The Hardy and Nance Studios building, tucked away on a side road under a commanding overpass, immediately presents a cold white concrete facade to the curious explorer. But on the night of the third Cheap Date: A $20 Art Show and Market, the faint throb of retro electronic music lead Houstonians to a cozy gravel space in front of the studio swarming with art and writing vendors and enthusiasts. To escape the cold, a mere $3 an individual or $5 a couple got you access to the studio, which was vibrating with the activity of people perusing and purchasing art and snooping through any unlocked doors. Walking through the halls, you may expect to run into couples smoking in the kitchen, empty bottles of Fireball strewn on art brochures and a woman telling everyone that they looked “very ’90s.” And while noise overwhelmed the space, it didn’t deter anyone from striking up riveting conversations with artists about their work.
Beyond providing a platform to promote and sell local art, the purpose of this show was exactly that: to encourage a dialogue between artists and art lovers within the Houston community. Hosted specifically by and for Houstonians, the show boasted a number of high-profile local artists. Yet, their work was anything but stuffy and inaccessible material. Featured works included innovative and almost disturbing collage-style photography and elaborate pencil drawings featuring half-naked women. Along with the show’s overall theme, these pieces take on a refreshing grunge twist. Be it Stitch with a Frankenstein ‘do, “Adventure Time” characters with melting skin or highly accomplished fan art from popular television shows and Miyazaki films, the content was tailored largely to the millennial art-loving crowd. Perhaps the show most effectively welcomed this audience simply with its guiding mandate — nearly all of this work, despite being worth much higher prices, went for $20 or less.
This unique twist to the art show resonated with the artists who agreed to sell at such low prices.
“I feel like DIY is super important to the art scene and the idea of ‘We can all do this, we can all come together and do something and it doesn’t have to be expensive, and we can just make something really cool happen and get art in peoples’s hands, you know?” said Tracy Lavois Thiebaud, an artist who runs a small print shop called “whatever, mom” and put her own pieces up for sale at the show.
Thiebaud’s bohemian setup spoke to the beauty of making art easily accessible. She was situated at the corner of the gravel clearing, dressed in a floor-length faux fur coat. In front of her was an antique typewriter and a sign that said “Poems for trade or barter.” After meeting a woman on the streets of Los Angeles who was busking poetry years before, Thiebaud decided to follow in her footsteps. Eloquent poetry typed on torn and yellowed pages was available for as little as a vial of perfume or another small object and an explanation of something on the mind of the patron.
Jaz Henry, photographer and employee at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston,expressed similar values.
“I want to make art for the masses,” Henry said. “I’m around art that’s priceless or something that I could never think of affording, but there are so many art lovers and the way that our world is now is that everyone can collect art, and I want people to know that they can have the piece of art.”
Going to school for photography was an expensive feat that prompted Henry to explore cyanotype photography, a far cheaper alternative that is now her main medium. With this style, she is able to splice together collages of photography and “other imagery” and convert those to whimsical negatives that, while in high demand, were priced under the $20 bar at the show.
“A lot of people will be like, ‘Oh, you’re underpricing yourself!’” Henry said. “But actually I’m giving you a real price. The only reason I would up any of the prices is based on my own greed. You know? So that is one thing I love about the Houston art community, is that a lot of artists aren’t based on greed, they’re completely just creators. They just wanna make something.”
And perhaps Henry’s statements and the show as a whole speak to the vitality and values of the Houston art community. After all, it thrives within a city that is viewed across America as an industrial hub centered around oil-drilling and business, as artist Kalen Rowe, who attended University of Houston, attested. Yet it is vibrant, connected, innovative and ready to push into a future in which art is infused throughout the city, made available to all people from low-income college students looking beyond Target for dorm decorations to adults hoping to fulfill a long-term dream of self-publishing a zine.
Be sure to keep an eye out for a fourth Cheap Date: A $20 Art Show and Market in the near future.