Art Blocks the sequel: Yes, it’s happening

Trumpet Flower- photo by Joel Luks

The Houston Downtown Management District has extended Art Blocks with a selection of temporary art projects through the end of 2017. Why, you ask?

“The Downtown District and the Downtown District Public Art Committee launched Art Blocks last year as a way to repurpose, redefine and reenergize Main Street Square, and the response from visitors, workers and residents has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Bob Eury, Executive Director of the Downtown District. “We are thrilled to extend a few of the works and introduce new ones as a way to continue presenting public art that is accessible to all, both physically and aesthetically.”

Trumpet Flower, conceived by Houston sculptor Patrick Renner and produced by the Flying Carpet Collective, will remain on view at One City Centre through December 2017. Slats of brightly colored recycled wood form the skin of this steel-framed structure, which functions as both a public art piece and a shade canopy. The chairs and tables underneath are an inviting location for pop-up meetings, picnic lunches and intimate activations.

The Main Street Marquee, a billboard-sized canvas on the building face above the Main Street Market, will also remain through the end of the year at the corner of Main Street and Walker Street. In consultation with the Downtown District Public Art Committee, project consultant Weingarten Art Group opened a call for Texas-based artists to submit proposals for the installation. The selected artists will be announced in April.

Two windows in the Sakowitz garage at 1111 Main Street — formerly home to the interactive video installation más que la cara (more than the face) by YesYesNo — will feature a new collaboration between the Downtown District and Aurora Picture Show. Sidewalk Cinema presented by Aurora Picture Show will be a quarterly rotation of contemporary video works beginning in April; the first installation will be called Color Play and introduces four artists whose videos all utilize color with boldness and playfulness.

Art Blocks focused its activation of Main Street Square during its first year, but Downtown District continues to examine other downtown zones for future iterations of the public art project.

Follow Art Blocks on Facebook and stay tuned for updates!

Ay Te Miro, See You Later…

Creating art for a public space can be tricky. What can an artist offer that works meaningfully within the space, can be enjoyed in a split second and reflects both the spirit of the artist and the energy of the location?

When Dallas-native M. Giovanni Valderas was selected to design one of the four murals as part of the initial Main Street Marquee roster, he wanted to bring attention to the resilience of Latin communities in Houston and the region. The downtown temporary public art piece needed to add fun, color and significance.

“Saludos” achieved that in the text and the seemingly tactile texture of the large work. “Ay Te Miro,” loosely translated as “see you later,” echoed the function of a busy area of Downtown Houston. Between the METRORail, streets and pedestrians coming and going, the feeling of “see you later” seems lighthearted.

But there’s more to this work than meets the eye. Watch this video to hear the Valderas explain all the elements that went into the creation of “Saludos.”

Art that says come again

M. Giovanni Valderas_019

The fourth installment of the Main Street Marquee welcomes the work of M. Giovanni Valderas, a Dallas native who graduated from the College of Visual Arts & Design at the University of North Texas with a Master of Fine Arts in Drawing & Painting.

The mural, titled “Saludos” takes a colloquial salutation and layers meaning, both fun and serious, that nod to his Guatemalan, Mexican and American ancestry.

Q: In looking at your work, there are two prevalent elements: There’s the text and there’s the texture. What’s the significance?

Giovanni Valderas: “Ay te miro” is slang for “see you later.” It’s a salutation that I used growing up, so it feels very genuine, congenial and from the heart. What I love about it is: it’s not goodbye, reinforcing that we’ll meet each other again. In a climate that seems hostile to the Latino culture, “Ay te miro” has a ring of hope and perseverance. That Latino culture is always progressing and moving forward.

Q: The phrase implies a cycle, does it not?

Giovanni Valderas: Yes, because “see you later” it never ends. The Latino community’s relationship with the United States is never ending. And it’s not going away anytime soon. Also, for public art placed in a heavily transited area of Downtown Houston, the idea of “see you later” seems fitting and also whimsically fun.

Downtown Houston changes by the second. It never stays the same.

Q: What about the texture. It’s so prevalent and rich in your work that we want to touch it.

Giovanni Valderas: The fringe texture is very common in piñatas — tissue paper that’s cut up and glued on. It encourages anyone to touch it. It’s very enticing for me, particularly because it’s a welcoming symbol. Most people are familiar with it. And I love the idea of it being really ephemeral. You spend all this time making one and then it’s literally torn apart. A piñata doesn’t last too long.

Q: What kind of transformation would you like to see because of your art?

Giovanni Valderas: Like advertising, my thought is that art should be everywhere. Art can change moods. You could be having a horrible day, and when you walk across an inspiring piece of art, your outlook can turn around.

Main Street Square welcomes such an eclectic mix of people from different cultures. When you are passing by or waiting for the METRO, I hope my art gives people something to think about and distract them from the stresses of the day.

Q: Why do you think your message works in Main Street Square?

Giovanni Valderas: When I was designing the work, my goal was to capture the attention of all kinds of people — business people, commuters, construction personnel and others. I wanted to make people smile. I wanted to make people think about the diversity of the city and the pride we all take in our backgrounds.

If more people start saying the phrase — I wouldn’t object to that. But I would really like it to incite conversation. Like all good art should.

Art Blocks- Floyd Newsum Interview

There’s much more than meets the eye in Floyd Newsum’s “Planter and Stems,” which is permanently installed at Main Street Square in Downtown Houston. The sculpture — which forms an abstract environment with a center vertical plant-like construction and surrounding smaller “stems” — is filled with symbolism that tells the story of Houston. Newsum includes geographical and architectural landmarks. He also honors entrepreneurs who had a hand in developing what’s today the fourth largest city in the United States.

“The stems make it feel like it’s a forest in the middle of Downtown Houston,” Newsum says.

The Houston artist demystifies his joyful, whimsical and colorful work in this video interview. Newsum points out the many representations and abstractions — including Buffalo Bayou Park and iconic Houston structures such as the Astrodome and Pennzoil Place— as well as delving into his hopes for the work.

If people engage with and meander about the public sculpture, Newsum is surely satisfied that “Planter and Stems” has served its purpose.

A bird as a metaphor for Houston


With a title such as City Bird of Houston, visual artist Armando Castelan makes a big and strong statement about his Main Street Marquee mural at Main Street Square. His work, an installation that’s part of the Art Blocks temporary art project, is fun and whimsical, adding a character that most would imagine as being small and unnoticeable in a form that’s literally larger than life.

Moreover, the building itself becomes a physical part of the work, with an effect that fools the eye into a depth and perspective that don’t exist.

Learn more about Armando Castelan in this Q&A, in which he talks about his upbringing, inspiration and desire to get the public involved in making their own stories about his works.


Q: Where are you from?

Armando Castelan: I am from Puebla, Mexico, a small town, and was raised in Los Angeles. At age 12, I moved to Houston and have been here ever since.


Q: Why Houston?

Armando Castelan: I came to Houston with my dad. My parents were separated at the time. I was young so I followed my father.


Q: Was that a hard transition?

Armando Castelan: It wasn’t that difficult. I just had to get used to a new place and a new life. Art helped me settle in and feel like I belonged. Art carried me through school, even attending the High School for Performing and Visual Arts.


Q: How did you come to discover your love for visual arts? Did someone in your family inspire you?

Armando Castelan: My dad had something to do with it. In Mexico, he would buy me comic books and I would try to copy the characters. And it seems that I’ve been doing that ever since. Once I started copying characters, it dawned on me that I could also create my own.


Q: With characters being an important part of your work, do you also concentrate on offering a narrative?

Armando Castelan: Yes! I always try to tell a story, but it’s usually within the character — what he’s wearing, what he might be doing. I don’t really focus on the background too much.

I’ve been drawing some characters for several years, so the narrative continues across many of my works, usually evolving into other scenes and themes. The story just naturally gets extended over the years.


Q: What attracted you to the art blocks project?

Armando Castelan: I wanted the opportunity for my works to interact with more viewers. I started painting murals about a year ago, and I had been thinking about bigger scale works that had an interactive element. When Art Blocks came along, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to work on public engagement.

I’m really hoping people notice the whimsical in the work. To identify with the bird. To take photos and share them. To make up their own story of the bird, its home and whatever it might be down in the middle of Downtown Houston.


Q: Has this bird appeared in your previous works or is it a new character?

Armando Castelan: It’s a brand new character actually, but I have painted other kinds of birds. Sometimes my birds wear clothes and hats. I try to make them colorful, filled with personality. In this case, I turned the building into the birdhouse.


Q: Does the character of the bird have significance to you?

Armando Castelan: In some ways. I paint a lot of animals.

I don’t like to see animals in cages. There’s something very wrong about that. By putting a bird and its home in the middle of downtown, because it’s so busy, I’m making a comparison to the city itself. Houston is very free, very big and open — and so is my bird.

Art Blocks- Patrick Renner Interview (Trumpet Flower)

If you’ve ever wondered what artists consider when they’re commissioned a public art piece for an existing environment, this video is for you. Patrick Renner of Flying Carpet Creative, the creator of Trumpet Flower as part of Art Blocks in Main Street Square, talks about just how he looks at existing elements within a space to design a work that’s in harmony and dissonance so that it achieves two goals: to feel as though the work belongs organically while offering a strong contrast that acts as a respite from everything else around it.

In this case, tall, grayish buildings with precise linear architecture that rise to the sky are accompanied by a swirling organic structure that leans to one side.

Each slat, decorated by community volunteers during a painting party that was open to the public at Market Square Park, is one-of-a-kind. Together, they meld into a cohesive and colorful shape that’s a metaphor for Houston’s diverse demographic make up.

Art Blocks- Jessica Stockholder Interview

Downtown Houston residents, working professionals and visitors are tickled by the vibrancy of Jessica Stockholder‘s Color Jam Houston. The Art Blocks Houston art installations adds such bold energy to Main Street Square that those who interact with the work are compelled to stop, look around and take a selfie.

Can you blame them?

One of the interesting features of Color Jam Houston is that it’s experienced differently depending on how one approaches the work. Sometimes we’re spectators. Sometimes we’re enveloped in the bright colors and seemingly unpredictable shapes.

In this video interview, she discusses her artistic journey, how she makes creative decisions and the meaning behind the harmony and dissonance between the angular shapes and joyous hues that comprise Color Jam Houston.

Smiles through roses and hearts

Art Blocks Artist- Nataliya Scheib

Recently installed at the Main Street Marquee, Nataliya Scheib‘s large-scale art piece in Downtown Houston offers a touch of Ukranian culture. Vibrantly titled “Roses and Hearts on the Blue Sky,” the bold installation adds to the Art Blocks initiative that’s suffusing Main Street Square with quirky fun and beauty as means for public engagement. Scheib’s design will be on view through September on the facade of 901 Main St.

What is the meaning behind the magnificent piece? We chatted with the creative to learn more about her background and the symbolism in her work.


Q: How did you end up in Houston?
A: I’m from Ukraine originally. I used to live in Washington D.C. for 10  years, and then my husband transferred his work here. We moved to Houston, and then I started my full time art career.

Q: Had you been to Houston before deciding to relocate here?
A: I had never been to Houston before. I did not know what to expect. I was thinking maybe a lot of cowboys here — people in cowboy hats, cowboy boots. It was a very interesting move. Now that I’ve settled here, I love the city.

Q: What’s your background in visual art?
A: I graduated from the Ukraine School of Visual Arts when I was 15. The 4-year program was very strict and structured. You can’t pick your subjects — you have to complete the demanding curriculum as it’s outlined by the faculty.

After art school, I studied architecture. After completing my degree in architecture, I enrolled in a masters in city and urban planning program, which is part of a civil engineering degree. I also have a minor in urban landscape design.

Q:  Can you tell us about the symbolism in “Roses and Hearts” ?
A: I returned to Ukraine just after  a series of protests and the uprising, which began in April 2014. It was summer. In the center of Kiev, I saw a memorial to the 100 people who died in the uprising. They called them the “Heavenly 100.” The memorial was a collection of photographs with stories about each person’s involvement and how they died. Next to each of the photographs was a bouquet of fresh flowers in vases with water.

The blue color represents the Ukrainian flag. The heart stands for the people who died fighting for freedom. And the flowers represent the everlasting memories of them.

But even if people don’t know the meaning of my work, that’s totally OK with me. I wanted to bring attention to the beauty of Ukrainian culture through vibrant colors and design. I hope that people smile when they see my installation.

Q: Why is public art so important?
A: Public art is important because not a lot of people always have access to art. They cannot visit museums and galleries. Sometimes it’s because of means, other times because of time. Basically, public art brings creativity to more people as they go about their daily lives. Sigmund Freud said that your surroundings affect your quality of life.

With my work, I want to improve the quality of life for Houstonians.

Exploring computation through hands-on activities

How do you explain something that one can’t see? While passersby can often understand the execution of most visual art pieces, technology-based installations are a bit more challenging to comprehend as the inner workings of computational processes can be harder to grasp.

For YesYesNo’s Zach Lieberman, the artist behind the Art Blocks installation mas que la cara (more than the face) at Main Street Square in Downtown Houston, it’s imperative that as many people as possible understand just how one type of language is transferred into another, how one set of data can inform a result. In essence, Zach looks for ways for students to understand code.

To do so, Zach has developed activities that do exactly that. During a workshop at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, students and teachers explored how input stimulus results in something much different — whether sound inspires movement, color or behavior.

The series of workshops at Houston-area schools helped influence the creative direction of mas que la cara. Learn more by watching our video.

Zach Lieberman finds inspiration in youthful energy

YesYesNo’s Zach Lieberman believes that teaching is the best way of learning, which is why so much of his career is spent sharing and interacting with other professionals in hopes of gathering more ideas. These novel concepts sometimes come from unexpected sources.

To fully develop the imagery that was included in mas que la cara (more than the face), the interactive, technology-based art installation as part of Art Blocks in Main Street Square in Downtown Houston, Zach led a series of workshops at Houston-area schools. These show-and-tell sessions included hands-on activities and assignments for students, in which participants had to create their own masks from provided materials.

As a cultural symbol, masks contain so many clues that define the zeitgeist of a region. Moreover, when students are asked to develop their own design out of simple materials, they reveal creativity and innovation that inspires the work of experienced designers and artists such as Zach.

Watch the video of a workshop at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School to learn more about Zach Lieberman’s process and his work with students of all ages.