We had the good fortune of connecting with Jimmy Houston and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jimmy, what’s your definition for success?
My definition of success has certainly transformed throughout my career. Starting out, I simply enjoyed the illusive dream of being a full-time artist. Success was measured by the ability to create for a living and to be able to quit my day job. I wanted my work to be seen. Those dreams came true. Later, success became the desire to be shown in a gallery, to sell paintings and have my work recognized. Those ambitions came true as well, and my idea of success has continued to develop. Now ten years into my creative career, as I contemplate what it means to be truly successful my perspective is very different. Today, when I enter my studio and face the canvas I leave all the “business” of art outside the door. My focus now is making work that resonates in the hearts and minds of those who see them. My personal reasons for painting a piece and the price it sells for will be forgotten long after I’m gone. Success is now measured by the ability to create meaningful images that “speak” and touch human hearts, minds and souls now and in the future.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I create original pieces of “retro animation” art on multi-layered, multi-media backgrounds. In other words, I paint cartoon monkeys, tin men and tough women surrounded by symbols, a little mystery and more to say than meets the eye. After much early experimenting with style, I eventually let go of traditional painting expectations and started painting what I wanted to see. I intend the cast of characters I’ve developed over the years to be universal. Rig and Rex, the suited ape brothers, Apollos, the tin man and East, the strong and resilient heroine speak beyond boundaries. Cartoons, after all, can transcend cultural differences and preconceived notions. They become pure emotion. My characters are a reflection, a mirror of the viewer’s perspective of themselves. The backgrounds are a treasure hunt of symbols and myth. They are like lines of poetry that solidify the theme. My paintings are created to make people laugh, to think, and maybe to look twice at themselves. The colors and layers tap into that all-forgotten sense of wonder. I continue to be excited and ever challenged by my career as an artist. Besides being blessed by making a living, I find the most rewarding part of making art the deep and personal connections my work has in peoples’ lives. This journey has been far from easy. It has been enigmatic, wrought with fears of failure, doubt and constant adaptation. There is no school like experience to teach you what you need to know. Parts of the journey have not been enjoyable, but I wouldn’t trade a moment of it. Through each client, each contact, each friend and foe I have learned valuable lessons. I’ve learned about “the business,” but more importantly I learned about myself, and lessons about life. Through my mistakes, I’ve learned to sharpen my trade. Through my doubts, I’ve learned to stand up boldly for my work, my message and myself. Through hard times, I’ve learned that I have more support than I ever could have imagined. Through the lean years, I’ve learned that there is always a way. Never give up. As they say, you shake the tree, pray for apples and down fall the oranges. Thank God for the oranges. Whenever someone views my work, when they look at my monkey brothers, my tin men and my girls, I want them to see themselves. I want them to take life a little less seriously and remember we’re all human. Like every one of us, my art is not perfect, but it has purpose. Each painting is a spark of wonder, cast into a great big world.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
You are in Houston for a few days, COVID is over and done with and you want something fun to do. First, you’ll need some energy and some good eats before traipsing around the Bayou City. One of my favorite spots for some incredible Greek food is the original Niko Nikos on Montrose. It really can’t be beat. Once you’ve topped off the tank with a giant gyro, you’re just down the street from the Houston museum district. No matter which exhibit is on display, you’ll always find something enlightening at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. A block away is the meditative Cullen sculpture garden. After your “zen” moment, you can swing into the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston. With their ever-changing exhibitions, you’ll be surprised at what you discover. You could truly spend a few days scouring the entire Museum district. Of course, I’d highly recommend the Houston Natural Science Museum as well. Another evening on your Houston trip should certainly include a live music event at White Oak Music Hall with a pre-concert meal at Good Dog or Jus’ Mac.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to bring special attention to my relentlessly supportive wife. She has not only encouraged and inspired my work as an artist but she has weathered the countless storms right by my side. She is the truth-talker and never hesitates to “shoot it to me straight.” She has solidly believed in my dream more deeply at times than I have. She has been there, ever cheering me on.