The Bayou City Art Festival at Memorial Park – As Told Through The Soul of an Art Enthusiast, an Art Educator and Amateur Creator
Jay Long Painting

Jay Long Painting

The penultimate weekend in March was filled with artistic happenings from around the city. One of those artful events happened to be a Houston tradition with a history as colorful as the artwork and creators it showcases. Since it’s conception in the early 70’s, the humble festival has raised over $2.6 million benefiting local art organizations according to the official website of the festival . If I were to make a graphic representation of the history of the festival, I imagine it to be a three dimensional timeline, in the shape of the Houston Half Marathon route.

Some of the featured artists this year have been coming to the festival since it’s early years, when it was known as the Westheimer Art Festival in the Montrose area. Jay Long, is one of those festival veterans. I had the pleasure of chatting with Jay right out of the gate. Literally. Mr. Long’s booth was set up a few feet from the main entrance and information area. I made a B line for his gallery when I could see there were cute little animals  in clothing. As a woman who puts clothes on all her own animals, I felt like I instantly connected with Jay. Soon I transcended into a fairytale dream as if I’d eaten a lot of chocolate before bed. For me, eating sweets can potentially make me have very strange dreams. One of my favorites was a painting titled Ripple. It is centered around a distinguished amphibian lounging under a tree next to a lake. Playful, fantastical, with a bit of slacker, this appealed to me on many levels. I almost felt like I had also snuck away from a red carpet party and relaxed under the same tree but I wasn’t about to give away our special spot. Don’t worry Mr. Ripple, I won’t tell anyone our secret place. I asked Jay about the frog in the picture and he said “I always try and capture the childhood imagination in everyone, but through the perspective of a grown-up’s life experiences. Hence the bottle under the arm.” Jay narrates. Jay is a native Houstonian, but currently painting in Austin. He loves our city specifically for the art culture, resources and rich art community.

I wish I could write about every single artist I encountered. The good news for the Festival is that feat is not possible in the space and bandwidth allotted on this blog. I can, however, tell you about the few that appealed to me, and leave the rest to your wild imaginations while sampling through my slideshow.

This brings me to my next highlighted artist. David Mayhew is a storm chaser by day and photographer by night! Actually, he photographs also during the day in the middle of major storm systems (but I am sure this requires late nights editing). For a girl who wanted to study meteorology, David is a superhero. He and I discussed what it means to dream that you’re in the path of a tornado. As an amateur meteorologist and dream interpreter, I have come to the conclusion (in my life anyway) that it has to do with fear of loosing control. Perhaps I am projecting, but that’s what art is about right? Subjectivity? Interpretation? The spectators experience. Reactions. David’s images evoked just the right recipe of fear, awe, and appreciation of mother nature. David confessed that his tornado dreams usually involve castles, but that’s his British brain projecting his homeland, the United Kingdom. And just like the path of a tornado, you could never have predicted that he has lived in Texas and currently resides in Ft. Collins, Colorado.

David Mayhew

Photographer and stormchaser, David Mayhew

In between Texas and Colorado lies New Mexico. This is where the next artist I want to tell you about lives. Armando Adrian-Lopez is a Mexican-American who’s heritage rich artwork reflects his native culture with a bit of whimsy and magic. Quetzalcoatl is an ancient deity in the Aztec and Mayan civilizations. I won’t tell you the history of this mythical creature, but I will tell you that if you believe in Ancient Alien theory, Quetzalcoatl is kind of a big deal. And for those of you who don’t know the reference to Ancient Aliens, just know this: Quetzalcoatl is powerful, and is the reason we eat corn, read books and create art. Thank you, Armando, for a worthy homage.

Mixed Media Sculpture by Armando Adrian-Lopez

A Mixed Media Sculpture of Quetzalcoatl by Armando Adrian-Lopez

Tiffany Ownbey is my next highlighted artist. Tiffany comes to Texas by way of North Carolina. I have never seen such brilliant paper mache in all my life. Then again, I haven’t given paper mache much thought in my life since the third grade when I had to do it for a school project. I remember it being messy, and a lot of work. Paper mache was not my favorite medium to work with. Perhaps this is why Tiffany’s sculptures surprised me. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a Durga like figure and immediately was drawn to it. Like, Durga, “Self-Sufficient” is a woman with many hands. I identify with “Self-Sufficient” and Durga, mainly because of my gender and the fact that I often fantasize about how much easier my life would be if I just had another set of arms and hands. I could sing, write blogs, walk my dog, and post everything to my social media accounts without skipping a beat, but perhaps while skipping along the Memorial Park trail… if I only had six more arms. I snap back to reality because any self-sufficient, self-reliant woman knows how this story plays out. It’s the same fantasy as dreaming for more hours in the day, or days in the week: the self-fulfilling prophecy is that we’d all find more life to consume, more committees to volunteer for, more events to attend, and still not have enough time or hands to do all that we want. I am drawn even closer to Self-Sufficient as I ruminate and reassure myself that it’s ok to only have two hands, when I notice that she has instructions printed on the paper she was constructed from. After asking Tiffany, she affirms that it is sewing patterns. I have more respect for Self-Sufficient now because I have tried and failed miserably to construct clothing from paper patterns. Here stood Self-Sufficient before me in all her magnificence, almost taller than me, intimidating me, taunting me. I envied her. I coveted her. Not only did she have more hands, she was made from materials that have defeated me! Self-Sufficient has earned her title. I tried to hi-five her, but it was awkward.

Paper Mache sculptures by Tiffany Ownbey

"Self-Sufficient" Paper Mache sculpture by Tiffany Ownbey. This one was crafted from the delicate paper used in sewing patters. It is often thinner than tissue.

Lastly, since I just will never get over my more hands complex, I leave you with just one more artist who left a lasting impression on me. Hopefully her lasting impressions will elongate the mortality of her delicate subjects. Brett Miley is a Botanist, Ecologist, Writer, Artist, and Advocate for endangered species. Each digital image she takes of imperiled creatures is spun into a kaleidoscope of beauty that takes a life of its own. The circle of life is inescapable, yet, we need to take action to keep each of the living creatures in these spirographic pictures alive. As I leave Brett’s gallery, I can’t help but think of Noah’s Ark, all while singing Carmina Burana: O Fortuna, velut luna, statu variabilis, semper crescis aut decrescis; vita detestabilis nunc obdurate. Oh Fortune, like the moon, you are changeable, ever waxing; and waning; hateful life.

Brett Miley kaleidescopes of imperiled species

Artist, writer, botanist, and Ecologist Brett Miley in front of several of her creations. Each is an endangered living thing.

Special Thanks To: The Bayou City Art Festival Memorial Park, The Houston Arts Alliance, and all the artists who allowed me to share their experience.

By Melissa Darragh
Published March 30, 2012
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