Tire Iron #31 10/25/01

The Bayou Decorator

In East Gloucester, Massachusetts there is a shelf nailed to a telephone pole. A sign above it reads: TRADE HERE / NO CRAP. When I passed by last summer, there was a penny on the shelf. My pockets were empty, or I would have traded something just to participate.

Driving north on Yale last Saturday, I noticed a broken pallet, plastic cup, newspapers, and weeds arranged purposefully but casually along the concrete embankment of the railroad overpass near Center St. I know art when I see it, so of course I stopped and took pictures. For the past three years that I know of, an anonymous decorator has been sporadically arranging local trash into near-invisible folk sculptures along Yale and Waugh between Washington St. and I-10, a no-mans land of railroad tracks, bayou bottomland, and industry between Montrose and the Heights. This is the latest of at least a dozen pieces I've seen and photographed over the years.

Unsigned, these arrangements elicit intense curiosity. I found myself noting the mailing addresses on the newspapers for a clue as to the artists' identity. Is it the work of a mentally ill street nomad? A beggar's pastime for slow afternoons under the freeway? Does the bayou decorator himself take the Wall St. Journal? Anything's possible.

It's quintessentially Houston: fiddling with junk in a wasteland. It's no accident that the same stretch of wasteland is home to the Art Car Museum and Mark Bradford's house/museum/art car installation across the street. In a place where someone cared, such anarchic interventions would be cleaned up right away. It's art for pedestrians in a city of motorists. I always have to stop the car at some awkward place, get out and look. The foam cup is inscribed with cryptic hieroglyphs, invisible from even a couple of feet away.

The only thing that sets the decorator's agglomerations apart from the endemic trash around them is intention. The flattened Heineken can is placed atop the foam take-out tray just so; the top section of the Wall St. Journal is folded back and pinned underneath. There's water in the cup to nourish the weeds for a day or two. Never heavy-handed, the decorator's pieces flirt with chaos, always leave one asking how much was intention and how much accident. The pieces are sensitively composed with contrasting textures, shapes and directions, like Japanese flower arrangements, preserving a sense of liveliness within almost dainty formality.

Incredibly generous, the decorator's work is all give and no take. Like graffiti, it can't be bought. It's the spontaneous response of a person to the environment. Made of utterly worthless materials, it needs no guarding. Temporary, it needs no maintenance. This generosity commands respect: I thought of taking the foam cup home with me, but didn't, out of good fellowship. The decorator left this for me to see, and I want to leave it for others. It'll just blow away, eventually.

- Bill Davenport

 

Bill Davenport is an artist and writer from
Houston, whose quirky objects have appeared
in many shows everywhere. Visit his website at
www.billdavenport.com


 

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anonymous trash arrangement,
railroad underpass, Yale st. at Center, 2001



 

 

 


A Japanese Flower arrangement

 


The Hieroglyph cup

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