Project Row Houses’ highly anticipated “Round 55: The Drive By II” is open and in full effect.
In commemoration of PRH’s 30th anniversary, Danielle Burns Wilson, the organization’s curator and art director manifested an art experience that serves as a historic reflection on PRH’s first artist Round, “The Drive By” (1993-94), which was created by one of its founding members, Jesse Lott.
Before the Round 55 grand opening, Wilson introduced all participating artists who then gave “porch talks,” speaking about their work from the porches of their houses.
“The Drive By II” will be open for public viewings Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. through June 4 and will feature houses by the following artists: Ray Carrington and Earlie Hudnall, Gregory Michael Carter, Danielle Fanfair, Cat Martinez, Israel McCloud, Irene Antonia Diane Reece and Jesse Sifuentes.
Project Row Houses is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people and enriching communities through engagement, art and direct action. PRH was founded in 1993 to be a catalyst for transforming community through the celebration of art and African-American history and culture.
Inspired by the work of German avant-garde artist Joseph Beuys and African-American painter and longtime head of Texas Southern University’s art department Dr. John Biggers, PRH’s seven founders — James Bettison, Bert Long Jr., Jesse Lott, Rick Lowe, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples and George Smith — purchased 22 historic shotgun-style row houses on two blocks in what some describe as a “disinvested” neighborhood in Houston’s historic Third Ward. They began using the houses as spaces for thematic art interventions.
Today, PRH consists of 39 structures over five city blocks and serves as home to numerous community initiatives, art programs and neighborhood development activities. Art programs at PRH are funded in part by the Texas Commission for the Arts and the Houston Arts Alliance.
PRH’s Artist Rounds are a biannual event, with openings in March and October. Each session lasts approximately four months. During the round, seven row houses are open to visiting artists to display works that address a topic, question or challenge facing the community.
For more information, visit PRHTurns30.org.
Here’s what “The Drive By II” artists and PRH leaders had to say about Round 55:
DANIELLE FANFAIR, “Words as Social Sculpture”
“African American vernacular, the way Blackfolk talk, has been looked down upon by many in society who say it’s incorrect and that it’s primitive and that it doesn’t follow the rules of American English. And I’d like to submit to the congregation today that African American vernacular English is at the same time rhythmic and beautiful and funny and complete and essential. So, it’s sustainable, it’s creative, it’s improvisational. And Black genius is a everyday thing. It’s not like a surprise. So, when Black people have amazing and relevant contributions, I mean, we’ve been on that. So, what I’m exploring here is just the genius of everyday Black language.”
CAT MARTINEZ, “Slabs”
What excites me most (about being a Round 55 artist) is talking about Slab culture, being a part of a group of people who love Third Ward. Slab culture started in Houston and in this area. Thirty years ago, Ron Scales and Dr. Ann Lundy brought me here. We were supporting another community organization here in the Third Ward. And when I came out here, I was inspired by the art, and I saw myself and I saw people who look like me creating art. And I just wanted to be a part of the art community at that point. I knew that this was for me and it wasn’t just exclusive in white cube museums. But the thing that I like about Slab culture is that it’s an art practice that might not necessarily be recognized as art, but slabs are art. And we have a group of people who haven’t been recognized for that. And I want to formally recognize them and others who have been trying to talk about this culture. I wanna formally recognize and talk about the culture and pay homage to them.
JESSE SIFUENTES, “An Ode to Dr. Biggers”
I’m glad to be a part of this Row House because I’m able to give a little tribute to my teacher and mentor John Biggers. I think it was a good opportunity because he used row houses as part of his muse, and we were all impressed with this work, and we all wanted to be like him. So, I thought that this would be a good tribute to reenact or re-show the paintings that he did using row houses. So that’s what I did. He had a row house with a woman on the porch. I made a woman on the porch, but I made it out of mosaic using glass tile. And he had turtles in his work and his painting. So, I put turtles in because he was big on turtles. He would say that turtles represent wisdom and old age.3
DANIELLE BURNS WILSON, PRH Curator and Art Director
I started to reflect on my relationships with artists, community. And that’s the beautiful thing about PRH. It’s like I’ve been able to really marry both professional and personal lives in some ways, because of the connection to the community… I do want to shout out the artists. Thank you for saying yes. I’m so glad you’re part of the public art program; the Rounds being our signature thing. For you all to come back 30 years and we have this ode to the first round. Shout out to Mr. (Israel) McCloud. He was in the first “Drive By,” so I can only imagine your experiences you’ve had this week as you’ve been installing, and what it was like 30 years ago; how transformative it had to have been.
ISRAEL MCCLOUD, “House Being Home as Garden”
Homes are places of cultivation and beginnings and origins. A lot of times we look at our dwelling as something very generic and very physical. But when we understand the dynamics of how everything begins and is incubated and is introduced at home, it gives us a better understanding of the importance of the home.
RAY CARRINGTON, “A Tribute to the 25th Precinct”
The component that brought me here, that kept me here, a component of it is right here that just walked by (pointing to a group of Yates High School students in the photography class he taught for 29 years) so they can see what can happen if they stay with it. We had 22 million people who saw our work at one time on “CBS Sunday morning.” This is what they’re fighting for right now. Twenty-nine years of getting to this point where they are on their own to try to do this and more. You can do it.
EARLIE HUDNALL, “A Tribute to the 25th Precinct”
My house is about community, the universality of the human spirit in conjunction with Ray (Carrington). It’s a tribute to John Biggers. Biggers painted the Third Ward shotgun in honor of Ms. Christian Adair who was chairman of the 25th Precinct for voting here in Houston. And that’s the motif that I used at the very top of the mural, and included Dr. Thomas F. Freeman and Martin Luther King. Freeman was Martin Luther King’s teacher.
EUREKA GILKEY, PRH Executive Director
I just wanted to say a special thank you to the artist before they open their works the public. We feel very privileged to have you come here and share your practice with us. And this is even more important for us this year because we are celebrating our 30th anniversary. Some people didn’t think we’d make it this far, but we most definitely did, submitting ourselves as this cultural anchor here in Historic Third Ward.
IRENE ANTONIA DIANE REECE, “Billie-James”
I think what’s exciting to me is that my father helped with one of the first rounds… So, I’ve been around Project Row Houses for a very long time; since I was a kid. So, it’s very nice to be exhibiting with other artists, especially some of the elders like Israel McCloud, Earlie Hudnall and Ray Carrington, and seeing them when I was a child, and now I’m like all grown up and I’m actually exhibiting with them. It’s an honor.