Roadhouse Relics

GSD&M produced this piece about Todd Sanders from Roadhouse Relics. Special thanks goes to Tyler Crelia here at GSD&M for filming, directing and editing. Check it out, and read more about this local artist’s story.

 For Austinites, Todd Sanders of Roadhouse Relics is a household name. His South First store (his former home, turned studio, turned storefront and workspace) is as iconic as his signs. As a curious art enthusiast myself, I struck up a friendship with Todd and uncovered a history as rich as the work he produces.

 Settling in Austin in the early 90s, it’s hard to separate Todd’s story from the scrappy, authentic story of the city itself. Long thought of as an anomaly of Texas cities, Austin’s preservation of the independent business, independent thinker and independent spirit sets the city apart as one of the most unique and charming in America. And when visitors fall in love with Austin, they fall in love with the handful of artists who have dedicated their lives to this city. And there’s no doubt Todd is one on that elite list.

His vintage neon murals and sculptures decorate and influence the Austin landscape giving it what Todd likes to call a “crude charm.” His work has played a role in giving Austin an eclectic, positive identity that is known worldwide as “Austin Style,” but for Todd, it is modern vintage and it is echoed in each of his works.

His pop art has appeared in almost every Robert Rodriguez movie filmed in Austin and other major motion pictures including “Miss Congeniality” and “The Rookie.” His work has also appeared in Esquire, Texas Monthly and Southern Living. Celebrity clientele includes Norah Jones, Russell Crowe, Willie Nelson and ZZ Top. And as Austin becomes a bigger player on the national scene after years of steady growth, it seems only natural that Todd’s influence would grow along side it.

We had the pleasure of learning more about Todd while we chronicled him making the “Subliminal” sign for Shepard Fairey’s new gallery in Los Angeles. Said Shepard about his work,

For me, street art is putting work in public for all to see without compromise. My art is a creative dialog with the people and I think Todd Sanders achieves the same thing through the medium of a sign-making. His work challenges the notion of a sign being purely for driving capitalism, and demonstrates a craftsmanship and authenticity which bring art and commerce together. Beauty and style are essential to both good art and branding, and these values are powerfully reflected in the intricacies of Todd’s work.”

What separates Todd from his contemporaries is that Todd has preserved the original methods for creating his signs – everything is made from scratch, by hand and without the use of computer aided design.

Dan Winters, photographer and friend of Sanders said it best, “Todd Sanders is unstuck in time. He offers us a window to the beauty and simplicity of a simpler time but has no trouble navigating the challenges of today. He is a walking encyclopedia of mid century America and speaks so passionately you would swear that he just appeared in the 21st century via a portal that he hand crafted as elegantly as he crafts his art.”

With a personal collection of almost every Neon Times magazine from 1920 through 1960, Todd has given himself a master’s education in neon art through rigorous study and dedication to the craft during his 20-year career. His knowledge of typography, style and craftsmanship of vintage signs is uniquely self-taught. He has amassed over 2000 photographs of antique neon signage and murals from countless miles of travel throughout the United States, which give him the inspiration to create the works of art which cover his studio.

What Hatch Show Print is to the American Poster, Todd Sanders is to the medium of neon signs. Len Davidson, author of Vintage Neon said of Todd, “The greatest signs have always been figural, often in both neon and metal work. Unlike most of today’s sign people who throw a computerized font together on a rectangular metal cabinet – or worse yet, turn to LEDs – Todd appreciates the deep artistic and cultural roots of the neon sign tradition. He has created a body of work that calls on this tradition and often surpasses it by creating new artistic signs that catch, amuse and delight the eye. I have documented classic neon signs in my book, Vintage Neon, and am always impressed by how Todd’s new work stands up against the masterpieces of yore.”

We had the pleasure of him visiting GSD&M and giving a lecture on his work. We’ll post and share it soon.

For more information or to contact Todd, check out his website or visit him in his South Austin studio at the corner of South First and Annie.

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