& Free Trip to Margaritaville
If you are a fan of live music and have ever visited Houston’s iconic Mucky Duck, Goode Company’s Armadillo Palace, or The Heights Theatre, chances are you’ve seen Ray Redding. No, he’s not a musician with a guitar strap over his shoulder– he’s the man with a camera around his neck. Gifted with an incredible talent for storytelling through a photographer’s lens, Ray, also known as TexasRedd, has covered the walls of these popular music venues with photos of singers, songwriters, and bands who have made tour stops in the Bayou City. For 30 years, Ray has made a name for himself in the music industry, but when the pandemic halted life as we knew it, it also put the brakes on his livelihood. As the world tried to “flatten the curve,” he looked for ways to occupy his time. His wife Jen admits she was worried he would go stir crazy, but instead, he started riding his bike in downtown Houston and soon discovered art where he never expected it.
During the first three months of COVID, the streets downtown were a ghost town – it was amazing! We’d go out on a Sunday morning, and I’d stand in the middle of an intersection and have not one iota of fear of getting run over. You could literally see all the lights turn green, going all the way from the south side to the north side of the main streets. And there were no cars. It was crazy.
Think about the nature of riding a bike. You’re always looking forward and looking around, and you look down a lot because you want to make sure you don’t hit a seam or a pothole. So, I’m riding along and start to see a pattern show up, and I’m like oh my gosh – there is art in here. Because of the general condition of the streets and the paint marks made by road crews, it looks like some kind of hieroglyphics. The markings have a meaning to the people on road crews. Some of them are where power lines are or where main water lines run. Add the sun baking down on the roads and cars driving over them, and it’s an ever-changing pallet of art.
When I ride my bike, they jump out at me. Jen will go with me on bike rides. If she sees me grab the camera, she knows she’s going to have to be prepared for multiple stops, and she has done it enough times with me now that she is a good spotter.
I’m looking for shape, texture and color. I guess what attracts me is the relationship of those things. I can see a red stripe on a texture, but if it doesn’t look like it’s working together in an integrated sort of way in my mind’s eye – then it’s not true. But I will revisit an area sometimes, and there is something that I passed on initially that I am seeing in a different light or in a different way. One thing about street art is it doesn’t last forever. I can go back on some of the trails that I originally shot, and the stuff won’t still be there, or it will be decayed to a certain point where it’s different. And now I’m at the point where a lot of the bike trails I was originally shooting on – the city has come in and repainted them; so, they have fresh paint and different markings. Downtown has been under a major flux of construction – lots of cranes in the sky with buildings being built and a lot of infrastructure improvements – so it’s kind of serendipitous. I was in the right place at the right time for this concept to congeal.
I have received so many great comments on social media. The project has been very well-received. I think one of the coolest responses I’ve gotten is when a man saw me downtown while I was taking pictures. I was on a fairly new trail on Austin Street, between the main HCC campus and the Pierce Elevated. I’m out there on the street taking a picture of distressed paint on a manhole, and I’m focusing on composing the shot. All of a sudden, I hear this British voice say, “Excuse me!” I turn around and see a man marching toward me and he said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Well, I’m taking a picture of this manhole with art on it.” And then he said, “You take pictures of manholes?!” I started to explain that I do street art, and he was so excited and said, “Oh my gosh! I’m going to tell my wife! I shoot manholes. I am going to tell her, so she knows I’m not crazy!” He was charming, and it was just so funny! And now we are mutual fans of each other and follow each other on Instagram.
Sometimes I like the ones that are simpler and more subtle. Other times, I like the ones that are more garish. There is something for everyone in that mode. If you like really organized or Mondrian-style art or have rules, there’s stuff like that in there; some look like naturally occurring graffiti – it’s so haphazard. Some of my photos look like flags to me because of geometric shapes. I have done hundreds of these, and if I had to pick my favorite ones, they would change by the week.
Jen has said, “You are always in the pursuit of joy. You are always looking for that joyous moment.” She said that, and I thought – I’ve never really thought about that before.
Jen: To me, his art in general has always had this element that interconnects everybody at a moment. It’s the same in the live music photography and other art he has done. It’s about connection and joy and catching the moment.
I think the thing I want people to take away is the street is just a thing that transports you from point A to point B, and you never really think about it at all. Or, if you do, it’s about potholes and cracks and things that make you lose a hubcap. You really don’t think about it for anything other than what its intended use is. And if you look at it in a very macro way, the way I’m doing it – just little segments at a time – there’s a really interesting story going on there. Again, there’s color, texture, and pattern…and the ah-ha moment, or takeaway, is – wow, I’ve never really seen the street in that kind of way.
Jen: A takeaway for us was we did not realize the extensive bike system Houston has. Had COVID not happened, we would not have discovered this extensive opportunity to explore the city. We knew the main trails along White Oak and Buffalo Bayous, but the ones that went all over town and to other parts of town – we did not know existed. And they are still building more.