The Art Guys vs. Little York: The Longest Street in Houston

On Tuesday, February 26, beginning at 7 a.m., The Art Guys walked the 29.6 miles of Little York Road, the longest street in Houston. Otis Ike, director of the upcoming film “Architecture in Crisis,” was hired to drive the support vehicle and brought along his cameras.

AG_LittleYork_oi_-2

Art Guys departing 7 at a.m. Jack is on the left, Mike on the right.

For the record, I was hired by The Art Guys to pick them up at their respective homes, drop them off at Little York Road and Mesa Drive, and pick them up at Jasmine Creek Lane and West Little York upon completion of their performance. I would also like to state that back in January, Jack Massing picked me up at my house and took me to his secret fishing hole in Galveston Bay and we did not catch any fish. I will not let this affect my interpretation of what I witnessed on Tuesday, February 26.AG_LittleYork_oi_-5

On the night of the 25th I was incredibly anxious that I would oversleep, leave the guys hanging, just another let-down in what has been a period of hard times for the duo. After a restless night, I managed to get out of the house at 5:30 and load the guys up by 6.

I knew Jack was a marathon runner but I did not know Mike that well, just that he was in recovery from cancer. Jack mentioned how in years past, a TV news crew would have been there, and a writer from one of Houston‘s daily papers.

When we got to Mesa Drive at 7 a.m., there was an unknown well-wisher in a Jeep and their friend Everett Taasevigen, who was there to take a few ceremonial Art-Guys-start-their-walk photos. Jack was spry, dressed business casual; in contrast with Mike, who looked like a bank manager whose car had broken down.

There was a real sense that none of us knew what was about to transpire; just that it had to be done. After a little pause, The Art Guys assembled and launched down the shoulder of Little York. I did not have much of a game plan. I got in my van and headed down Little York too, passing The Art Guys and looking for a spot to pull off the road and grab a few shots of them.

Art Guys pass 59

Art Guys pass 59

As I photographed, the reality of this walk began to set in: These two men were going to be together on this road for the next 30 miles, no family, groupies, no curators . . . just a raw, unfriendly path, a pile of recent frustrations, the fact that this was going to be physically brutal and uncertainty on how the day would play out. Yet you could sense as they passed that this walk was exactly what these men needed.

AG_LittleYork_oi_-14

The introductory leg of the road took them through a cultural mix of working class neighborhoods. I met people in the gas station parking lots where I stopped to record, and would have to explain that these two white guys in suits were The Art Guys and they were walking all of Little York Road from east to west, and I was making a movie about it.

Having to explain the project in its most basic form allowed me, early on,  to see Little York Road as an intricate social passage in which The Art Guys and myself were temporary and secondary to the basic necessities of the road’s users.

Yet there was something spectacular that started to emerge as I would set up across the street or watch them pass an overpass of one of the city’s vital freeways. The Art Guys had become a moving target for me to frame the city and comment on the way that we manipulate, pave and program the earth in the name of selling shit to people in cars.

Art Guys at an abandoned flea market at I-45

Art Guys at an abandoned flea market at I-45

About five miles into the walk, I started to see The Art Guys as action figures: dodging cars, in constant motion, adapting to Little York and learning to coexist with its unpredictable ways. What started as project #2 of 12 projects by The Art Guys to celebrate 30 years of collaboration became two rather unique guys traversing the landscape of monolithic capitalism.

The first half of the expedition led them through corridors of strip malls; that gave way to vast sections of low income housing, which led to what could be categorized as a rural African American neighborhood between T C Jester Boulevard and Hollister Road.

AG_LittleYork_oi_-27

They moved like two hit men on a mission, with Mike leading here and there as Jack would occasionally fall behind to photograph, gather random artifacts, tweet and answer his phone. Their performance was merging into the gravel shoulders, drainage ditches, parking lots, swaths of grass and the rare patch of sidewalk. These two guys had freed themselves of the expectations of the art world and were walking this road because that is what they said they were going to do.

Mike takes the lead

Mike takes the lead

AG_LittleYork_oi_-42

12 noon: Art Guys cross 290

The buildout of Little York changed immensely after it crossed highway 290. A brief industrial warehouse section led to an amalgamation of fenced suburban housing tracts, broken up by gas stations and multicultural strip malls with little or no program for pedestrians. Every few miles, The Art Guys would grab a Gatorade or Power Bar from my van and return to walk. I continued setting my video camera up from across the the street, shooting out the window and occasionally joining them to record hand held and grab a still. At a gas station more than 20 miles in, a jolly Sikh man joined them for a photo and for the first time I could sense the physical discomfort of the walk setting in.

Art Guys meet a Sikh

Art Guys meet a Sikh

It was clear they had to keep moving through this banal landscape or begin to face inevitable full-body soreness. As we moved through the final miles of the performance, The Art Guys had clearly become the catalyst for me to document a singular landscape representative of Houston’s pump-and-dump intimacy with the built environment.

The Art Guys pass on an opportunity to purchase 2 hotdogs for 2 dollars

The Art Guys pass on an opportunity to purchase two hot dogs for two dollars

They had transformed themselves into two figures crossing an incredible and banal axis. North Fry Road marked about eight and a half hours on the march. In this time two cars had stopped to cheer them on and a lady and her son joined them for a brief hug. By now their friend Everett was back for the money shot.

They were entering a predominantly upper middle class subdivision that contrasted with their starting point visually and culturally, and provided them a winding sidewalk where they did not appear too out of place.AG_LittleYork_oi_-67

In some way, The Art Guys were home; they were on the verge of completing a visually epic, moving engagement with their city, free of cheering crowd and art celebrity. It was an utterly pure action. In the final few hundred yards, they passed a line of cars picking up children from elementary school. A barricade and giant American flag marked their conquest. It was an epic ballet performed by two men with thirty years of interactions in the most public of forums and as Mike explained it, “we said we were going to walk the longest road and we do what we say we are going to do.” And they did.

AG_LittleYork_oi_-72

Otis Ike has a Masters degree in sustainable design from the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin.

Print Friendly

32 responses to “The Art Guys vs. Little York: The Longest Street in Houston”

  1. Outstanding document of “the longest walk” for the Art Guys. A thank you imensly
    PNM aka Papa Guy

  2. This is a wonderful journey of Houston rarely (never?) framed in this way.

    Patrick, you have captured something about this town few knew was there.

  3. @Glasstire I’d love to hear a discussion about this in context of SA artist @JimmyCanales recent walks across that city.

    https://twitter.com/mrmichaelme/status/309445792089911296

  4. I’m surprised there wasn’t a photo with Mt. Houston in the background. Can’t you see it from Little York?

  5. An interesting article, but there should have been more pictures. A dozen pictures to cover 30 miles is not adequate to give a full picture. Certainly the article does a good job on describing the various sections of Little York. But, let the reader make up their mind, especially on the section between Hollister and TC Jester.

  6. I don’t know why, but I am so into this project. <3

  7. Blake,

    Here is a link to over 50 photos from the walk.

    http://otisike.com/welcome/artguyslittleyork.html

    Cheers

    1. Nice Photos Otis.

  8. That’s for recording this feat (feet?). I enjoyed the article. Sister of an Art Guy

  9. Otis, thanks for the plethora of additional pictures. It really does show the mix variety, but changing dynamic of the city. You missed some of the nicer, new warehouses scattered inbetween Hollister and 290. Instead this section is represented this stretch with the Texas Taco Express, the $50/ week cheap housing, and the Little York church. But, also you missed some less flattering areas of W. Little York just outside the toll road. And then the industrial areas. One photo of some high tension power lines doesn’t really give this area justice. And then you missed out on the newer nicer subdivisions just before Eldridge. And the brand new apartments, which ironically a block or so from a light industrial area. But, the gallery gives displays of wide spectrum of development.

    1. Blake, We can reenact the Art Guys walk in suits and get the photos you are requesting. Let me know which Art Guy you would like to be. I can even hire a photographer to reenact me. I would say that if you are over 6ft you could be Mike. I actually really want to go back.

  10. Yeah, it wouldn’t be out of bounds for the SA artist Jimmy James Canales to be mentioned considering he did two 24 hour walks back to back weekends before the Art Guys did their strole.

    I wonder if the three know each other or if their work has any connection what so ever.

    1. Josie,
      I am not sure if the Art Guys knew about Jimmy, but I do know they had planned their project a year in advance of the execution. Their walk of Little York had been on their website for a long time as part of their 30th anniversary projects. Both projects are really unique and I hope they will all consider a conversation about the the works. Possibly at an architecture school with slide show and treadmill.

      Best

  11. What a terrific effort. Great project. Glad to see it on Glasstire. Wish I could have been there. Thanks Glasstire!

  12. Perfect….Thanks…Burt

  13. great concept

    go guys

    actually thought about coming down to witness

    congrats

    Bert

  14. …I also thought of the recent Jimmy Canales performance walks in San Antonio … Jimmy walked from the furthest east point to furthest West Point in the city… Just a few weeks ago.

    1. Hey Parr,

      I wish you had tagged along with Jimmy and grabbed some classic Parr images. He seems like a really good dude. We need to visit SA soon for some hot Springs love.

      Cheers!

  15. Don’t know what to think, but thank you Otis. Gentlemen, it needs more.
    CM

  16. Good for you! Great project Guys! I wish , well, how about do it again and a bunch of us follow/walk with you?

  17. Nice piece (of writing and performance art) but I do need to point out that former Press writer John Lomax has been doing stuff like this for years – starting with the cover story “Sole of Houston” about a hike down Westheimer from Highway 6 to Warren’s and followed by periodic “SoH” adventures of bus trips to the end of Metro and hikes back to Warren’s. It’s a neat little guide to pedestrian Houston – especially the East End – that you can find at the Press archives under “Sole of Houston.”

  18. Thanks, Jim, and before Beebe, Muller and me, there was Douglas Milburn, whose two little books of his pedestrian adventures — The Intrepid Walker’s Guide to Houston (1975) and The Last American City (1979) — are both worth tracking down and worthy of reprinting.

    1. This is an amazing list. We also need to note Stephen Fox who walks and studies this city like no other. Sorry, I was not penetrating outside of what I saw that day. Loved learning about your projects John!

  19. I commend the Art Guys for doing this and Otis Ike for his recording, commentary and now a new art work. I believe it was for much more than just doing what you say you are going to do. I am glad we now have these dual histories (theirs & Houston’s)as they document the past and the present one becomes history as immediately as they document it.

  20. This account/photo essay is of the photographer’s experience. As he noted of The Art Guys’ fait accompli, “It was an utterly pure action…two men on a mission…They had transformed themselves into two figures crossing an incredible and banal axis.” No journalistic “war story”, no fodder for a walking guide, no beer breaks, no adventures save the walk itself, no editorializing, no content. Just two guys with a particular collaborative identity walking from point A to point B, which just happened to be the longest continuous street in Houston. Apples, oranges, grapes.

  21. Mr. Ike:
    I think i finally get some of this art. Very interesting.
    Will you or them make a documentary film of this?

    I see that Little York Rd. is still an edge of sorts.
    When i was very little, that was the northern city limits or ‘edge’ of Houston at that time.

    Wonder what sounds besides traffic was heard. Good to see
    that people are still keeping livestock in the city limits too. I remember cattle near north Airline Dr. and W.Mount Houston or Rittenhouse. Thanks for sharing this.

  22. Perceptually, The Art Guys’ “traversing the landscape” of Little York Road in Houston, Texas *in suits* – intentionally or not – served as foci along a particular geographic location. A moving frame of sorts with which to view, or become consciously aware of, that which is already there. Brings to mind Robert Irwin’s tape piece at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

  23. really, you’re thanking glasstire for this story, DM Allison?

    1. Absolutely thanks, and a big thanks also to Otis Ike for the photos and the text. I get stuck in the gallery pretty much 24/7 and if it were not for projects like this one by the Art Guys to give me pause to smile, and coverage of the event from somewhere …. well I’d be in the dark. Mostly am anyway. Also got to love the Beth Secor video.

  24. How is this Art ?
    I guess in an ideal setting, the working poor could hire documentarians to properly archive their “banal landscapes ” and “body soreness “

    1. Stephen,

      I have some news. I just called the art judges and they said that this project is in fact an “art” project.

      They also added that photography of the working poor on Little York Rd if done in the proper context could also be labeled “art.” Thank you for bringing this valid point before the art judges.

      Have a great weekend and enjoy all of the art show that open tonight! I will be at Diverse Works if you want to discuss in person.

  25. Yep, the Art Police were in full force patrolling the area looking for infractions. No moving violations.

    I heard Jack was of course J-walking when they were not looking just to keep it interesting.

Leave a Reply