When people think of the art center of Houston, they usually think of its Museum District and galleries in neighboring communities such as Montrose, Upper Kirby, and Rice University Village. Meanwhile, local artists live and work in all parts of the city, like Bonnie Blue, who brings her unique form of art to the Hobby Area Management District.
For 21 years, Blue and her husband, Robert, have lived in their home on Colgate Street just north of Sims Bayou between Reveille Park and the Gulf Freeway. But, it wasn’t until this past January that she decided to liven things up a bit by painting a colorful garden of flowers, butterflies, and fanciful vines all over its exterior. Painted flowers area also blooming on the picket fence.
Not content to stop with the front, Blue is also decorating the back of the house with large lizards and a “meter man” around her electric meter. Her husband encourages her to paint even more, and the neighbors seem to like it, she says.
The colorful exterior of the butter-yellow frame house is further enhanced by the two art cars in the driveway that Blue has decorated––one with a mermaid sprawled over the roof, trunk, and hood, and the other, The Women Rock Artcar, is a van decorated with large, painted styrofoam faces of inspiring women.
Blue changes the faces every two years, but in the past, the van has featured the likenesses of Lucille Ball and her costar, Vivian Vance, who played Ethel Mertz on the popular 1950s TV show, “I Love Lucy.” Thirty-six women who have adorned the car have included Marilyn Monroe, Mother Theresa, Princess Diana, and several not-so-famous faces representing different world cultures.
The front of the van has also been decorated with 3D features of a woman’s face, and painted lettering on the hood makes Blue’s message clear: “The Women Rock Artcar was created for women by a woman to honor women, because across the miles, continents, barriers, laughter, abuse, tears, rich, poor, destitute, or skin color, we are all connected at the heart.”
Blue’s art cars have won at least eight first- and second-place awards in parades, shows, and events as they have traveled to 15 states. Her mission is to celebrate, support, and empower women, but also to make art accessible to people who are not often exposed to it.
“I love sharing outdoor art,” she says, “When you travel around in an art car, you’re sharing your art with the world. I have compassion for people who will never enter a gallery, but in an art car, everybody who passes by you is getting to view art.”
Inside the home, Blue has created a gallery and boutique that showcases art that is available for purchase: decorated boots, shoes, and hats; garden art; mermaid figures; and wine glasses.
But it’s the caricatures painted on rocks that have become the most popular item in her inventory––especially since a rock Blue painted to resemble Ellen DeGeneres was featured on the comedienne’s morning talk show. Since then, Blue’s phone has been ringing with requests for her to appear at parties and events to create caricatures of the guests on rocks, as well as on the labels of wine bottles.
The rock caricatures were a happy accident that came at a time when her photo restoration business was dwindling due to the advent of digital photography and widespread use of photo-editing software, Blue says.
While she will happily paint on the surface of almost any salvaged item, the rocks along the Blanco River in Wimberley appealed to her in a unique way. In their rough surface, she began to envision women’s faces, and knew she had to paint them. It was a turning point in her art career, and now she says she’s sold hundreds of them.
She also sells at craft shows around Houston and in Galveston, where her mermaids––a passion of hers––are popular. Ultimately, it’s all about making art available and affordable to everyone, she says.
“It’s not fine art,” she adds. “It’s fun art.”