Nacho L. Garcia Jr. continued to offer his sketching talents in an attempt to generate the public’s interest in the Rock House. He has made prior appearances to the gallery drawing portraits and caricatures of patrons for $20.

Still, the Rock House received very little turnout.

Another El Paso notable who unexpectedly showed up on the same afternoon from the Farmer’s Market nearby was Eliot Shapleigh. Shapleigh is a former Texas State Senator who was accompanied by his wife and eventually purchased a painting from Santiago.

Unexpected Visitor

Former Texas Senator Eliot Shapleigh tours the Rock House with curator Jaime Santiago. Photo credit: Benjamin Woolridge

“People still talk about it,” Shapleigh said referring to a work he previously acquired from the curator that is on display in the Shapleigh’s home.

During the more recent “Free Hole Poetry Slam” that took place on March 14, a small audience of about a dozen or more came to participate and hear verses and prose spoken in both Spanish and English inside the converted garage with plenty of room to spare.

Free Hole Poetry Slam Master, Ray Ramos hopes that the Rock House will be able to “increase the number of slams” by spreading the word on what the gallery has to offer.

Artist at Work Santiago Sepeda

Rock House mixed media artist, Santiago Sepeda offers diversity to El Paso's art scene. Photo credit: Benjamin Woolridge

However, as construction continues just a few blocks away on El Paso’s downtown baseball park, Patino admits he has a concern, as The Chihuahua’s home opener on April 28 fast approaches.

“Parking… is the biggest issue that I do have for people to actually come out and join us downtown,” Patino said.

Local mixed-media artist and Rock House regular, Santiago Sepeda sees the opening of the ballpark as a positive that will “generate more traffic” for the gallery.

So far, the Rock House Cafe & Gallery has given the El Paso public an appealing alternative to the restaurants, drink specials, and dance music of surrounding businesses.

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