Up From the Underground

Alex "Pr!mo" Luster got himself a documentary from the street art life.

While his classmates were dreaming of getting the best cars and snazziest clothes, Luster was consumed with lust for, of all things, a loft-style apartment downtown. "I was set that I was gonna live in downtown, and there was not crap going on there," he says. (Remember, this is around 1996, 1997. Redevelopment was rudimentary at that time, to put it kindly.) "My parents were just like, 'What is wrong with you?' But I was just set — I had to get a place downtown and I think the only places were Hogg Palace and the Dakota Lofts." Luster's parents took him on a real estate-hunting trip, and Luster learned then that his $5 an hour job couldn't get him where he wanted to be. "But I was gonna get it. I didn't want to go too crazy — just a simple bachelor pad. An open warehouse-type space. You remember the movie Big? I wanted some place where I could rearrange things all the time."

Soon Luster was a familiar sight behind the scenes in Houston's TV media landscape. Competitors from the other TV stations started seeing the kid they called "Little Alex" everywhere — a fresh-faced teen lugging a huge heavy camera on his then-scrawny shoulder. Ron Luster loved that his son had direction, real purpose in life.

"It turned him around," he says. "He was kinda floating before that." Ron says Alex was able to balance work and school fairly well. "Work was probably more important than school but he managed to get through," he says.

With an assist from former Houstonian Failure, Eyesore adorns a call-box with some works in his trademark style.
Marco Torres
With an assist from former Houstonian Failure, Eyesore adorns a call-box with some works in his trademark style.
Marco Torres


Read More:
Blog post: An interactive map of Houston's best street art.
Blog post: Stick 'Em Up debuts at River Oaks Theatre
Blog post: Coolidge, Houston's answer to Banksy
Slideshow: Stick 'Em Up Premiere at River Oaks
Slideshow: Houston's Most Gorgeous Graffiti
Slideshow: Street Art for Tropical Storm Allison

Alex found it a mixed blessing. He enjoyed his job, but he couldn't afford that loft yet. And juggling 30-50 hours a week at work around high school is no easy task, either physically or socially. He felt caught between two worlds. "My school friends were like, 'We're gonna go party, and this guy's going to work,' and at work, I was the kid," he remembers.

When senior year came around, the elder Luster tried to no avail to interest his son in college. "I got a degree and I really wanted him to go to college, but he didn't want to," he says. "I don't know, he seems to be doin' fine without it. I think college would have delayed a lot of things. He might not have thrown himself into this as quickly and as passionately as he has. I wish I had been as directed and had as much of an idea of what I wanted to do as he did."

Once he was of legal age to work, Luster jumped around the TV dial some, from Channel 48 across the language divide to Channel 13 and then on to Fox-26, where he remained for several years. It was there that Larry Parker, then the director of creative services, took note of his young underling's talents. He says that Luster's abilities transcended the primitive tools then at his disposal in the news department, and that his edits were often more creative than those of his elders.

"There's an old adage from Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines' old CEO: 'Hire for attitude, train for skill,'" Parker recalls. "He always had the fire in the belly, and I had great reports from the people in news." Parker adds that Luster often excelled in brainstorming sessions and was a technical whiz. He then drafted Luster into his creative services department, where Luster worked on in-house ads and promos for the station.

Luster also turned his creative energies toward more ambitious projects. In 1998, working under an alias unbeknownst to his bosses at Fox, Luster and creative partner (and cousin) Vladimir Castellanos created Volumen, a Spanish-language hipster variety show that aired on KAZH Azteca America 57. By 2006, Volumen had run its course, so Luster and Castellanos created the much more music-oriented show SuperNaco, which spawned two short-lived music festivals in its wake.

It was while making those shows that Luster would pick up "Pr!mo," the name by which he is most often known in Houston's streets. Castellanos hosted the shows and would often call Luster "primo" on the air. Today, others in the video-editing field speak of "the Pr!mo cut." "It's real quick and in your face," says Tony Reyes.

The name, and other aliases, also provided cover for his freelancing gigs. Six years later there would be an awkward moment at the Lone Star Emmys when one "Alejandro Morales," another of Luster's alter egos, took home a statuette; seated with his still-oblivious Fox bosses, Luster dared not take the stage to pick up his award. Because he had also been nominated, and lost, in another category under his real name for a Fox project, he had to stifle his elation while being consoled by friends for allegedly getting shut out.

Stick 'Em Up! closes with a tearjerker of a tale. An upper-middle-class woman of a certain age — the last sort of person you would think would respond viscerally to any street art, especially that of the nihilistic Give Up — relates how her interpretation of a Give Up razor blade image helped give her the strength to fight through a series of mind-bogglingly arduous medical procedures related to lupus and arthritis. She is shot where she saw the image; it had been festooned on a tumbledown crack shack just across I-59 from Minute Maid Park in what used to be Old Chinatown but is now called EaDo.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Tieuel Legacy
Tieuel Legacy

Very big piece. A lot of information, secretos y mas. Several funny parts also. He'll have to go back into the underground at some point. Hopefully I'll catch a cut of the film before he does. Tieuel Legacy! Motion