Inspired by the Everyday: Houston Art Environments


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Author: 
Julie Thomson

Having a beer after work, drinking orange juice, driving cars, and growing flowers are all part of daily life, but in Houston, Texas these things have been elevated to monumental status due to artists. Unique visions inspired by these ordinary things led to the stunning Beer Can House, The Orange Show, the annual Art Car Parade and the Flower Man’s House. Creative responses to the everyday also continue to inspire the recent Smither Park, designed by Dan Phillips, and Isaac Long’s ‘Word of God House’.

John Milkovisch, creator of the Beer Can House, enjoyed having a beer after work and saved the cans in hopes of finding a use for them. In 1968 Milkovisch made his first grand creative gesture. As a way to eliminate the need to mow the lawn, he covered his yard with concrete, a solution still intact at 222 Malone Street today. While it sounds like this could be dreary, Milkovisch made it colourful by adding rocks and marbles that sparkle when illuminated by the sun. Soon after Milkovisch began creating long strands out of the tops and bottoms of the cans that he hung from the eaves all around his house. With their dramatic visual impact and subtle sounds they distinguished the bungalow from neighbouring West End houses.

Next came a border around the bottom of the house, created from the body of the beer cans. As his project grew at one point it was decided he could have the outside of the house if his wife Mary could have the inside. As a retired railroad upholsterer, the cutting and hammering of the cans likely appealed to Milkovisch more than the arduous task of repainting the house.

It is estimated that over 50,000 beer cans were used to cover the house. Numerous brand names of beer are visible, with an occasional 7-Up or Dr. Pepper can. The interior of the porch roof is covered in one brand, Texas Pride, a sentiment likely shared by the couple as they sat on the porch swing and drank beers. Milkovisch added to the house until his death in 1988. After Mary died in 2002 the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art acquired the Beer Can House and they have been preserving and restoring it ever since.

Orange juice is another beverage enjoyed by many people but few build a shrine to the fruit as Jeff McKissack did in the city’s East End. On the lot he owned at 2401 Munger Street, across the road from his house, from 1956-1979 he created a 3,000 square foot concrete environment that he called The Orange Show. He envisioned that his celebration of the orange would be visited by eight out of every ten Americans, attracting more people than Disney Land or the Grand Canyon.

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Raw Vision #77