Embedded in Houston’s Third Ward lies Project Row Houses, a group of shotgun houses that includes converted Summer Studios for seven local art students and emerging artists.
This summer, Elizabeth Denton (Duncan ‘18) took on the task of transforming her assigned house into a complete studio and further refining the art skills she developed during her time as a Visual and Dramatic Arts major. Her art, substantial and beautiful, beckons viewers for a closer look when juxtaposed with the repurposed house.
The Summer Studios project began in 2006 with the intent to facilitate interactions between emerging artists and the local community, according to Project Row Houses’ website. Denton joined a long list of previous Studios residents which includes several other Rice alumni, such as Huidi Xiang (Duncan ‘18), Heather Wright (Lovett ‘18), and Amiri Boykin (Jones ‘15). According to Denton, it was her visit to Wright’s house that inspired her own residency.
Denton used her new space to house an exhibition of colorful, floral, coffin-like wood frames. The “coffins” are covered with fabric collage and produce a stunning yet eerie sculpture. Onlookers can peer into and around the “coffins,” which seem to be overgrown with cloth pieces and colorful collaging.
“The coffin inspires me as a metaphor for my artistic process,” Denton said. “In [my] process, I accumulate and process material. The material is given vibrant life energy by being given context; when juxtaposed, materials play off each other visually, and this interplay creates emergent effects.”
The overall effect is that of a paradox – coffins, usually associated with death and sadness, spring forth with brightness and seem to overflow with potential. Denton uses this juxtaposition to represent the decay of human bodies in coffins and the subsequent new life that this decay brings.
“The material of the decaying body is processed and combined in new ways, transforming into support for new life to emerge,” Denton said. “I’m using the coffin form as a frame to emphasize the connection this form has to the alchemical, digestive force driving my art making.”
The houses-turned-studios represent more than simply space to create art. The artists face the physical challenge of no air-conditioning in the Houston summer heat as well as the mental challenge of finding newfound responsibility to self-direct their artwork.
“At Rice, most of the logistics of creating work were taken care of by others,” Denton said. “ At Project Row Houses, the responsibility for logistics fell completely on the resident artists’ shoulders.”
Denton said her Summer Studios experience has encouraged her to continue working with wood coffin forms and collaging. She said she hopes to work further with clothing construction, ink and paint, and is looking forward to a break before continuing with her artistic career.
The Summer Studios residency has concluded, but the exhibitions will be open for public viewing until Sept. 16. Interested visitors can see Denton’s work from Wednesday to Sunday, 12 to 5 p.m. at 2521 Holman St.