The Front Row, 08/04/2006
August 4, 2006 12:08:00 am
It took two tries. On two different occasions, several years apart, he quit his day jobs as an accomplished executive chef -- first at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, and then at Chicago’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel … but, finally, in 1979, Bert Long, Jr., realized his dream of becoming a full-time visual artist. Since then, he has turned out an amazing body of eclectic, very personal works in a variety of media: paintings, installations, performances, photographs, and sculptures made of found objects and ice. His paintings -- bold, colorful, powerful, and not afraid to confront the darker sides of life -- often incorporate assembled and collaged elements, and the frames may be painted and decorated as well, as important a part of the work as what appears inside that border. Bert Long began to attract notice, and achieve some success, in the early 80's, when he stopped creating paintings about THINGS: mushrooms, water … and began making pieces whose subject matter came out of his PERSONAL LIFE: His struggles as an African-American from a poor Houston neighborhood trying to make it as an artist (and a self-taught one, at that) … the suffering he endured during the winter he was separated from his family and living in his unheated broken-down travel-trailer parked at a gas station on Chicago’s South Side … later on, the ransacking and destruction of his house and studio in Shepherd, Texas, by racists … the heady period of living with his wife, Connie, in Spain … her subsequent death from cancer … and his eventual return to his roots in Houston’s Fifth Ward. . . . All of the thoughts and feelings evoked by his life experiences are reflected in the twenty-four paintings and mixed media works, curated by his close friend and fellow Texas artist, James Surls, that are currently on display in the exhibition, Out of the Life of Bert L. Long, Jr., at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. This morning, I met up with Mr. Long in the gallery. Audio here.
Two years ago the tongue-in-cheek Houston - It’s Worth It image campaign tickled funny-bones all over the metropolitan area and received national attention in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. The premise was this: Sure, Houston has giant flying cockroaches, floods, impossible traffic, unbearable heat and humidity, voracious mosquitoes, polluted air, perpetually-under-construction streets, hurricanes, and no topography, but there are so many aspects of the city that are wonderful, that it’s worth it to put up with all that other stuff in order to live here. As a follow-up to that promotion, the Houston Center for Photography invited photographers both professionals and amateurs to send in their pictures that illustrate some of the elements that make this city so interesting, quirky, eclectic, and a great place to be. Over 600 images were submitted, and they will be the focus of the Photography Center’s second annual SPIN party, exhibition and fund-raiser, Show Us Why, which kicks off with a celebration this evening, and runs through the weekend. Randy Twaddle is one of the two partners of the Ttweak creative and marketing firm who came up with the Houston It’s Worth It campaign. Madeleine Yale is the newly-appointed Program Director of the Houston Center for Photography. Audio here.