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Glass Houses 5: Goodbye Apartment

Emily Joyce moved to Houston in 1998 and it was my fault.


Emily Joyce moved to Houston in 1998 and it was my fault. We married right after college and I brought her home. While I chased any job with the remotest potential of being a shortcut between me and film directing, Emily got to work. She grew from art student to practicing artist in the mildewed concrete and stagnant heat of the Winter Street studios. She made her first wall piece in the dining room of Kelly Klaasmeyer’s condemned shanty. And – even though every painting has to hang somewhere – from where I watched, the story of Emily’s art was a story of people, and their surfaces, and the particular generosity that comes with lending somebody your wall.


The longer we stayed in Houston, the closer we lived to Emily’s studio, and the larger the creatures that lived in our walls. We started in a yuppie apartment we couldn’t afford, across town from Winter Street and sprinkled with translucent geckos with a suicidal tendency to crawl between the hinges of doors. The next move shortened Emily’s commute and came with finger-sized cockroaches by the dozens and one lonely rat. Our last apartment, the first floor of a house on 18th Street, had cats in the walls. They’d fight and screech up the crawlspace in the middle of the night, fooling us into thinking someone was breaking in.

The last apartment was also the first apartment to include Emily’s studio. It was right behind the front door and you could smell the enamel drying from the driveway. Stuck on the paneled walls over the mold stains and the dust we could never quite clean was the first wall piece Emily had made for us – adhesive vinyl silhouettes that worked almost like an ant farm when some kitten or mouse or insect was scratching at something behind them. All those little silhouette shapes became pervasive – either in cut vinyl or in the stacks of books Emily would bring home from the library. One night’s conversation would be collaged into the next morning’s work: custom cars, swimming babies, CPR, or yoga. For our last six months in Houston, Emily’s art was as much a creature as anything living in the house: feeding, sleeping, and making itself known.

Now, we’re living in Los Angeles, six miles from Emily’s studio. She has big, white space and bright light. Of course, I miss living with her work. And there’s nothing living in our walls.


David Harrison is a writer and photographer living in Houston.

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