Several months ago, a number of wheat pasted public photographic murals unveiled in the streets of Houston's historic Third Ward neighborhood. They left no mark of who was responsible for the artistic displays, only large scale images depicting residents, family members and people. The predominantly Black neighborhood of the Third Ward welcomed the murals. Locals often searched for them, taking photographs of their magnificence and taking advantage of the photo-opp. Although left anonymous, the mystery of the artist was short lived and later encouraged to increase the activity of his public pieces.
Houston's Third Ward is a place where history and community have the potential to bear its weight over the long arm of commercial development. Much of that can be merited to Art projects that activate the neighborhood and invite its residents to gallery exhibitions, public performances and arts education. I'm speaking of course of the community platform, Project Row Houses. It's mission to engage a space through artists residencies lends itself to provide even local artists of the Third Ward a way to voice themselves. In 2017, One of those artists was Colby C. Deal, who now goes on to paste magnificent images on decaying homes, neighborhood streets and even businesses that invite the notion of his public murals. Although the work itself also decays, the message can be taken as a move towards inspiration. A move for the people of the Third Ward to continue owning their space and to preserve the fabric of its history.
Colby's work was featured on Deep Red Press in Sept. 2017. I caught up with him to ask a few questions about this recent work.
RR: Tell us about the wheatpasted murals that have gone up in Houston, TX.
CD: In the past two years community engagement has become the basis of my work by creating an opportunity of self-appreciation for community members and altering spaces in order to activate that engagement. I chose the public art form of wheat pasting mural-sized photographs on buildings. I received permission from business owners and on other occasions I used gorilla style tactics by pasting on abandoned buildings. I reside and conduct my work within Houston’s historic community of Third Ward, which was a thriving and self-sustaining area until after desegregation and white flight in the 1950’s and 60’s. These two events caused multiple aspects of strain among the remaining African American population in Third Ward for the years to come, deeming this area unfavorable by the media and society. To combat this unfavorable idea I build report with members of the community and photograph them, then I paste up a life-size photo near their home or most frequented place of business or leisure. This is what creates the aforementioned opportunity of self-appreciation as they are, from someone like them, not as how the media or society would portray them.
CD: Each piece is left anonymous with no indication of the artist because I feel that would take away from the individual of the piece and make it about me as an artist, which aren’t my intentions. One aspect I value from these community experiences is the realization of the responsibility and influence I possess with the power of my photographic craft. It effects, represents, and inspires the people in a dynamic way, because a member from their own space portrays them as beautiful.
CD: Secondly, I gained the knowledge of what it meant to change or engage a space and the innate chain of events that follow. For instance, the business’s that allowed me to paste artwork on their walls noticed an increase in business, because of customer’s interest in seeing the artwork. Which in turn, leads to customers supporting the business and helps rejuvenate the community’s economy as a whole.
In today's socio economy, murals are often used by businesses to attract customers and consumer culture. Even more so, those businesses are endeavors that are new to an area, the art and labor outsourced and will sometimes predict on onsough of commercial development. In this case, The Eldorado Ballroom, where Deal's large and elegantly framed image of his own mother resides, is a historic landmark in Houston's Third Ward neighborhood. Deal's work tells as much of his own community as it does of its history, its roots and its right to be present. The paper pieces do not intend on welcoming gentrification, they intend on fighting it.
(Colby's mural work can be found primarily on Instagram under the hashtag #theycantkillusall.)