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Arts

Buzzy Grafitti Artist Makes Wind Power Cool in Houston — This Montrose Mural Means More

When Street Art is Embraced by an Energy Convention

BY // 06.04.19

“It’s hard to make a mural out of wind turbines and have people want to look at it and stare at it,” says DUAL.

The 30-something Houston artist ought to know about moving an audience. He has been able to navigate the tricky paths of gallery representation — eagle-eyed Pablo Cardoza is his dealer, the talent scout who’s also shown bad boy Mark Flood  — and academia, holding a BFA from the University of Houston.

Meanwhile, he’s earned street respect for his graffiti and wheat-paste activities around town (as well as served jail time).

His success at balancing city walls and the white cube is summarized in his handle — all in caps, natch, for emphasis.

DUAL Messaging: Bohemian Montrose as White Cube 

A decade into this urban career, DUAL’s one of the most buzzed about talents around Houston thanks to a string of recent murals in four high-profile spots: just-minted coffee shop/bar/eatery Tropicales, The Rice Box, Produce Row and new food hall Finn Hall.

But this story is about the artist’s commitment to a bigger idea — a renewable form of energy, which holds sustainable and economic promise for the state of Texas.

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That would be wind energy, which just wrapped its big trade-show conference in Houston before Memorial Day, blowing in (pardon the pun) weeks after the OTC (Offshore Technology Conference) occupied the prime spot of early May. (This year, OTC also dedicated booth space to the business of offshore wind.)

We’re standing in front of DUAL’s latest aerosol action — an impressive, vibrant creation that occupies pride of place at Bar Boheme’s outdoor space.

Detail of DUAL’s “Operation Happiness,” 2019, at Bar Boheme, a cubistic abstraction bearing a wind-power theme. (Photo by CDA)

The expansive mural, completed in a record three-days time, punctuates the back wall of a lush garden lined with long picnic bench-style seating.

Once an unadorned shipping container, the blank boxcar of metal has been transformed into a urbane canvas with a jazzy aesthetic.

The work bears all the characteristics of classic DUAL  — the artist’s trademark cubistic composition, rhythmic lines and a palette Matisse would have approved of.

It speaks to this historic Montrose neighborhood, which still retains a sense of character undiminished by townhouse development.

It’s nearing 6 pm on this balmy Sunday afternoon and the last patrons from Boheme’s drag brunch are clearing out, while the evening crowd begins to settle in.

I’ve been told to come at this time, because the artist has just put the finishing touches on his mural commission started two days earlier. He was handed the keys to the patio door the previous Friday morning at 9 am, launching a marathon painting session that had to complete before his industry patron rolled into town the following week.

The underwriter and reason Houston’s latest piece of street art came into being is a trade show, one devoted to wind energy too — not your usual suspect perhaps.

(See our recent story about a high-profile Midtown mural sponsored by the Morgan Group.)

Gusty Patronage

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) just concluded its annual conference, in Houston — at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

For the first time in a decade, AWEA selected the Bayou City to convene, a metropolis that touts itself as the energy capital of the world. (The last time it held its Windpower conference in Houston was more than a decade ago, in 2008. Now Texas boasts one-quarter of the U.S. wind power and 25,000 jobs.)

Back to our street art story.

It’s highly unusual for a trade show to get interwoven into the fabric of the city in the concise few days it takes place, but thanks to AWEA’s new initiative — the theme Wind + Art — Houston’s place as an art capital was acknowledged.

This translated into three initiatives, including the DUAL mural that remains as a gift to an iconic Montrose neighborhood, which represents gays rights and diversity, and also stands as a hub for creativity.

AWEA’s first act of largesse was underwriting an extra week of the installation, “Gust,” at Discovery Green, a site-specific piece by the Mexico City-based collaborative Cocolab.

Cocolab’s “Gust” at Discovery Green got an extra week of exhibition time thanks to the Windpower Conference. (Courtesy Discovery Green)
Cocolab’s “Gust” at Discovery Green got an extra week of exhibition time thanks to the Windpower Conference. (Courtesy Discovery Green)

Then at its conference, AWEA underwrote booth space for a respected Houston gallery showcasing contemporary photography, Foto Relevance.

A visitor checks out Foto Relevance's booth at the Windpower Conference. The convention underwrote the Houston gallery's booth in order to showcase artists responding to wind energy. (Photo by Priscilla Dickson)
A visitor checks out Foto Relevance’s booth at the Windpower 2019 Conference. The convention underwrote the Houston gallery’s booth in order to showcase artists responding to wind energy. (Photo by Priscilla Dickson)

Scroll through the slideshow at the top of the this story to see, which artists Foto Relevance brought to Windpower.

American Wind Energy Association’s third measure was deep in the community — DUAL’s mural for Bar Boheme.

Bar owner Morgan Holleman donated the space, responding to a call that went out from Houston Arts Alliance’s staffer Jimmy Castillo for a site for the wind-themed commission.

Holleman told PaperCity why he said yes when AWEA’s PR firm, Innovant, reached out facilitated by HAA, to connect them with a site for the mural.

“I have always been a big supporter of the local arts and when the opportunity arose to have a Houston artist paint once again at Boheme. I was excited to offer our space as part of the wind-energy mural project,” Holleman said.

Of his energy-related artwork, DUAL told PaperCity during our visit minutes after mural completion: “So I had to abstract it and make it fun. What I really wanted to do was make it fit the neighborhood.”

See a clip of DUAL in action on the mural here.

For the artist, that was personal.

“I’ve been living in Montrose for 20 years,” Dual said. “I know how the neighborhood is so diverse — I wanted the mural to represent that, and at the same time, the wind turbines.”

About his finished work, Dual didn’t want to hit the audience over the head with the messaging.

“It’s definitely more abstraction — I’ve never seen myself as a social or political artist,” he says. “Those things attract me, but you kind of have to choose a side when you’re doing that, and so you end up creating enemies, or people that are not going to feel what you’re doing…

“I just want people to look at it, and I want it to lighten up the day, and to bring happiness, those types of feelings.”

HigHigh-profile street artist DUAL with his latest creation at Bar Boheme. The striking work created with aerosol paint was commissioned an unlikely client — and in conjunction with the Windpower 2019 Conference in Houston. (Photo by CDA)
High-profile street artist DUAL with his latest creation, at Bar Boheme, in Montrose. The striking mural made with aerosol paint was commissioned by an unlikely client — in conjunction with the Windpower 2019 Conference in Houston. Completion time was an unprecedented three days, to align with the convention. (Photo by CDA)

DUAL continues, “The fact that it’s a shipping container to me, I took something that’s an eyesore and now it creates movement, lightens it up.”

“Sarah [Bray, founder of Innovant PR], asked me if corrugated was harder to paint, and I said yeah it is, but I think my years of practicing, painting on choo-choo trains helped.”

Naming Rights

Unlike many works in the art world, this mural forsakes Untitled in favor of a name.

Publicist Bray — whose firm ended up underwriting part of its cost  — collaborated with its creator as to the moniker.

Bray told PaperCity the back story, and revealed the name: “The title Operation Happiness comes from an old coffee shop/diner in the heart of Illinois (wind country) where retired farmers would gather to talk about their crops, the weather, and local gossip. The diner was located in Toluca, Illinois and the cook was named Porky.

“It’s been long gone as many of these rural communities are struggling to keep local businesses open and this is something that new wind farms help with tremendously, by bringing in a long-term economic boost to the towns and counties.

“I just came back from my trip to Illinois, where I learned about Operation Happiness.

“DUAL told me he was going to be heading to Bloomington-Normal in the next couple of weeks (that is where I stayed, the nearest hotels to Toluca) and Morgan [Holloman] was leaving to Chicago the next morning, where I literally just landed from. I felt it was a sign. When I told DUAL about Operation Happiness —  he loved the name and we thought it was perfect for this mural!”

Bray says of the Wind + Art initiative, which she helped hatch:

“I think it’s very unusual for an industry to rally behind supporting local artists and public art in conjunction with a trade-show conference! I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish.”

Follow DUAL’s aerosol acumen here, and Foto Relevance’s programming here.

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