Jovan Abernathy is an international marathoner and owner of Houston Tourism Gym. To claim your free tour, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
As owner of Houston Tourism Gym, I get the privilege of experiencing the best of Houston. I have literally made it my business to learn as much as I can about this city. When I find that a certain feature of Houston is amazing and noteworthy, I love being able to follow the breadcrumb trail until I have a good story to tell.
In 2016, I finally got the balls to start researching this city. I knew that I would need to spend a lot of time creating my walking routes and learning everything along the way. As I took to the streets, I really enjoyed all of the mural art and street art we have. Especially in neighborhoods that are going through transition, the mural art is priceless. I think it is the first clue as to who we are as Houstonians.
Lately, I've been obsessed with a certain artist. His name is Daniel Anguilu. I have been following his breadcrumbs across this city for two years. One day, I knew I would meet him. I first saw his work in EADO. I was driving on Harrisburg Blvd. when I saw this masterpiece all along the Metro Rail:
I got out of my car to get a better look. I took note of the colors outlined in black. Then I looked closer, I could see chapel spires and eyes. After another look, birds and fish. Another day, I was walking in Third Ward on Fannin St. I happened upon this small apartment complex.
It was truly one of a kind. This complex was covered in mural art. Getting a closer look, I could see the same colors with the black outline. This one has an elephant in it. It was Daniel Anguilu.
Some time later, I was at Silver Street Studios talking to my friend Verny Sanchez, the Venezuelan artist of emotional language. (You can see one of his murals across from 8th Wonder Brewery. It's the one with two guys that have rainbows for heads). He began to tell me about HAM or Harrisburg Art Museum in EADO that is being maintained by his friend, Daniel Anguilu. Another breadcrumb.
The next day, I go to HAM. HAM is a once abandoned, metal warehouse. Now it houses urban art from artists all over the world. I recognize some of Verny's art in the hanger. The front of the building is a row of murals from different artists. Along the back, different artists have collaborated to spell Houston, Texas using their different styles to fill the letters. I go to the furthest point of view behind HAM. Man, that would make a great panoramic for my social media header.
Walking the property, you can tell that it accommodates artists with varying levels of talent. It is never a boring moment. I have been back many times. On a number of occasions, I've happened on rap videos being filmed. Sometimes, it looks like a scene from the Fast and the Furious. Photos being taken of scantily clad girls on sports cars.
I knew that I one day, I would meet him here. One day, like any other Sunday, I was hosting my Mural and Brewery Tour. I had just finished showing the back of the museum. Just as we were turning the corner, I saw a man with long hair "writing on the wall." Finally, it was Daniel Anguilu. I politely introduce myself. He's a man of Mexican-Aztecan decent. I have so many questions for him. He seems ready to talk and full of answers sometimes before I ask them. We set a time to talk the next week.
My conversation with Daniel was very eye-opening. I knew from meeting the other mural artists in Houston that the subject can be very controversial. Some have described receiving persecution for putting their art out there. I have asked Verny about the subject before. He says that Social Media helped decriminalize graffiti art. Knowing that artists had followers that made a pastime of taking pictures in front of their murals meaning more people would flock to their businesses, business owners now welcome spray paint on their walls. Instead of getting harassed by the police, graffiti artists actually get paid to paint. Daniel, then tells me his experience of being an artist in Houston.
I start with a few get to know you questions. Where are you from? When and why did you start painting? Daniel is from Mexico City. He came to Houston at a young age. When he was 17, before he learned English, he fell into a crowd of graffiti artists. Graffiti was a way for him to bond and connect with them without speaking their language.
The million dollar question: What is the graffiti culture and why is it so controversial? According to Daniel, there are three types of artists: Graffiti artists, street artists, and trained artists. All need a space to express themselves through their style and be seen in the public.
Graffiti, along with the rap culture, became popular in the 80's. Rap artists, like Flavor Flav were actually graffiti artists themselves. Like rap, graffiti art was also known as rebellious and most often criminalized whether because of ties with gangs or just not having permission to paint on a wall. Daniel considers himself a "writer" from the first generation, because he was one of the first to write on Houston's walls.
Being a first generation writer, Daniel found that North Houston neighborhoods were more accepting of the art form. He received less persecution there. He started HAM to challenge the question of when is art a crime? If you wrote the same art on a wall here or there, at what point is it defined as a crime?
Daniel has really thrown himself into this issue. At times, he has even hired attorneys and fought legally for this right. He considers HAM a win for the community of 2nd Ward and artists. As Houston continues to be gentrified, Daniel and other writers use it as a voice for 2nd Ward. Daniel is committed to using HAM as an instrument for the community before it is absorbed by EADO.
Hoping to gain some credibility with Daniel, I tell him the long list of sites where I have personally seen his work.
The Flat on Commonwealth. Rudz on Waugh. A convenience store on Richmond. He assures me that there are many more murals than I think. I had come to know and love his style from his Aztecan Heritage. He says that not all of his art looks the same. But that is only in Houston. He reminisces on the many trips around the world where he would sleep on couches just to get his work out there. Places like Morocco, China, Central and South America, and all through Europe.
On Brewery and Mural Tour of Eado that I host every Sunday we pass his amazing work of art along the light rail on Harrisburg, I tell what I know. Every week, I feel embarrassed that I do not know more. I use this opportunity to get more information. How long did it take him to complete? Did he have help? Was it commissioned? It was commissioned by Metro. The rail was not operating then. It took him 2 weeks to complete working 4 to 5 hours a day with student volunteers. However he was the only one painting. The mural is to be read left to right. It tells the Aztecan story of the journey of energy creating life.
I'd like to call Daniel "a writer for the people." Just how he learned writing to bond with peers, Daniel still uses his art to create relationships. The muraled apartment complex on Fannin St. was a place he used to live in. He built a relationship with his landlord. His landlord, in turn, allowed him to "pimp" out his property. On Canal St., a neighborhood convenience store has been adored with his art. In return…snacks and a friend.
So, what's your favorite Daniel Anguilu? When you are on a weekend bike ride or walk past it, please take a picture and post on social media. Then again, you can also join me on Sundays in Eado.