In a city where there’s graffiti on every passing train, overpass and abandoned building, the “Be Someone” sign over I-45 is what really catapulted the Houston street art scene. Now, as Houston gets younger, more vibrant and diverse, it is almost as if we are moving toward becoming a street art city.
In 2011, ‘Be Someone’ appeared in Houston and it began to change the public’s view on street art as more artists began to paint murals all over the city.
The Man Behind Be Someone
For legal reasons, the man behind “Be Someone” chose to withhold his name, so within this article he will be referred to as “George Doe”.
Doe was born in California and moved to Houston when he was going into the eighth grade. There, he took an art class in Houston and started producing his first graffiti work. He tagged the name “BLOB” everywhere he went. Until he realized the word had no meaning to him and he wanted to create something more unique.
“So, I started writing ‘Be Someone’. I want to be someone, everyone wants to be someone,” Doe said.
Over the years, “Be Someone” has been vandalized by other graffiti artists tagging their names over the “Be Someone” sign with sayings like “Be Mattress Mac” and “Be One.” In regards to his art being tagged over, Doe believes it is a way for other artists to prevent him from succeeding.
The artist was caught once by law enforcement trying to revert the sign to its original saying after it was vandalized with “Be Mattress Mac” and he was faced with a $4000 case. With graffiti becoming more prevalent and important to Houstonians, the continuous obstruction of “Be Someone” has started to upset locals that want to make “Be Someone” an official art piece of Houston.
“I could care less about it being an art piece; I just want it to be there forever,” he said. “When they drive by that sign it might just make them feel a little bit better.”
With the increase of street artists being paid to do huge murals all over Houston, the artist said he believes that he played a role in influencing the increase of street art.
The Growing Job Market For Street Artists
Gonzo247, the man behind the infamous “Houston Is Inspired” mural in downtown Houston, has been doing street art in Houston for decades. When he was 12 years old, Gonzo was introduced to rap music while his aunts were listening to disco and his uncles were getting into what we now refer to as classic rock. This was when he first discovered graffitti, which he believes to be the visual language of hip-hop.
Back in the early ‘80s, graffiti was mostly about artists tagging their names everywhere they went as a way to be seen.
“When you’re younger you feel as though you don’t have a voice and people won’t pay attention to you,” Gonzo said. “Especially when you live in the ghetto.”
Gonzo believed graffiti was an art form that was created by kids for kids. He said that kids would tag their names with markers and then it evolved into using the spray paint can. Back in the ‘80s, most artists didn’t believe they would actually become self-sufficient in street art, but now it’s becoming more and more realistic to be paid as a street artist in Houston.
“I think now is the best time to be a creative in the city,” Gonzo said.
In 2012, Scott Tarbox, a Houston street artist known for his eye-popping animalistic murals, said that he found street art to be an outlet to keep him sane after recovering from substance abuse. As a self-taught artist, he had no idea that he would be able to fully cover his financial costs through street art and other art forms.
“It [was] either you made it or you didn’t, but now there’s a lot of middle ground,” Tarbox said.
He said that in the early 2000s there were a lot of locals who didn’t understand what street art was and most people found it to just be criminal activity. But now more and more people are becoming used to street art. Even businesses are becoming open-minded to street art since Tarbox was hired on to paint murals for three of Houston’s rock climbing gyms.
“What’s really helped is that Houston has been getting younger,” said Gonzo. “With plenty of decision makers and gatekeepers retiring, there’s a lot of new blood and fresher people coming in to fill those positions. These new people have more of an open mind and they’re used to seeing street art.”
Bringing Color To The City
Last year in 2017, the City of Houston commissioned about thirty artists to paint “mini murals” all over the city where artists were able to brighten neighborhoods with their own designs by painting over utility boxes. Now driving through Houston, artwork can be seen everywhere from the huge murals created by street artists like Tarbox and Gonzo to the mini murals that catch Houston drivers’ eyes at every stoplight.
Gonzo prides himself in using bright colors in his Houston-dedicated murals. His color choices are inspired by Mexico in regards to his bright yellows and oranges but the colors also show that we can all really come together, he said. Gonzo said that Houston truly came together when everyone from all different cultures and backgrounds helped each other during the Harvey flooding in late 2017.
“Together we all make Houston what it is,” said Gonzo.
Tarbox also uses a lot of bright colors in his pieces with little pops of gray or brown. In a recent collaboration with restaurant joint Stack Burger, Tarbox was able to paint all four walls of the building, making his murals a vibrant addition to downtown Houston.
“The idea in the ‘90s was ‘I have to leave Houston to blow up.’ But, my thought was why go to another city that’s already saturated and has a lot of competition? Why not work twice as hard in Houston and make the city what
you want it to be,” said Gonzo.
This article was written as part of a multimedia collaboration with Coog TV, watch their video here!