Houston has a quirky yet wide ranging art scene. Where else can you admire medieval artifacts in the Menil Collection one day and watch a car designed as a futuristic, hairless cat in the Art Car Parade the next? Houston definitely has eclectic taste.
The month of May is Asian American Pacific Islander month, and in honor of the designation, we spoke with three local artists to get their ideas on art in H-Town.
Rongrong Devoe, Fashion and Beauty Illustrator, Rongrong Illustration
Rongrong Devoe may have grown up in a small town in China, but ever since she was a little girl, she’s always had big dreams. Those dreams pushed her to pursue her love of fashion as a designer in New York City until she moved to Houston to become an illustrator. Now, Rongrong has a successful sketch art company, where her designs appear on everything from coffee mugs and handbags to greeting cards and cell phone cases.
Why did you decide to leave New York to continue your fashion career in Houston?
I left New York for Houston for two reasons: 1. My husband’s job. 2. New York City is too cold.
What is your opinion of Houston’s fashion scene?
I think it is growing very fast! There are a lot of talented people, but they need more opportunities for exposure. I think LaunchHTX is doing a great job showcasing emerging designers.
Who are some people in Houston who you’d love to create an original design for?
I love drawing women around me. Their personal styles and characters inspire me.
What female entrepreneurs inspire you and why?
Kendra Scott and Sara Blakely because they are both self-made successful entrepreneurs in the fashion world. They both believe in themselves and have tremendous grit. I want to be like them. I would love to build a successful art empire and become a household name.
What are a few of your favorite places in Houston to shop or visit?
I love the coffee shop called The Yellow Cup, and I like to shop at the Houston Galleria Mall.
Anita Varadaraju, Artist, Colors by Anita
Anita Varadaraju see life through color, and nowhere is that more evident than in her vibrant paintings and murals. The Indian-born artist has made a name for herself among Houston-area artists. Her work has been selected for showings in locally and in New York, and she often contributes her work to charitable causes.
When did you know you were in love with art?
I've know I was in love with art since I was a little child. My mom is an artist, so I grew up around art. I've always been an artist, but it took me a while to blossom into a full-time one.
Why did you decide to develop your art career in Houston?
We moved here from Michigan. In Michigan, we had a basement, and I used to leave my art there, and no one saw it. When we moved to Houston, there was no basement so I had to put it out and let people see it. Houston being in a flood zone is actually what made me show my art to other people.
You are the epitome of someone who uses both the right and left sides of her brain to the fullest. How does your art career balance your corporate career?
It's a balance, but I believe all artists are left and right brain. It's a misnomer when people say you’re left or right brained. There's a lot of science and math that goes into beautiful art, and I think artists are able to use more of their brain because they're open to possibilities. As artists, we tend to not put limit ourselves. You can be great at being an artist and in the corporate world. It doesn't have to be one or the other.
What are your thoughts on the evolution of the Houston art scene? How has it changed since you arrived here?
It has most definitely changed. People are opening up a lot more to the variety in art. People are more perceptive to different artists coming here. Houston went from being just an oil town to a cosmopolitan melting point of cultures. People here are embracing expressionist work. I've seen a huge change in Houston, and it's been extremely positive.
What local artists inspire you?
There are lots of them. I have a lot of inspiration from the fine arts and street arts side. I don’t believe in high or low brow art. Anyone who is able to express themselves is an inspiration to me.
To learn more about Anita, visit her website, www.colorsbyanita.com.
Dandee Warhol, Contemporary Artist
Born and bred in the Philippines, Dandee Warhol is an artist and curator who is a notable figure in the Houston art scene. He is dedicated to shining a light on undiscovered talent by hosting shows and collaborating with other artists. His most recent collaboration was with Carla Valencia for personalized handbags.
You have had an interesting art career. What inspired you to start a business that caters to the Houston art scene?
Actually, it was sort of an accident. I graduated with a finance degree. During my finance career, I opened War’Hous gallery, so I was living a double life. When I got laid off in 2011, that’s when I shifted all of my focus into the gallery and my own personal art. In order to pay rent, we were throwing art shows and events almost twice a month and that’s when we got really connected to the Houston art scene and the underground movement.
What are your thoughts on the art scene in Houston? Is this a place were local artists can grow?
Houston is such a great place for upcoming artists. Like myself starting out, a lot of us have no idea that there is even an art scene in Houston. I grew up in Katy and when I finally made my way into the loop, that’s when I discovered that there were people like me doing cool stuff. But once I got in the circle, Houston is an easy place to survive and thrive as an artist. Out of the major cities in Texas, Houston is definitely the one you would want to get started in because the art scene is centralized.
How has the popularity of social media platforms like Instagram affected the art world? Do you think social media helps unknown artists gain notoriety?
Going back to the beginning when I didn’t know anybody in the art scene, I used Facebook as a search tool to find art events and to meet artists that I liked and invited them to the gallery and eventually becoming friends. Now Instagram has become the most powerful tool for any creative, from music, to art, and fashion. This platform makes it so much easier to share things and get your work out and this is where most of my inquiries and sales come from. Now I’m addicted to social media, it’s the first thing I look at in the morning!
Who are a few of your favorite unknown artists?
Locally, just off the top of my head: Marjon F. Aucoin, Stephanie Gonzalez, Matt Messinger, Patrick Medrano, Ana Maria, Daniel Anguilu, Patrick Renner, Olga Saldivar, Damir Zoric, Julie Worsham, Kelley Devine, and Nicky Davis.
What are your plans for the future?
I believe art is about sharing your ideas and to evoke emotions, so I’m trying to reach as many people as possible. I’ve been trying to get my art outside of Houston and start exhibiting in different cities. I’ve been participating in Miami Art Basel for the last four years, but eventually I want to make my way to the west coast because my style of work is more fitting there, and I also think that’s where majority of my audience will be. Aside from gallery shows and street art, I’ve been dabbling into fashion.
Follow Dandee on Instagram at @dandee_warhol