Urban landscapes

Demolition art: Ken Mazzu finds abstract beauty in the rubble of fallen buildings


YMCA downtown Dallas
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Since 1997, Ken Mazzu has been interested in Houston's demolished history. He regularly took photographs of the remains of many of the city's historic buildings that met the wrecking ball, but he didn't decide to make it the focus of his artwork until a decade later. 

An artist who teaches at the Glassell School of Art, Mazzu recalls that had hit a wall about where his artwork was headed until he started to look at his old photos of rubble forms for inspiration.

"There's a certain beauty in decay," he says.

Downtown YMCA, 2011, oil on canvas

Although he had photographed other demolished buildings, Mazzu's interest in painting the results of debris came after he observed an entire city block torn down in his Rice Village neighborhood to make way for a mixed-use project that didn't materialize.

"That was the one that sprung me back," he recalls. "Instead of trying to abstract from it, I approached it as a collapsed structure on a city block. I didn't try to transend that. I tried to capture a sense of place."

Kelvin at Dunstan, 2011, oil on canvas

 

On the way to his studio in the Warehouse District, Mazzu regularly drove by an old yellow brick building that took up almost a city block across from the jail on San Jacinto. One day, he noticed he could see through the facade.

"I realized they were tearing it down from the back," he recalls. So he whipped out his camera and began documenting the building as it gradually was torn down. 

Harris County Records Archive, 2011, watercolor

Harris County Records Archives, 2011, watercolor

 

At first Mazzu wasn't too interested in the history of the structures he photographed. But as his project has continued, he has begun to research the background of each fallen building.

He had taken photos of the Bovay Building when it was demolished to make way for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Audrey Beck Building in 2000. He later learned the building was originally known as the Old National Insurance Company but everyone called it "the Fannin building." Renovated by the owners of Bovay Enginners in 1978, it became known as the Bovay Building.

 

Bovay Building, 2011, watercolor

Bovay Building, 2010, oil on canvas

Long interested in painting landscapes, Mazzu views his current work as the flip side of the same equation. "Cityscapes are the absence of nature," he says. "I am interested in the broken nature of architecture. The crumbling effect leads to ideas."

 

Buffalo Speedway at West Alabama, 2009, gouache on paper

 

"I think it's the abstraction I see in the rubble that holds my interest," Mazzu says. "It happens in a flash. I try to capture that moment in a way the photographer can't."

 

Walnut at Sterrett, 2011, oil on canvas

Mazzu became interested in a building along the light rail line on Main Street and began documenting the demolition in photographs. He later turned them into a series of paintings.

 

Downtown Houston, 2011, oil on canvas

Downtown Houston, 2010, watercolor

Downtown Houston, 2010, oil on canvas

Downtown Houston, 2010, watercolor

Downtown Houston, 2010, gouache on paper

The inspiration for Mazzu's most recent work came from observing the demolition of the grand old Downtown YMCA building. 

Downtown YMCA, 2011, watercolor

Mazzu's work will be on display Saturday from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. at Mother Dog Studios during the 19th annual Art Crawl Houston.

Downtown YMCA, 2011, watercolor