In Photos

The wild beginnings of the Art Car Parade: A roller skating photographer documents it all


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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson
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Photo by George Hixson

"The first event in 1986 wasn't really the actual Art Car Parade yet," explained photographer George Hixson. "It was really just this group of maybe 10 art cars driving down Montrose towards the MFAH sculpture garden where John Cage was performing for the New Music America festival that was in town."

Donning a pair of roller skates to take pictures of his friends and other artists in that now notorious art car brigade, Hixson captured the city's thriving art scene at one of its shining moments. When the Art Car Parade officially launched in 1988, Hixson again played the part of roller-skating documentarian, a role he has played now for 25 consecutive years.

In honor the silver anniversary, Hixson has installed a collection of images from the 1986 ride that started it all at the MKT BAR at the downtown Phoenicia Specialty Foods.

On Friday at 5:30, the photographer will host a special gallery opening event at the cafe. Fifty percent of the proceeds from art sales will benefit The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, which organizes the Art Car Parade each year.

Here's a quick walk down memory lane . . . Hixson's captions, when available, are in boldface.

TO THE RIGHT: The Urban Animals with the Ghetto Blaster in tow

The Ghetto Blaster at Prince's

A recent college graduate on his way to California in the early '80s, Hixson ended up in downtown Houston after a day of hitchhiking.

"Back then, downtown was almost abandoned at night," he recalled. "It was kind of spooky. There wasn't a person around for blocks."

Hixson remembered sitting on a curb that night, when he heard the sound of roller skates getting louder and louder.

"All of a sudden, from around the corner comes this group of people on roller skates," he laughed. "I'd later find out they were called the Urban Animals, this sort of wild and fascinating collection of artists and other art-inclined people all on skates.

"It was something I would have never seen in New York and was blown away. Looking back, I think I decided to stay in Houston that night."

Susanne Demchak in the Fruitmobile

Houston artist Jackie Harris snatched up this 1967 Ford station wagon at a benefit auction for the The Orange Show Foundation in 1984. Armed with a a budget of $800 for paint and plastic food, she would transform the car into the now legendary Fruitmobile.

Months later, Susanne Demchak organized an exhibition of 12 art cars at The Orange Show, including the Fruitmobile. An estimated 1,400 Houstonians came to the event, along with WFAA-TV and National Public Radio.

Jackie Harris driving along

Orson T. Maquelani with umbrella on the DiverseWorks art car

Orson Titus Maquelani was one of the many Houston artists who maintained a studio in the Commerce Street Artists’ Warehouse (CSAW) just east of 59. Hixson also had a studio in the storied space, as did Project Row Houses' Rick Lowe, photographer Ben De Soto, artist Elaine Bradford and Art Guy Jack Massing.

Paul Kittleson in the Cam Can

Noted Houston artist Paul Kittelson was behind the wheel of his Cam Can creation for the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH).

Cam Can

The CAMH was flourishing in the '80s, with shows from major national figures like Bill Viola, Frank Stella and Ida Applebroog as well as Texas faves like Melissa Miller and Vernon Fisher.

The Footnotes

The Footnotes were just one a several area musical acts taking part in the festivities that also included . . .

The marching band

. . . a marching band . . .

. . . and this bass player, who Hixson is still trying to identify.

"I bought my first pair of skates in 1986 and moving through the crowd on skates totally changed the way I viewed these big events at the time," Hixson explained. "It was like I could be in all parts of the parade at once . . .

"The skates allowed me to photograph that dynamic sense of movement I always associated with Houston's culture."

"Moving here from New York, it was so cool to me how open and collaborative everyone was," Hixson said. "The art scene started to really take off in the '80s and totally boomed in the 1990s based on that energy."

"The street scene in Houston was really taking shape in those years and the warehouse scene over on Commerce Street was really at its peak," Hixson said.

"That first parade in '86 was a really pivotal event for me and the whole art scene. In 1988, the city approached the main organizers and evolved it into the official event we're now celebrating 25 years later."