We had the good fortune of connecting with Lou Vest and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lou, how do you think about risk?
I know you are asking about “risk” in the context of being an artist, but like most artists I had a day job that enabled me to have an art career. My day job was piloting gasoline tankers up and down the Houston Ship Channel. But having a day job like I did meant that I did not have to take any risk as an artist. I was free to be as non-commercial and abstract as I liked because I could provide for my family in a way that didn’t depend on my art. That gives an artist enormous freedom. I have a close friend who is a painter. She made a risky decision early in life to live from her art, knowing it would be difficult. Every time she faces a blank canvas she has to decide whether to paint something she knows will sell easily or to push the boundaries of painting she has done before. She has to trade comfort for freedom every time. That is real risk. Once a broker brought a very wealthy client to her studio. He liked a large painting she had and offered to buy it. She agreed and then he asked her to paint fifteen more like it. He was building apartments in a nearby city and wanted to put one of her paintings in each building. It would have been a huge sum of money for her and I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t struggling to pay bills. Not only did she decline to do the fifteen commissions but she refused to sell the first painting to him as well. She felt such a sale would have compromised her identity as an artist. She is fierce.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I owe the success I had as a maritime photographer largely to the extraordinary access I had as a working pilot in a busy port. Basically I was called out in all weathers and all times of the day to take a large slow moving ship up and down the channel. The view was great and the scene was grand and spectacular. The photos were ok, but the subject was awesome. Obviously, I was there to do a different job from photography and that always came first. My goal was to create a “lyrical documentary” and as my work became known there was a lot of support at all levels from both the port community and the art community.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m not a party animal and with the pandemic going on I’m more out of touch with the eat, drink, visit crowd than ever. Houston is an amazingly diverse city and visitors should check out the wonderfully varied collection of foreign foods and fusion restaurants. My personal favorite is the Indian restaurant, Pondicheri, at Westheimer and Kirby. There’s a big arts complex called Sawyer Yards that is home to hundreds of independent artists and art businesses. In normal times doors are open and the halls are hung with a wide variety of art. The campus is put together from old industrial buildings. The Museum of Fine Arts is a world class museum. The Menil museum is spectacular. The Rothko chapel is worth a visit.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I am best known for maritime photography so my first shoutout is to the people who work along the Houston Ship Channel who graciously tolerated my photography obsession and allowed me to pursue it on the side. People and organizations who bought work to hang in their office spaces around the city provided enormous positive feedback. The access I had was invaluable. Then I’d like to thank the photographic community in Houston starting with Jason Dibley who saw some of my photos online and asked me to participate in an exhibition at the Houston Center for Photography. That was a sailor’s introduction to the art world that I was only dimly aware of. Through HCP I met a group of serious photographers that accepted me in all my glorious ignorance and helped me in every way imaginable. Thanks go out to the staff at HCP, curators Anne Tucker, Malcolm Daniel, Will Michaels, and Lisa Volpe from the Museum of Fine Arts and to independent curators like Joe Aker, Geoff Koslov, Sally Sprout, Pat Jasper, Yvonnamor Pallix, and Diane Gregory who graciously included my photos in exhibitions. Thanks go to my photographer friends with whom I meet regularly and share work for critique and discussion. And to my wife whose hometown of Cartagena is the source of my second largest body of work. She often accompanies me on walks and has a great eye. I have a lot of photos that exist because of a glance and a slight pointing of her chin.