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Arts / Museums

In Search of the Real America

Houston Activist Artist’s Brave Solo Road Trip Begins with a Surprise Bang

BY Sarah Gish // 01.22.17

This is the first of a four-part series on artist and activist Sarah Gish’s travel diary, a veritable Thelma and Louise adventure, without Louise. She reflects on her solo female road trip from Houston to the Midwest, made over the summer, for her Ignite Your Life! art project. Amidst a fraught election year, Gish drove thousands of miles in search of the real America. Here’s what she found …

And so the adventure begins …

My Ignite Your Life! art project has expanded in ways I didn’t imagine, from a FotoFest show last spring to a long road trip this past summer.

“Ignite Your Life! A Visual Journey of Love” was the first art exhibition at the elegant new bakery Flo Paris. One hundred and 41 of my photographs were on the wall of the café and seeing them all together really told the story of love and connection. The photo of the man who had flown in from India for his daughter’s wedding and the one of the famous skateboarder Peggy Oki — and many others — brought their stories to a larger audience and reminded me of the many characters I have met along the way. And because each person told me how they ignite their lives, they were connected to each other.

It was heart-warming to see the positive reactions from viewers and we celebrated the show’s closing with a fête of friends, French patisseries, and delish coffee and wines.

Julia Hellums and Sarah Gish at at the Flo Paris Ignite Your Life! closing party. On the wall, images from Gish’s ongoing Ignite Your Life! series.

I was ready to get some new images so it was time for my second Ignite Your Life! road trip that would start on a day of ignition – the fourth of July. (The first trip for this project was with my friend and fellow artist Amanda Smith to California when I debuted Ignite Your Life!)

Holiday Gifting

  • Oscar De La Renta - Earrings
  • Oscar De La Renta - Clutch
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Nocturne Studio
  • Loeffler Randall - Clutch
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Cle Du Peau - Nail Polish
  • Cle Du Peau - Lip Gloss
  • Bond No 9 - Perfume
  • Bond No 9 - Candle
  • Casa di Lino
  • Loeffler Randall - Shoes

My goal this time was to visit Ann Arbor, Michigan — my birthplace — and to explore parts of the United States I had not been to before. I gathered together road trip essentials — a Swell water bottle (available at Body Mind & Soul), my CDs, 100+ SPF sunscreen, my special Isis Temple Aura Cleanser (available at Lucia’s Garden), and a photo of my brother for the dashboard — and I hopped into my Phoenix Rising Art Car (complete with its Goddess Isis hood ornament!) to hit the road and not look back.

I drove 3,400 miles and crossed 10 state lines. Along the way, I interviewed 30 people for the project, I got loads of photos and videos and stories, and I learned not only about myself but also about the people I met and the cities I visited. And I learned about the Midwest, a charming part of our country. It was an amazing adventure.

Before I share my stories from the road, I should tell you a little about Ignite Your Life! I created it because my brother, Geoffrey Gish, died of alcoholism in 2004. I wanted to honor his memory. Geoff was a wonderful, compassionate human being who was sober 12 years, but in the end, he unfortunately didn’t completely accept his addiction.

I was looking for ways to connect with people the way Geoff did and discovered that if you ask people how they ignite their lives, you get amazing answers that inspire others when shared. I interviewed and photographed people in Houston and around the country, asking them how they ignited their lives.

As I researched this topic, I discovered that being ignited for your life is a firewall to addiction, anxiety, isolation, and depression. I also wrote “12 Ways to Ignite Your Life Daily”  and I compiled 52 tips for igniting your life. One of those tips is “Know your family’s history and visit your birthplace.” Hence, my trip to Ann Arbor.

I experienced Airbnb rentals for the first time on this trip and they were all delightful. The first spot was a lovely historic home in Memphis, Tennessee which was owned by Patty. It was her childhood residence and she told me that she was able to do Airbnb full-time. I rested from the long day of driving and then I hung out across the street until midnight, shooting off fireworks with neighborhood kids.

As I went to bed that night, two things struck me: Ignite Your Life! Was going to yet again bring me into contact with people and places I knew little about and it was perfect that my first night on the road should end with igniting fireworks.

To be continued …

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