Give to Receive
It was serendipitous that en route to my first visit to the Art Car Museum, I experienced a little vehicular distress. Blame it on the jitters that overcome me when I discover new artsy locales in Houston — an aggressive handling of a pothole had inadvertently yanked the battery cable from its rightful place, leaving my vehicle without power.
It didn't take too long to regroup — though not before roadside assistance mocked my inexperience with lifting the hood and fixing an elementary issue — and I arrived at my destination, where Art Car Museum administrators were buzzing about to attend to finishing touches for the Seventh Annual Open Call Exhibition reception, set for Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m.
The venue, founded by James and Ann Harithas, is hard not to miss if you are looking for it. Located on Heights Boulevard just north of Washington Avenue, the wacky metallic building I had dismissed on many drives offered everything Houstonians love about the Bayou City.
"The open show gives us an opportunity to show artists that aren't being seen in galleries," Forbes says. "In a way, the open forum has become a spring board for many artist careers, in addition to giving us ideas and inspiration for future exhibitions."
"There is a Texas tradition to let people be who they want to be," says Noah Edmundson, museum director and art car artist. "There's a real spirit of independence and as a commuter city, you are really stuck when your car is in disrepair."
"Texas doesn't mind you being quirky," he continues. "Just be friendly and open. Houston has very relaxed rules about car alteration; unlike other places, we are free to drive these things on the open road."
An exhibition where everyone and anything is welcome
Walking through the "Garage Mahal's"metallic facade, crowned with lustrous retro-futuristic needles, a space larger than perceived from the exterior emerges, which includes a couple of smaller galleries complemented by oversized chambers with painted black walls. One is exclusively dedicated to the works of Sherry Sullivan, this year's featured artist.
It's one of the private art presenter's most popular shows as it allows everyone — and they mean anyone — to submit their creations; any age, any medium, although there are guidelines for size.
Only one piece per artist is allowed, and they mostly come from locals, though past entries have arrived from as far as Germany.
All museum staff participates, and that includes assistant director Mary Forbes and curators Jim Hatchett and Alicia Duplan, all art car artists in their own right.
Add to the list 10-year-old Bruiser Goldberg, whose PoP ArT CaR popcorn-on-wheels mobile won a Participants Choice Award at the Orange Show's 2011 Art Car Parade, a steel sculpture by Mike Scranton and a free-form abstract painting by Guss Kemp, who got his art start at the Art Car Museum.
“Art has also saved me from madness," Sullivan says. "My art is an island, a fortress, a citadel. It's my own sacred space, a place where my imagination and thoughts can roam freely, where no one can enter until the work is complete."
"The open show gives us an opportunity to show artists that aren't seen in galleries," Forbes says. "In a way, the open forum has become a spring board for many artist careers, in addition to giving us ideas and inspiration for future exhibitions."
There's no jury and no selection panel so that everything is accepted on a first-come, first-served basis for the first 125 artists — a few more if there happens to be more room on the partitions.
Amidst sculptures, art cars, video installations, collages, multimedia works, prints and paintings, it's a smorgasborg for the senses that comments on politics, current events, humor, personal growth, change, culture, religion and everything in between.
"Reconstruction" is the theme, and artists are free to extrapolate their own meaning and approach. The topic is appropriate for both art cars and present-day concerns active in the zeitgeist of the American psyche. By their nature, art cars are a reconstruction. There's also an updraft of people reinventing themselves to thrive in the new creative and conceptual economy.
Sherry Sullivan's reconstruction
"It's Sherry's unique vision that makes her special," Forbes says. "You can readily identify how dedicated she is to her art, how her life journey manifests itself in her art so that the end product also shows progress and process."
That journey included two recent hip surgeries, hospital and nursing home stays and home rehabilitation therapies. For the artist, her craft is her oxygen.
“Art has also saved me from madness," Sullivan says. "My art is an island, a fortress, a citadel. It's my own sacred space, a place where my imagination and thoughts can roam freely, where no one can enter until the work is complete. I think for any human being — especially creative types — it's important to have a private space where you can create from within with no boundaries or constraints.”
Sullivan's eight paintings have a vibrancy that springs wildly from within the confines of their medium. Bright greens, oranges and blues form recognizable organic shapes contrasted by rich glossy metallics, somehow working in harmony. There's an inherent upward flow crafted by whimsical curves, often highlighted by neon colors, that compels onlookers to smile at the spirited energy.
“I began my journey as an artist with drawing," Sullivan explains. "And now, in this later stage in life, I have returned to drawing as the basis for my work. From there, the subject matter and color sequence evolves. It's similar to filling in the patterns of a coloring book."
"With this method, I can close the door to my studio and come back days, or even weeks later, and return with the same level of intensity and momentum. Moreover, this approach works well given my stamina is not what it used to be.”
The 82-year-old has been part of the open call exhibition for several years, though it was her involvement with Casa Juan Diego — a center founded by Mark and Louise Zwick serving the needs of refugee, immigrant and poor communities — that earned larger recognition.
Sullivan rescued her Stations of the Cross, a series of religious portrayals housed at a small parish in her native Chicago, painted 50 years prior. As the building was scheduled for demolition, she traveled by car with her son to retrieve and restore them and locate a proper home.
That home was Casa Juan Diego, in hopes of granting the residents strength to reconstruct their own lives.
It's the karmic power of giving that grants Sullivan the prowess to keep going strong, alongside her husband of 63 years, Eugene, their five children and three grand children.
The Open Call Exhibition opens Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Art Car Museum at 140 Heights Blvd. Admission is free.