Houston

Studio visits with Sierra Forrester, Project Row Houses, Robert Hodge, Luisa Duarte, Emilie Duval, Wayne Gilbert, Angelbert Metoyer, Rabea Ballin, CORE Fellows Shana Hoen, Yue Nakayama, and Adam Crosson, and Partner Organizations Diverseworks, Art League Houston, David Shelton Gallery, Aurora Picture Show, and Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.

Curating the Texas Biennial has offered the opportunity to access the connectivity that we have as an arts community in the state and evaluate the many ways that we are all connected despite the expansive geography of Texas that makes it seem like we are disconnected. Arriving in Houston was yet another homecoming, and the third up to that point. Up to this point on my journey I still didn’t have a clear definition on place. I wasn’t sure why North Texas was Dallas/Fort Worth and not the Panhandle, what made north north, and south south. While I was on the road to Houston I was reflecting on my time in Huntsville, and realized that for the first time I was given a real answer to define what is East. Michael explained to me that everything East of I45 is considered west, and as I drove into Houston, less than an hour away from Huntsville, it seemed strange that two places could be so close yet so geographically distinct.

From the beginning this road trip was an exciting albeit daunting task. There were many times in my career that I’ve spent weeks at a time on the road, but nearly seven consecutive weeks will wear anyone out, and I had worked hard to plan for that fatigue. Houston was stop number five, and I felt like I was returning after a long trip away. The density of the cities on the first leg of the trip had made for long, packed days, but returning home at the end of the day to a familiar place was the difference between exhaustion and normal fatigue. It was thanks to Chris Tomlinson that I was able to stay in Houston with such a feeling of being grounded, and after taking a well-deserved day off I jumped back into visits with a renewed energy.

My first stop was to the University of Houston Campus to meet with Sierra Forrester, a young painter who had just finished her BFA and was preparing to move to Fort Worth to attend Texas Christian University in the fall. Sierra’s paintings on wood panel pulled content from newspapers that had covered the recent tension and clashes of race in the states. While she is still a young artist, her talent and technical skill as a painter sets her far ahead of the curve and I am interested to see where graduate school takes her.

My next destination was nearby in the Third Ward, one of Houston’s most famous neighborhoods partly due to the work of Rick Lowe with Project Row Houses (Also a Biennial Partner Organization) which has evolved into a team of strong voices and thinkers including Ryan Dennis whose curatorial work I had been following via Project Row Houses for a number of years. I walked into the office to bump right into Rick Lowe, which offered a rare opportunity to give hugs and say hello before walking to the studios to talk with artist Robert Hodge.

I had just met Hodge only a few weeks or even months before. He was a resident artist at Artpace in San Antonio at the time, and I was passing through the city to visit, something I try to do regularly since I have such a close professional family in the city. Robert Hodge goes by his last name of Hodge, and has an energy that lights up a room whenever he walks into it. I was lucky enough to get a bit of his time when I was in San Antonio, and I saw his work in progress as he was preparing for the final exhibition of his residency. Visiting Hodge requires having music in the background, and in the first few minutes of our visit in Houston I couldn’t understand why things seems so off, until Hodge threw on a record when I wasn’t paying attention, and all of a sudden everything felt like home. Visiting Hodge and viewing his work without music in the background feels unbalanced, and once the music is playing his choice of sound enlightens his choices in the work as well. Hodge works primarily in collaging album covers so thick and nuanced that the history of Black American history in pop culture is illuminated as one that is powerfully subversive. Once Hodge flips on the record player the music mixed with the visual create a powerful experience of power.

Indeed, power seemed to be the theme of the day, and even more so power and subversion. I was still processing my visit with Hodge when I walked into the studio of Luisa Duarte. Originally from Venezuela, Luisa had spent decades in the states, but it was clear that the references of modernist Venezuela hadn’t left her. Her monotypes and digital drawings are reminiscent of the kinetic work and geometric abstraction that shaped the history of art history when Luisa was a child in Caracas. We talked about color theory, kinetic work, and the history of subversion of geometric abstraction in Latin America, but specifically in Venezuela. Luisa’s work brings that history into a digital age, playing with technique, definitions of space, and manipulations of color to translate into a contemporary world.

Luisa sent me off with cheek kisses, hugs, and the best coffee I ever had in Houston, and for the third visit in a row I went on to talk more about power and politics of a very different nature with Emilie Duval whose large scale works tell a story of corruption and industrialization. Emilie obsessively reads corporate policy and legislation, and the loopholes in both become fodder for her large scale mixed media painting and installations. The work reflects Emilie’s obsessiveness, and her visual decisions are carefully considered.

I made my way to say hello to Wayne Gilbert, and artist who has been working with the remains of cremated bodies for a number of years. While the ethics of the work is a topic worth considering, I wanted to view the paintings with my own eyes. As we talked about his medium, Wayne explained that every corpse has its own chemical makeup that determines the color of the ashes, and these colors differ from body to body. Wayne’s space was filled with his own work, and the work that had been given to him from artists all over the world. It was clear he is prolific in the Houston arts community, and I was grateful to get some of his time before heading off to visit partner organization Diverseworks.

I had made a plan to visit with Rachel Cook that evening over a few beers. Rachel and I have been friends for a long time and she was a voice of support during a difficult time professionally a few years ago before she went off to graduate school and I went off to Mexico City once again. Diverseworks has changed significantly over the years, and I’ve watched with incredible respect as Rachel has put together creative and innovative programming for their space. Rachel gave me a full tour of the space and the exhibition by Regina Agu, ruby onyinyechi amaze, and Wura-Natasha Ogunji, then we closed up shop and walked across the street to Double Trouble, officially ending the day over beers and margaritas.