Houston has one of the most active and vibrant art scenes in the country, and thanks to the city’s status as the most diverse in the nation, we enjoy works by artists from a variety of backgrounds. Some have a formal education in particular medium, while others are completely self-taught. Whether it’s oil or acrylic paintings, statues made from recyclable materials or photographs of real life, the vast array of options satisfies Houston’s insatiable appetite for visual art.
In honor of Black History Month, we’re featuring two local artists whose work reaches beyond the borders of Houston. Michelle Barnes is the founder and director of Community Arts Collective, a nonprofit organization created to meet the needs of professional African American artists. Houston native Jonathan Paul Jackson is an artist whose paintings, sculptures and illustrations have appeared in exhibitions at galleries throughout Texas.
Barnes began her professional career working at Sharpstown High School and then the Kinkaid School as an art instructor while teaching art as a volunteer at Shape Community Center. She later created an innovative experience for theater buffs by starting the Barnes-Blackman Galleries at the Ensemble Theatre. It was in the late 1980s when she and fellow artist Dr. Sarah Trotty founded the Community Arts Collective to fill the gap left by a lack of art curriculum being taken out of schools in underserved areas.
More than 30 years later, the Community Arts Collective continues to offer programming centered around education, community development, entrepreneurship and exhibitions as they relate to the African American experience. After-school activities, weekend classes and specialized workshops help the public develop an appreciation for many types of art including sewing, quilting, photography, ceramics and other media.
Jonathan Paul Jackson
While most young kids are still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up, Jackson had already completed his first large-scale painting at age 11 and was hosting small shows at 16. The self-taught artist experienced success early on with oil paintings of well-known musicians, politicians and artifacts depicting everyday life. He later began to use his canvases to showcase the history of indigenous people.
"The indigenous people had no gallery; there was no museum. The only reason they created art was to use it in their own spiritual rituals, and they made it so beautifully. That’s what I admire the most about that work,” Jackson said.
The work of other well-known artists that has influenced him include that of Theaster Gates, Sanford Biggers and Vincent Van Gogh. When it comes to the black art scene in Houston, Jackson is optimistic.
“There are so many doors open for African American artists and they can be themselves,” he said. “They don’t have to make [what’s thought of as] typical African American art. I love seeing what the younger artists are creating. It’s refreshing.”
You can catch Jackson’s work at Foltz Gallery.