A playful way of looking at time

Artist Emily Peacock’s film “You Take Your Time” offers her perspective of childhood toys.

Her ten-minute art film is included in “Color Play” as part of Aurora Picture Show’s Sidewalk Cinema, project managed by the Weingarten Art Group. The collection of contemporary video works is located in two windows of the Sakowitz garage at 1111 Main Street.


Q: Water toys: Where does your interest in this subject matter come from?

Emily Peacock: The water toys were mine as a child. I had them in my room, and I would time myself doing different tasks. I just remember loving to time myself. But as a child you really have no sense of time and how things and people change over time.

Q: Your work explores time and memory: What are you trying to say?

Emily Peacock: My work comes from a personal place. In a short time, I have had some major life changes such as divorce, the loss of my mother, remarrying and now the birth of my son. I’m still trying to comprehend all of it and be a better person from it, but it’s hard.

One thing that helps is time. The toys are a playful way of looking at time.

Q: How do you feel about your work being displayed in a public setting?

Emily Peacock: I really enjoy my work being displayed in a public setting! I have always wanted to put my work in a more public setting like in a bus or subway. I’m interested in what all people think about my work. And I like the idea of someone walking to work and seeing it and thinking about it.

Q: Explain the title?

Emily Peacock: The title actually comes from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ song “Tick,” where Karen O. sings about someone taking their time. It’s a strange song that has always stuck with me. She repeats the word tick so many times that it almost becomes annoying but instead it’s just kind of awesome.

Humor to approach serious subjects

Intense and beautiful, Thai-Australian artist Kawita Vatanajyankur’s three films “The Robes,” “ The Scale” and “The Scale of Justice” provide a deep symbolic peek into the role of women in labor.

Located at Main Street Square at 1111 Main St. at Dallas, the film is part of Aurora Picture Show‘s Sidewalk Cinema installation, project managed by Weingarten Art Group and on view as part of Art Blocks.

Our interview with the artist reveals her thoughtful approach to creating video work.


Q: Why did you use the specific colors seen in your work?

Kawita Vatanajyankur: My work aims to bring attention to female labor in Thailand. In these films, I re-staged the local market where laborers and market sellers use vibrant colors as advertisement to attract visitors.

I would also describe my work as candy-coated. The actions within the work are usually provocative, confronting and hard to watch as they express female and laborers’ strength, endurance, resilience and inequality. I feel that the selected bright colors may attract the audience to view the works first before realizing such violence within them. Then, the viewers would be able to fully open their minds and understand the context.

Bright colors also bring humor to the works. I believe that if you are going to say something serious, you might as well make people laugh first.

Q: The physicality of executing your work seems super human. What inspired you to explore this type of human expression

Kawita Vatanajyankur: I was inspired by the Buddha’s teaching of meditation. It is a method to release pain, suffering and negativity, to be at present, to let go of my own “sense of self” and view myself from another perspective.

In my works, I was transformed entirely into the tools and objects I selected. Through my actions, my strength and my endurance, I turned into the objects both physically and psychologically by convincing myself that I was a part of the object — by losing a sense of self and belonging, by pushing the limits further. I call this method my meditative act.

In my works, I always tend to use meditation postures in order to remove pain and negativity, to remove myself from human limits. I believe that by losing our sense of self, we may find greater strength as though our limits as human beings no longer existed.

Q: What do you hope the viewer will glean from seeing your work?

Kawita Vatanajyankur: By exhibiting across Asia, Europe, Australia and the US, I have had varieties of reactions toward my work, which is important to me as an artist.

The interpretations and reactions are different depending on the experiences the viewers might have had and their respective societies and cultures. For example, when exhibiting my works in Japan, the audience would speak to me about their hard and repetitive work, stress, how their standards of work are high, and that others never value and appreciate their work enough.

This made me realize that we are all required to work to make a living. We live in a world where work and job positions define us. Some viewers in Asia and South America would see my work as feminist, a voice for gender equality, an expression of female’s endurance and strength, a reflection of what females feel in contemporary society and their expectations. Some viewers see my work as a meditative stage to hold on less tightly to ourselves and to let go.

All of these reactions are in fact the true meanings of my work.

Q: What were some challenges in producing the footage for your piece?

Kawita Vatanajyankur: The challenge is that I need to truly convince myself and meditate long enough to let go of my fear, my pain and my limits. I needed to focus and balance myself in order to go through the performance pieces. My body needed to adjust, and my mind needed to accept the force of the situation. I had to let go.

Q: Talk about vertical video: Why did you decide to explore this format?

Kawita Vatanajyankur: In fact, all formats are important to me as long as they can express the message I am trying to say, as long as they can express the actions. Vertical videos allow audiences to see my whole body as well as the risk I had to experience as they would be able to see the height of the spaces.

A tapestry of public dreams on film

An eye-catching visual interpretation of consciousness and memory by multi-disciplinary artist Kasumi stops viewers in their tracks in Downtown Houston. Her seven and a half minute work, “The Nostalgia Factory,” features hypnotic colorized loops from vaguely recognizable classic cinema.

Her vertical film is included as part of “Color Play,” a new art film installation dubbed Sidewalk Cinema in collaboration with Aurora Picture Show and curated by Weingarten Art Group. The collection of contemporary video works is located in two windows of the Sakowitz garage at 1111 Main Street.

Kasumi offers more insight into her creation.


Q: What intrigues you about mid-20th century imagery?

Kasumi: I love the earnestness and directness of mid-century imagery – at times it possesses an almost naïve quality and lacks the pretense and irony of our jaded times. The imagery from old training and educational films – the junkyard of our cultural history – is especially straightforward, stylized, and iconic, making it more universally understood. The directness of the acting makes each gesture an unambiguous signal of communication.


Q: You opt for very bold colors in your work. What does color mean to you?

Kasumi: The popping and flamboyant colors in my work make something new out of something old. It brings the materials I use – mostly grainy black and white imagery – into a whole new vivid universe. Non-representational color on representational form is able to convey new perspectives and sensations.


Q: How do you think the location in Downtown Houston will affect the interpretation of your work?

Kasumi: I think this exciting venue invites new audiences into my world. A public art installation is an entirely new way for me to communicate with the public in that it offers brief glimpses of fleeting reflection as opposed to intense concentration that exhibiting work in a gallery or a movie theater would produce.

I’m reaching for parameters for a psychological perspective that amounts to something like a new dimension. My invention is essentially a meta-montage, using our civilization’s image-soaked, cinema-saturated version of life as the starting point for a work which is, finally, a tapestry of public dreams – dreams that are indistinguishable from private reveries.


Q: What do you hope viewers will take away from interacting with your work?

Kasumi: I hope they can experience the joy I derive from creating my work. If I can somehow delight viewers by revealing the complexity and depths of the reality in which we live in ways that haven’t been done before, I’d be happy.


Q: What is it like working in vertical video format? What are the challenges, opportunities?

Kasumi: Aside from the formal compositional problem, we tend to view things on the horizon, broadly, so the vertical format is always challenging. But it also offers a new perspective: the vertical format becomes a window into another world, a peep-hole into my mind.

A new installation comes to Art Blocks!


A new Art Blocks Houston temporary installation is on view at Main Street Square.

The Downtown District and Aurora Picture Show launched “Sidewalk Cinema,” an installation of contemporary video works in two windows of the Sakowitz garage at 1111 Main Street.

Works will rotate each quarter to feature a selection of video artists from around the globe. The first installment, Color Play, features the work of four female artists who use color in playful and sometimes unexpected ways, often expressed through nostalgia and found objects.

“With their history of presenting site-specific video works in unique settings, Aurora Picture Show emerged as a natural partner to help us extend the life of the media corner on Main Street and Dallas Street,” said Angie Bertinot, Marketing Director of the Downtown District. “We hope that this first video reel, centered around the theme of ‘color,’ will continue the Art Blocks tradition of presenting engaging public art that is accessible to all Downtown visitors.”

Color Play, a 40-minute reel of six video works by four female video artists, will play on alternating loops in windows facing Main Street and Dallas Street.

Featured artists include:

Ohio-based multidisciplinary artist Kasumi, who utilizes found imagery for The Nostalgia Factory (2015), a video collage of colorized scraps of mid-20th century mass media.

Thai-Australian video artist Kawita Vatanajyankur, who juxtaposes staged physical experiences against bright washes of color in a series of powerful works that examine the role of women in labor. Featured in Color Playare three 3-minute videos: The Robes (2014), The Scale (2015) and The Scale of Justice (2016).

Jodie Mack, an experimental animator based in New Hampshire, who also draws on found objects to create a montage of pattern in Blanket Statement (2012).

Houston-based artist Emily Peacock, who turns her lens on vintage childhood toys for the film You Take Your Time(2016).

“The location for Sidewalk Cinema isn’t your typical gallery or theater set-up, so I selected work that might catch people’s attention as they rush by,” said Mary Magsamen, curator for the Aurora Picture Show. “My hope is that people will stop and watch — for 30 seconds or 30 minutes — and that they’ll find something that speaks to them from one of the four artists featured.”

Color Play will remain on view through mid-July. The second rotation will feature the work of video artist Brian Bress.

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.