Art as Acceptance at Architectural Wall Decor

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BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY MAR 8, 2019

A bit off the beaten path but just a couple doors down from Maximillian’s Café, a new art gallery has quietly opened its doors in Sarasota. Tucked off 10th Street and accessible via a brief bumpy ride over exposed brick to the rear of the building, Architectural Wall Décor may be a bit hard to find, but Dan Houston, owner and artist, hopes to see it become a community hub and beacon of acceptance.

Houston spent six weeks building out the place—tearing down old shelves, pressure-washing the walls, repairing broken sheet rock and generally transforming an empty warehouse space into a modern-style gallery, complete with a separate studio space and modest upstairs lounge, and fit to fill with his varied creations. And variety is the name of the game for Houston.

Entering Architectural Wall Décor, large-scale abstract paintings—always acrylic and often on paper, but also on canvas or Masonite—dominate much of the space, with Houston here indulging what appear to be ink-wash or calligraphic inspirations and there embracing something entirely contemporary and at times even reminiscent of Sarasota legends like Syd Solomon.

Some of this eclectic nature comes from travel, Houston says, having lived for a time in New York City, before raising a family in Houston, TX, and eventually bouncing around to Sarasota. Some comes from a career path as varied, ranging from jewelry manufacturing to art publishing and even previous stints as a gallery owner. However, it was the 25 years working in building and contracting that gave the artist an on-the-job education in abstract art, as Houston found himself in modern homes with hallways hung with contemporary work and abstract masters alike. Art school taught him to appreciate and emulate Rembrandt and Michelangelo, he says, but this experience opened the world of abstraction.

Houston never abandoned his figurative roots though. Far from it, he has recently found reason to re-engage with purpose, dedicating a sizable portion of his effort and his space to figurative work promoting LGBT acceptance. From simple couples portraits to scenes of marriage and adoption, Houston celebrates innocent and intimate moments of romantic or erotic love and creates greeting cards and matte prints that he hopes the community will embrace. Using non-traditional models, he eschews exploitation and cliche in one move.

No stranger to notions of social justice, as a young black man, he saw his community fighting for its rights, and as a young artist he used his talents to help tell that story. And as he learned more about the LGBT community, he saw a similar struggle. “I realized that, in the LGBT quest for acceptance and dignity and recognition, they're fighting for the same things that black people fought for and struggled for in the Civil Rights Era,” says Houston. “I had to make a stand.” For now, it’s his painting, and offering his space to organizations and nonprofits that need it, but that’s just the beginning.

“I still want to be more active,” he says.

Pictured: "Ponciana" by Dan Houston. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Architectural Wall Decor, 1655 10th Street, Sarasota. Open Thu-Sat, 11am-7pm.

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