2015 marks the tenth anniversary of Houston's beloved Winter Holiday Art Market (WHAM), which has been organized by Fresh Arts and hosted at Winter Street Studios for the past decade. For those of you who are yet to attend (i'm assuming you will this year, because it's great fun), WHAM is a juried art market that takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving every year. It's not only a celebration of Houston's creative sector and economic engine for Houston’s talented independent artists, but is also a yearly tradition for fans of our city’s indie art scene. With just three weeks to go until the big event, I caught up with the few very special folks that have been exhibiting at WHAM since its humble beginnings in 2005. In the first of these interviews, I met with local printmaker, photographer, and retired biologist David J Webb to pick his brains about what its like to be a veteran WHAM artist:
Ok, so let’s kick this off! Tell me a little about yourself and your work:
Well, to summarize I’m a print maker and photographer. I do block prints of various sizes from 4x5 to 2ft by 4ft. Right now I’m working on a project to obtain old post cards from Houston, Texas and then I go to the location where those old postcards were photographed and take a current picture. Then I take it further by looking at who the post card is directed to and using genealogical software to figure out who they are and track the whole trajectory of a life. All these people are from 1910, so sometimes it’s just impossible but if I can I also find out who wrote the postcard. I’ve done other photographic projects, mostly associated with the passage of time.
Very cool! Will you be selling those at WHAM this year?
Those are actually for an exhibition at the Cloister Gallery next year, and I probably won’t be selling any of those.. I may have a few presented to stimulate conversation though! A lot of times I learn things from people who just happen to see it and say, oh, by the way…! For me WHAM is so much about the kinds of people you can meet and the kinds of conversations I can have about my work. Of course, it’s nice to sell things! But, for me it’s about having a good conversation.
So do you think that the networking part of WHAM is the most important aspect of it? Not the sales?
Yeah, I think that’s the real draw for WHAM artists. It’s one thing to put yourself on the internet, but that’s kind of impersonal. Some of my work is botanical monoprints, which are 15” by 42”, and it’s really hard to capture their impact on a tiny screen. Some things just don’t translate as well on the Internet.
Absolutely. So tell me about your first experience of WHAM in 2005?
For me, it was not exactly a disaster.. but I sold only to other artists that were there, and there was very little foot traffic. I guess there were people that had second thoughts about participating, because I ended up at the end of a long hallway with no other booths! The next year I said I’m not going to do it, but then the time came and I thought well, it could develop into something, so I was there for the second year and made double what I had made the year before! That was good enough for me to try a third year, and it just kind of got bigger and bigger. Now it’s a must do for me if I want to make my art business function in a real economic way.
Aside from the financial appeal, what else brings you back to WHAM year after year?
Well, I have a lot of customers who repeatedly buy my stuff, because the block prints look good by themselves but they look better in groups. I’m pretty affordable if people want to buy like five or six at a time. So I have a lot of people, when they go to WHAM, they look for me and a lot of people are repeat buyers or collectors now. I don’t have a functioning studio where people can come to look at my work. I don’t have many opportunities to put my stuff out there. WHAM is one of my more important venues for that.
So, being face to face with your buyers is very important to you?
Absolutely, it’s fun for me because I do like to engage with the buyer, or just have a conversation with somebody. For me just having someone look at my art and react to it gives me ideas for the next year. It’s sort of crowdsourcing, in today’s terminology!
Like a think tank, I like it! How has WHAM evolved since it first started?
It’s definitely gotten a lot more publicized! And a lot better attended. The first artists were of a certain caliber, and that has only risen with time. It gets better and better for people coming there to look at art or buy art.
Ten years ago, what was it like to be an emerging artist in Houston? How has it changed?
Oh it’s gone way upscale in the last decade. I moved to this neighborhood five years ago and on my block there were many of these little suburban looking houses. In the last three or four years 50% of those have been replaced with townhouses. So, all these new families are looking for some snappy art for their homes, and I think it has created a big market for not only the high end stuff for the big spenders, but for smaller things for people on a budget.
Like our WHAM shoppers!
Yes! WHAM I think really fills that niche, it’s not a gallery environment, there’s not the intimidation going in, you don’t have to deal with a curator. I think that’s a real special niche. I like to point my stuff in the direction of affordability. One of the things I like about my smaller prints is that just about anybody can have one. It’s a real handcrafted thing, it has a history, it has a genesis. When people can get there hands on stuff like that to decorate their personal environment it serves art really well.
It does. After WHAM, where can we see you exhibit next?
In July I’ll have an exhibit of the postcards and photography at the Cloister Gallery. I’m currently looking for funding to frame it, but at the very least I’ve committed to exhibiting about 50 or 75 individually framed works. I’m also contemplating doing a book dealing with the author and the recipients of the postcards, it’s fascinating.
Great! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today, see you at WHAM!
If you also want to go see David at WHAM, RSVP on ole Facey-b or check out the website for more information, see you there!
Before I die I want to... be part of an international art project.
OK quick recap: Artful Dodgy is taking part in international public art project Ear and There. Ear and There is an anonymous crowdsourced Street Art project that surfaced over a year ago. The basic concept is moulded ears that are surreptitiously placed in public spaces all over the world. The organization currently has 461 ears in 54 countries, and I was mailed three of these "souvenears" back in March.
Almost four months later and I placed one while on a trip to Porthcothan bay in Cornwall, England. And another four months later I have finally placed the FIRST EAR IN HOUSTON EVER! If you are in the area (and it hasn't already been taken down by the fun police), then you can see it for yourself at Bagby Park in Midtown (29°45'07.2"N 95°22'34.4"W). As always photo credit goes to the wonderful Adam Foret Photography.
If you would like to place your own ear, request an ear to be sent to you through Ear and There's website. Easy peasy. Stay tuned for my next ear!
What: RAW: Natural Born Artists Presents: BOLD
When: September 24th, 2015 - 7pm-11:30pm
Where: Studio Live: 6400 Richmond Ave, Houston
So, last night I went along to RAW Artists' BOLD event at Studio Live. For those of you who have yet to go to one of these nights, GO DO IT! A little background before we get to the good stuff: RAW is an international community made up of creative individuals across the globe. Their mission is to provide independent artists within the first 10 years of their career with the tools, resources and exposure needed to inspire and cultivate creativity. RAW currently operates in nearly 60 cities across the United States, Australia, Canada and, most recently, London.
This was my second time attending a RAW Houston event since moving to the city, and I certainly intend to make a habit of it. I first discovered the international phenomenon while looking for exhibitions that my partner Adam could enter his work into (yes, I'm one of those shamelessly pushy Dance Mom-types that enters him into everything because I am convinced that he is brilliant, which of course he is). Apart from being a great foot-in-the-door for first time exhibitors, it's a fab night out for anyone with even a passing interest in visual art, performance art, music, fashion, or local talent in all its forms. If you can get onboard with the extortionate drink prices and the occasional dodgy craft booth, then it's well worth the $10-$20 entry fee.
Just a few highlights from last night's Houston-based event BOLD included Katherine Mason, Graphic Designer Ramon Hernandez, and the incredible photography of Mabry Campbell. While Mabry is an internationally acclaimed artist (and rightly so!), both Katherine and Ramon are less well known, and artists like these are what RAW is all about. I was particularly attracted to the three artists in particular by their starkly different (and most importantly successful) approach to the theme: Mabry's stunning long exposure infrared photography; the striking abstract shapes of Ramon Hernandez; and the tongue in cheek pop art portraits by Katherine Mason.
The crafty stuff for me personally is a little eh, so I was happy to see that BOLD, unlike the last RAW event in the same venue GLIMPSE, was a little more visual art-centric - with an emphasis on bold (no shit Sherlock) graphic artists. As with any up-and-coming exhibition, there were some booths that were a definite swing and a miss, but who wants to focus on the negative? The best thing about this event in my opinion is the synergy between different forms of artistic expression. Sure it's a little self consciously "arty" in some ways, but in general I was excited to see this type of opportunity being both offered and wholeheartedly taken advantage of in my city. Hop along to RAW's next Houston event UPRISING in November or check out their website for events in your area,
Quick recap: Artful Dodgy is taking part in international public art project Ear and There. Ear and There is an anonymous crowdsourced Street Art project that surfaced over a year ago. The basic concept is moulded ears that are surreptitiously placed in public spaces all over the world. The organization currently has 349 ears in 49 countries, and I was mailed three of these "souvenears" back in March.
Almost four months later and I finally placed one while on a trip to my favorite place in the whole world, Porthcothan bay in Cornwall, England. The founder of this phenomenon told the Creators Project that they want "everyone who experiences the project will do so in their own way" so it seemed like a cool opportunity to leave my mark in a place that is significant to me (also check out how adorably British it is!).
If you would like to place your own ear, request an ear to be sent to you through Ear and There's website. Easy peasy. Stay tuned for my next ear, coming to Houston soon!
I have been wanting to write about this piece for a while, but up until now a clear view of it has been obscured by parked cars literally ALL the time. So first thanks to Adam Foret Photography for finally grabbing a great shot of it this morning! This complex and b.e.a.utiful mural by Daniel “WEAH” Anguilu is located on the Park St. facade of BJ Oldies Antique Shop at 1726 Westheimer Rd.
Weah is a native Houstonian, prolific artist, and is fast becoming an Artful Dodgy regular. He started painting graffiti at a young age, inspired by his Mexican heritage to create increasingly large-scale murals on freight trains and walls - eventually making the transition in his own mind from graffiti artist, to artist, period.
Weah strongly believes in freedom of expression, saying in an interview that he "felt a need to use this expression to decorate public spaces". He uses house and spray paint to create complex geometric designs that seem to become more intricate and revealing the longer you stand in front of them. He cites Houston as a perfect city for muralists because of its open spaces and numerous business owners who support public art. In his own words, Weah's work is:
"a documentation of my life, my growth spiritually and my political views.... My work in public does not belong to anyone; it is part of the belief that society is in need of therapy. Public art can be used to educate, document events, express views and ideas, and also just for the sake of creating art. I'm pushing so that we can use or take back our space".
A noble sentiment indeed, and one that sums up the need for public art both succinctly and passionately. I would tell you to go seek out his works, but if you are a Houstonian, it's highly likely that you will stumble upon them by accident regardless. So keep on stumbling folks, that's all for now...
Well I went looking for art down Washington Avenue, and as you can see, I certainly wasn't disappointed. Washington & Silver Street is undoubtedly an area that could use some love, and here we see the impact that Street Art is capable of having on even the most rundown and neglected of urban landscapes - it's amazing what a splash of color will do isn't it?
This particular building is covered on two sides by murals by Weah, Arkohs, Angel Quesada, and Article. Each work was created separately, with the exception of a collaboration between Arkohs and Weah. All pictured works were not painted on commission but have lingered at this spot since 2014 so can't be too unwelcome!
On the Silver St. facade are two works by Phillip Perez, locally known as "Article". He began creating graffiti in the early 90s aged just 12 - at first illegally and later by commission. He now works commercially as an artist and maintains a day job doing in-house work for Home Depot, but his style still speaks of his rite of passage as a raw graffiti artist on the streets of Houston. Having met the man himself on several occasions, I can tell you that this is a guy with a real work ethic, I mean he is always hard at work. One of his latest mural will be unveiled on July 4th as part of The Mural Project @ CITYCENTRE, which incidentally will also feature some other big names on the Houston scene like Angel Quesada, w3r3on3, Scott Tarbox, Empire, Clear, and Mikie Homma.
On the Washington Ave. facade Daniel Weah Anguilu collaborates with Freddy “Arkohs” Guerrero. Arkohs' three-dimensional mask creates an interesting tension next to Weah's inherently two-dimensional piece, while co-ordinated use of color keeps the collaboration cohesive. Weah's wildly colorful works have roots in Cubism, Vorticism,and an overarching obsession with geometric patterns. Arkohs on the other hand is more accustomed to working with ink than paint, but he certainly looks at home here!
Last but not least, Angel Quesada's crazy, colorful, and surreal mural. Angel (who by the way is one of the first street artists that I have encountered that actually has a website!) works under the name ArtKungfu. He has been creating artworks for over 25 years, inspired by his self-professed mission "to create moments of beauty in an otherwise dull landscape". He cites his influences as Mexican artists Rufino Tamayo, Adolfo Best-Maugard, and other Latin American Artists, and you can always spot his works by his use of bright, repetitive, and flowing lines.
If you get the chance, go and check out this hidden gem - a true testament to the power of art to transform an urban landscape. Thank you to the awesome Adam Foret Photography for these photos too!
It's no secret that Street Art as a promotional tool is effective. It just works. Effortlessly cool, eye-catching, memorable, brand-effective, cost-effective... need I go on? After writing about Michael Savoie's new piece for Bombay Sapphire last week, I was struck by how clever it is to make an event out of an ad. You wouldn't show up to the unveiling of a billboard would you? But the coveted mural unveiling at Smith & Elgin this week is sure to attract just about every big name in Houston's art and journalism scene. In the lead up to its unveiling, Savoie's creative process was covered by Fox. It's kind of insane when you look at this work in the context of advertising. And by insane I mean ridiculously smart.
Sure, the piece does not speak overtly of the Bombay Sapphire brand, but that's somewhat because it is part of the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series Mural Project which seeks to promote the artists first, and the brand purely by association. But take a look at murals that are commissioned specifically as marketing tools (like, for example the Converse campaign pictured above) and it's a whole different story. There's still that creative energy, but they are a lot more brand-centric.
Let's take a quick look at the history of advertising. In the decades that preceded the tech-boom advertising was, in essence, very boring. It was fairly tightly controlled, centralized, and safe. The only exposure to advertising outside of televisions and newspapers came from the occasional billboard. With the rise of technology and of course the internet, advertising has been allowed to invade every aspect of our lives. We are bombarded with it from morning to night, whether it be the constant interruptions to your music streaming, the irritating pop-ups on your Facebook feed, or the 450 billion digital billboards that line your route to work. Street Art is arguably just another face of this change, albeit a much more attractive one. But it's different, and it's positive - and here's why.
The Journal of Advertising published a paper in 2013 as the street art movement was already gathering speed as an advertising motif, and it rightly states: “Street art has the visual and cognitive effect of commercial advertising, and many of its brand dynamics, but carries messages of enjoyment, ideological critique, and activist exhortation rather than of commercial consumption.” In other words, Street Art offers marketing execs a pretty good cover for more traditionally in your face self-promotional techniques. You look at the art - you feel cultured and happy in the knowledge that visual art is all around us, but you leave craving a PBR, what dark magic is this??
Great is what it is! I'm sure there are plenty of people moaning about the commercialization of art, or the lowering of cultural standards etc etc.. But the line between art and commercialism became blurred long before even the oldest, wrinkliest, and most dour of those people were born. This has been going on at least since the late 19th Century, when Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned by the Moulin Rouge to design a series of posters to promote the famous Bohemian hangout (which by the way now reach 6 figures at auction). In the 1920s, Shell commissioned a poster campaign featuring the most influential artists of the time, including Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland - and so began the trend of real artists creating good quality art that - gasp - serves a purpose beyond its aesthetic attraction.
Well everyone needs to calm down, because it's clear that Street Art in advertising is an extension of something that has been going on for a lot longer than many people realize. And in the context of Street Art, selling a few pairs of sneakers is a small price to pay for promoting the movement, encouraging creativity, and beatifying our streets. Campaigns such as the Houston Zoo Gorilla Murals are producing original art while at the same time gaining coverage that would - according to one of the artists Mr. D - have cost ten times the amount to gain using traditional paid advertising. Commercialism supports the arts, the arts support commercialism. It's too late to separate the two, and if we have to be bombarded by advertising 24 hours a day, why can't it at least be beautiful?
BRAND NEW MURAL ALERT!!
Here stands Dallas-based artist Michael Savoie in front of his very nearly completed mural on Elgin and Smith St. I was lucky enough to catch Savoie at work and get a little insight into his work before it has even been officially unveiled - lucky me. Shout out to him for being very gracious and accommodating in spite of being accosted by a flustered British girl fresh out of the gym and demanding that he pose for photos.
So a little background on this piece. Savoie was one of three winners of the 2014 Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series competition, which for the past 5 years has partnered with media mogul Russell Simmons and his RUSH Philanthropic Arts Foundation to find the best mural artists nationally. The annual contest sees thousands of artists compete for a chance to exhibit at the Scope Miami Beach Art Show, and the top three exhibitors are selected to participate in the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series Mural Project , where the artists have the chance to create a mural in their hometown. Just when you thought Gin couldn't get any cooler right? This year's winners were Michael Savoie (obviously), San Francisco Artist Kristine Mays, and New Orleans Artist Ti-Rock Moore, whose contribution is a particularly poignant dedication to the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Savoie's work has been featured on the hit show Empire and (somewhat randomly) the Real Housewives of Atlanta. He has a BFA from Burlington College in Vermont, but actually taught himself to paint after moving from San Francisco back to his native Texas. Savoie's background in graphic design, illustration, and particularly fashion are all clearly referenced throughout his works, and this piece is no exception. Surprisingly though, this is his first ever mural. In fact, according to the man himself, his largest works up to this point have been 66"x66" acrylic on canvases.
For the background Savoie swapped his palette knife for a paint roller, staying true to the vivid style of portraiture he calls "abstract realism" while blowing up his work to epic proportions. During our brief chat, Savoie said that he projected the portrait onto the wall rather than using stencil, and used spray paint to create the smooth depth of the figure, finishing it all up with a hefty amount of freehand detail. Did I mention that even with a day of rain preventing him from working, this mural was created in just one week??
Savoie's training as a photographer is evident in his striking handling of portraiture, while abstract backgrounds and a preoccupation with color make his work aesthetically appealing and just fun to look at in general. The trademark blindfold, a recurring motif throughout the artist's recent Blind Ambition series, is also present here, creating cohesion between his fine art and his mural work. It's an intriguing device that I think helps to separate his works from the standard pop art portraits that focus exclusively on physical beauty and pop culture figures. Savoie covers the eyes because he wants to remove the “who” and leave the “why”.
In his bio, Savoie writes that "The camera connects [him] with people, bringing [him] out of the studio and into nature, while the canvas isolates [him] in [his] own thoughts". Reading this while researching and writing about a mural that is inextricably connected to the outdoors, the public, and the urban landscape of Houston gives me an interesting thought. Savoie is a fine artist, thus this piece, regardless of the low brow connotations of Street Art, is fine art. Now fine art created in a studio, as Savoie suggests, can be kind of insular, whereas any type of art created outdoors has a more open quality- it reacts to its surroundings just as the people around it react to it. I made a point last week about Street Art and fine art being separated by a chasm of snobbery, and I think that organizations like RUSH, which bring fine artists to the streets and street artists to the gallery are making this gap a little narrower every day. I don't have much a point here, mind, but it's food for thought.
The mural's official unveiling will take place at its location (duh) on May 28th at 6pm. So go meet this lovely chap for yourself!
I've had a lot of feedback since beginning my blogging journey, and it has brought an interesting point to my attention. No matter how much coverage Street Art gets in the media, the standard for assessing it remains steadfastly mediocre. It may seem counterproductive, but subjecting urban art to actual academic criticism (negative included) is a necessary step in bringing it to the same level as fine art.
Although I don't like to be negative in general, I do think that street art needs to be told off occasionally for its cliches and occasionally mediocre execution. If it is true that critical discernment can be applied to all cultural activities, Street Art included, then what is holding it back? Of course the fact that it is displayed and enjoyed outside of the conventional gallery setting is a contributing factor, but so are a lot of sculptural pieces, and let's not forget the traditional frescos of say, the Renaissance. Have they escaped criticism? Of course not, a fact that can be corroborated by anyone who has ever taken an art history class.
It really boils down to a few things in my humble opinion. Lack of access and exposure, and a good pinch of snobbery. Because legitimate critics are unwilling to do it, criticism is left to the amateurs, like me.. And even I feel a bit silly approaching Street Art in terms of line, composition, or social context as I would a painting, so what we are left with is a lot of shallow drivel, and Street Art's status as an art form is yet to be elevated to its true potential as a result.
A handful of graffiti artists have garnered recognition in major museums, so many believe that Street Art criticism is on the rise too.. but here's the problem: the Street Art in museums isn't really Street Art in the majority of cases. These are professionally trained artists creating works inspired by graffiti, and even when legitimate Street Artists exhibit, it's not exactly Street Art in its purest and most original form is it? Manipulated onto a canvas or carefully transcribed onto pristine (and more importantly sanctioned) gallery walls, it loses its edge, and the distinction between genuine street art and the legitimized Street Art has become irrevocably blurred over time as a result.
So we're left with a quandary.. inaccessibility and lack of exposure leads in turn to a lack of useful criticism, but displaying this particular art form in a gallery undermines the genre, making it unworthy of criticism in the first place. Equally problematic, moving art outside of the gallery confuses the already ridiculously confusing issue of "what qualifies as art". I don't think Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes would have got very far if they had been stacked against the back wall of a Walmart, for example. So what chance does an unsolicited mural have in the same location? At least in a museum we feel safe in the knowledge that someone else has already established these objects as worthy of criticism. And that's the very issue: nobody of significant cultural importance has done that yet.
The hype and celebrity culture of Street Art, coupled with the illegality of it, qualifies it as a "low art form" to most academic art critics, while the six-figure sales of Banksy murals at auction certainly suggest its growing commercial appeal, further damning Street Art as a pop-culture fad. Yes, Street Art upsets a lot of the more traditional among us, but hey Michelangelo pissed a lot of people off painting naked men all over the Sistine Chapel. What is art if it doesn't divide opinions and get people talking?
So here's the solution: keep talking about it, keep looking at it, and someone for gods sake make the first step towards real, useful, and formal criticism. Art is only as important as its last write up, and remember that if nobody had bothered to write earnest evaluations of say, Paul Branca's artwork, then a cleaning lady might just have thrown it out. Oh wait....
The emergence of Street Art as a recognized genre in recent decades has brought with it fresh issues regarding copyright and ownership of art. The style lends itself to removal, vandalism, and forgery; firstly because of its somewhat below board execution, and secondly because of the fact that the works are notoriously difficult to authenticate. While many Street Artists' work here in Houston is legally commissioned, there are still many operating under the radar, and their work does not often last long...
I recently read an old post on Houston Press listing Houston's Most Gorgeous Graffiti, and was stunned to see how many of them have since been painted over. Now, Street Art by its very nature is not meant to last forever, but I did begin to wonder.. Does the artist, or anyone for that matter, have the right to preserve it? After endless legal reading (that I will spare you), I discovered that unless of course you own the "tagged" property on or the work was legally commissioned the answer is sadly no, not really.
First I need to point out that there is an important distinction between commissioned and therefore legal "Street Art", and noncommissioned and illegal "graffiti". The long and short of it is that Street Art is wholly copyrightable (although that particular version is still owned in most cases by whoever owns the wall), and graffiti is not. Instances of graffiti being removed, vandalized, or sold without the artists' permission are therefore commonplace. One of the most high profile examples of this is probably "Slave Labour", a Banksy mural that was painted on the side wall of a Poundland store in Wood Green, London in May 2012. It was mysteriously removed and later resurfaced for sale at the Fine Art Auctions, Miami for $500,000.
Here in Houston there have also been countless cases of removal, including the work of such notorious Street Artists as Ack! or the Give Up Crew. Notoriety, apparently, bears no meaning against vandalism laws...
In traditional cases, the Visual Artist's Rights Act (VARA) - a subsection of the CopyRight Act - protects artist from having their works removed, vandalized, or reproduced without consent. VARA even has a subsection which covers works on buildings, and while not all graffiti is eligible for protection (for example tags and type faces are not copyrightable) even the most illegally executed works satisfy the necessary minimum requirements in that they originated with the author, and are fixed in a tangible medium, i.e. paint on concrete. However, all of this is only really of use if the artist is willing to come forward and claim this right. A true graffiti artist is unlikely to claim authorship of noncommissioned works, unless of course they enjoy paying hefty vandalism fines.
All in all, I can't see much of a solution.. If the graffiti is welcome, then there are measures that can be taken by owners and local councils to protect it. If it is not and the artist does not own the property, they can still claim rights against its reproduction but there is very little they can do to prevent its removal. Fortunately, graffiti artists embrace the fleeting nature of their work, and I think really we ought to as well. It's as much of an art form as oil on canvas, but the two will never be one and the same, and that's what makes it so expressive and unique in my opinion. Graffiti: Here for a good time not a long time.
British-born arts blogger living in Houston, Tx. A mixture of Street Art, Fine Art, Installation, and anything weird and wonderful. Follow me if that sounds like your cup of tea.