Graffiti finally gets its just due in Houston: Towering Midtown mural honors street art's good work
Known in the street art community as Mr. D, muralist Sebastien Boileau is in the process of completing a massive installation that has the city abuzz. His newest work, dubbed the "Biggest Mural in Houston," towers over the Midtown landscape with the downtown skyline looming above its thoughtful, poetic message.
Boileau's tremendous undertaking, titled Preservons la Creation, covers one wall of a five-story building that's visible from an empty lot on the corner of Tuam and Fannin streets. To finish the mural, he will need an estimated 500 cans of spray paint and more than 100 gallons of exterior paint to coat the 9,750 square feet of concrete bricks, which form a surface that's 160 feet wide by 60 feet tall.
For skeptics, this superlative claim has been verified by the Houston Arts Alliance and the City of Houston director of cultural affairs. Cynthia Alvarado, managing director of the Midtown Management District, inspected murals around the city before the 2012 unveiling of a former Boileau commission, the Love You mural, at the time one of the largest in the city, located at the intersection of Anita and Main streets.
Nearly doubling the size of the Love You mural, Boileau's Preservons la Creation is not only impressive in scope, but also in meaning.
The Legacy of Street Art
While the role of art institutions and galleries is to conserve and protect the cultural legacy of the past and present for future generations, who or what is advocating for the care of street art?
Some may argue that the temporary nature of urban genres such as graffiti doesn't offer any practical solutions, particularly in environments where the elements themselves are a brute force that can determine the lifespan of outdoor installations.
"When you see an impressive work of art, it's almost like a religious experience. Why not think of urban art in the same light?"
Then there are risks associated with unsupervised premises. Street art is by no means immune to vandalism. Just last week, Boileau's Biscuit Home mural was defaced by taggers. Houston artist Reginald Adam's President Obama mural, titled Hope, was damaged in 2012 and again in August.
But the dialogue that muses over issues of longevity, aesthetic lineage and artistic value is important in that it examines how the fate of an art form that has gained considerable acceptance over the past decade can be safeguarded — or at least remembered — despite the spirit of its humble beginnings.
"As a graffiti artist looking back, almost everything I've done is gone," Boileau says. "What do we do to preserve this art form, which started in the 1960s and 1970s? What will be left 500 years from now? As an urban artist, most of what we do is covered up or removed."
Boileau's Preservons la Creation blends the artist's interests in street art and Italian Renaissance culture. Although he's used a recognizable image —Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam, an iconic fresco of the Sistine Chapel — Boileau's goal is not to simply replicate a significant work of the past. As one of the most reproduced images, The Creation of Adam has the advantage of being readily identified by the masses. Boileau's choice is on purpose. He wants to inspire an audience who may not be familiar with street art to discover the passion of its creators.
"I want to encourage people to have the same type of reaction as when they go to a museum or see a cultural relic like the Sistine Chapel," he adds. "When you see an impressive work of art, it's almost like a religious experience. Why not think of urban art in the same light?"
Noah Quiles, founder of UP Art Studio, describes Boileau's approach as Canpressionism, a combination of spray paint application in the style of Impressionism.
"By bringing fine art to a contemporary urban setting, we are hoping to educate the public about the possibilities of street art," Quiles says. "In addition to beautifying the burgeoning Midtown area, the community-centered project is meant as a springboard to connect businesses and artists."
"By bringing fine art to a contemporary urban setting, we are hoping to educate the public about the possibilities of street art."
From Underground to Foreground
UP Art Studio, an organization that champions urban art through gallery shows, art commissions and special events, joined Boileau to facilitate the management of the project. With the support of Texan French Alliance for the Arts, the mural also serves as a fundraiser to underwrite a series of children's hospital murals in selected cities in the U.S. and France.
The collaboration capitalizes on street art's rise in popularity, in essence, as the genre moves from an underground practice into a foreground that's celebrated.
Boileau says that he has always been attracted to graffiti's energy and the field's freedom of expression. When he relocated from Paris to Houston in 1998, he founded Eyeful Art Murals and Designs, the mission of which is to create unique site-specific artwork for the public and private sectors.
"Just like jazz, graffiti is an American art form," he adds. "When I had the opportunity to come to the U.S., it didn't take long for me to fall for Houston."
Sebastien Boileau's Preservons la Creation will be unveiled during an opening party on June 7 from 3 to 11 p.m. General admission tickets are $10; VIP entry costs $100.