Artist Sharon Keshishian of sign shop Ion Art tells the story of how her iconic Austin creations came to be.
By Rachel Rascoe
It would be hard to go anywhere in Austin without seeing the work of Sharon Keshishian. With her design company, Ion Art, Keshishian has created some of Austin’s most iconic landmark signs.
“We always kid that it’s our own graffiti we’re putting all over town,” Keshishian says. “We’ve been doing it so long, you pretty much can’t drive on any street in Austin and not see something that we’ve made. From my house, I can see things that I’ve made downtown on the skyline.”
Keshishian originally worked as a sculptor and glassblower in Austin. She began picking up more neon-sign jobs by word-of-mouth and eventually, founded Ion Art in 1986. Greg Keshishian, now her husband, joined as her business partner soon after.
In the past 30 years, Ion Art has expanded to provide clients with custom lighting, interior furnishings and art installations, in addition to creative signage. Keshishian’s 48-person team works out of Ion Art’s design-and-fabrication studio on Radam Lane in South Austin.
“We try to be the best at whatever it is we’re making,” Keshishian says of her skilled staff. “We’re always trying to push ourselves and do unusual and different things.”
Keshishian prides herself on not having any salespeople, adding that she relies on Ion Art’s reputation of quality to connect with local customers.
“One thing I love about our business is that most of our clients are other business owners, so, through the years, we’ve met a lot of people that are starting their own restaurants and new [ventures],” she says. “That’s one of the neat things about Austin: There’s so many small mom-and-pop kind of places around.”
Looking back on her years in the business, Keshishian shares a few of the favorite design projects she’s worked on.
Austin City Limits Music Festival Guitar
“Who doesn’t like a 16-foot-tall guitar covered with red, reflective eye-catchers? This went on to become one of ACL’s landmarks and an embodiment of Austin’s festival scene. I love seeing all the photos taken with it year after year!”
“I first saw the Cow Parade in Chicago years ago and always wanted to create one of my own. The Discow (aka Disco Cow) was a really fun project that embodied my love of glass art, and it was for a good cause. The Austin Art Cow Live Auction proceeds went to the Dell Children’s Hospital. We cut over 5,000 pieces of mirror for the cow and placed each piece by hand!”
“We have a long relationship with Whole Foods, dating back to the earliest days of both of our companies. I was thrilled to have a chance to collaborate with them again. [The ATX sign] was designed to be an interactive public-art installation, but we had no idea it would become such an iconic piece.”
“When Kendra Scott and her design team first walked into Ion Art, they brought a myriad of ideas with them, and we helped to solidify these concepts. It’s really rewarding to watch another woman-owned local company find so much success. We’re delighted to be part of their journey from small, local business to a nationally recognized brand.”
“This was a sculpture commissioned by Linda and Teddy Druss for their private home. The idea stemmed from a series of sculptures I designed that were inspired by Henri Rousseau paintings. Doing personal commissioned projects is when I get to be my most imaginative, and it’s exciting to create art on a more intimate level.”
All photos courtesy of Ion Art.