Public Art of the University of Houston System (Public Art UHS) and the UH School of Art are helping Houston-based emerging artists get their work recognized in a public setting. “YardWorks” is a new program intended to give these artists an early-career opportunity to exhibit site-specific installations in the heart of the UH Arts District.
Rontaye “Tay” Butler, a 2019 graduate of the UH photography and digital media program, is the first artist to showcase his work, “We Are Still Searching…” (2019). The 12-foot-tall plywood billboard collage is on view through December at the Louise J. Moran Fine Arts Courtyard at the UH Fine Arts building and adjacent to Blaffer Art Museum. Although Butler’s piece was completed two years ago, it has since been refabricated and transformed into something more durable for “YardWorks.”
“‘YardWorks’ is a concrete way for Public Art UHS to support emerging artists in Houston who are interested in showing their work in the public sphere,” explained María C. Gaztambide, Public Art UHS director and chief curator. “The program will support selected artists from concept development to fabrication to installation, while connecting them to Public Art’s curators, School of Art faculty and other public art practitioners.”
“We Are Still Searching…” revisits the Great Migration of six million African Americans out of the rural South to cities in the North, Midwest and West, as well as the remigration to the South.
“It’s about this constant movement and how people, especially those who are Black, are trying to find what home is,” explained Butler, whose own family left Mississippi in the 1950s for Wisconsin, which is where he grew up before moving to Houston. Butler’s project features multiple plates of weathered, vintage Coca-Cola and cigarette advertisements – from old magazines of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, as well as billboards inspired by his travels on the road.
“I am thinking about trains, Greyhound buses and cars that are moving from north to south, south to Midwest, east to west. These billboards commemorate time,” Butler added.
Those who visit the installation can scan a QR code which brings up a sound collage that mimics changing stations to new frequencies as one travels from city to city. The sound piece has commercials, interviews and music from multiple eras.
“Tay’s work tells an important story in a beautiful and subtle way,” said David Politzer, director, UH School of Art. “His images are in conversation with one another – there’s much to interpret here. They tell an autobiographical story that spans generations of searching for a place to call ‘home.’”
Politzer and Gaztambide are planning for “YardWorks” to be a biennial program in order to allow the selection and commissioning processes time to mature. Visit the Public Art UHS website to learn more.