Inspired equally by abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock and portraitist Norman Rockwell, Sarasota's Dan Houston uses his mind and hands to create art that tells stories.
Houston works in three primary styles: sculpture, abstract paintings and paintings with human figures. While his abstract work is focused on conveying feeling and emotion, his portraits often tell stories of underrepresented communities—particularly people of color and LGBTQ individuals. Houston emphasizes underrepresentation because he didn't see much art that showcased marginalized communities when he was an art student in the 1960s.
“[The LGBTQ community is] one of the communities I think has been ignored artistically,” says Houston. “Pretty much like the African American community. It doesn't get its just do. It’s underrepresented. We’re just getting to a point now where we see them on television, and in magazines, but society hasn't given them respect as a community.”
In 2021, college students who study art can easily be exposed to a plethora of diverse artists who see the world and express themselves in different ways. But when Houston was a budding artist and student at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, there was no internet, and Houston didn’t have the opportunity to see African American art in museums.
“There was no African American art at that time; the artists existed, but their art wasn't being displayed any place except for privately," says Houston. "So what I got to be exposed to was art that was abstract and a lot of classic art. In the art schools I went to, they taught us how to draw and create classical style. Their philosophy was: If you learn to draw, you can learn to paint, and I still believe that.”
As a kid, Houston drew and painted people, but as an adult, much of his work includes abstract paintings. Houston has been making art for more than 40 years, and his pieces have been exhibited across the country.
In 2018, Houston, who was then living in Texas, traveled to Fort Lauderdale for an art show. On the way back home, he and his wife visited Sarasota to meet up with friends. After experiencing the city, Houston and his wife moved to Sarasota and opened a gallery showcasing Houston's work in 2019.
Houston has sold paintings and sculptures to collectors, architects, designers and interior decorators in Texas, New York, Florida and beyond. Through his art licenser, he also established deals to sell his work online through Target and JCPenney. His paintings are created with acrylics and mixed media on paper, canvas and wood.
“When I started painting, abstract just came off my paint brush,” says Houston. “I had no idea. I just bought some material and started painting and decided I would see where it takes me and that’s where it took me. I was very surprised because I had never done anything abstract, but I stayed at it and I began to feel it.”
When some people look at abstract art, they might just see a lot of paint and color thrown on a canvas. To Houston, abstract art has meaning and feeling. When painting, Houston listens to jazz, and the music gives him the feeling that is later seen on his canvases.
“If you go into your closet and look at your dresses, tops and blouses, I’d say 60 percent of them are created by abstract artists," says Houston. "Most of the things in your closet are going to be abstract, because it’s color balance and design. It’s not accidental. Abstract artists are very intentional and generally know what they are doing and why they are doing it. Balance is key in abstract art. There has to be a commingling of colors.”
Dan Houston's gallery is located at 1655 10th St., Sarasota, and is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. For more info, visit his website.