Artist Alex DeLeon constructed  Welcome Homes from signs he bought from the homeless.
Artist Alex DeLeon constructed Welcome Homes from signs he bought from the homeless.

Signs of Struggle

This is the time of year where we cling -- to a fault -- to positive, uplifting stories. So it's refreshing that the Galveston Art Center is forgoing holiday schmaltz and instead offering two brutally frank exhibitions: "Teen" and "Welcome Homes." One explores the sexual, whimsical, desperate thoughts that roil around inside the teenage mind. The other speaks simply to the struggle of the homeless.

As it happens, the artists responsible for the exhibitions have met before. San Antonio artist Alex DeLeon recently gave a speech to Joan Finn's sculpture class at La Marque High School. Inspired by his visit, Finn encouraged her students -- many of whom are considered "at risk" -- to share their deepest thoughts through their art. The resulting exhibition, "Teen," happens to be on view right next to DeLeon's installation, "Welcome Homes."

"Teen" packs more visceral punch than even the most inspired Hollywood teen flick can muster. "It shows the full range of experience they draw on, what haunts them or what inspires them," says Finn. "It's kind of an illumination into their souls. At the opening, two women walking through burst into tears. I was thrilled with that."


"Teen" and "Welcome Homes"

Galveston Arts Center, 2127 Strand, Galveston.

Through January 8. For information, call 409-763-2403 or visit Free.

Condom boxes, makeup brushes and glittering mirrors litter a maze created by tenth-grader Evelyn Eisenhour called La Merde Fille Aller Travers. As visitors navigate the installment, which Eisenhour says represents her struggles, they negotiate several turns strewn with cartons of tampons, Polaroids of teenage couples and magazine articles depicting fetus development.

There are other works that illustrate teen life, like Eunice Adjei's Peer Pressure, which uses jumbled-up packs of Marlboros and empty bottles of cheap apple wine (all next to a large pair of papier-mâché ears). Anthony Loftis's Clean Your Room includes a bed, side table and walls with Linkin Park posters, along with a note from the artist: "Everyone is always telling me to clean up my room, or to straighten up. Whatever."

DeLeon's Welcome Homes is equally jarring. The multimedia artist created a shantytown from cardboard signs used by homeless people. Three TV monitors on stands high above the dwellings show a video DeLeon shot of the elevated freeways in San Antonio, re-creating the way the homeless are hidden below the rest of society.

DeLeon purchased the signs at $3 a pop from street beggars. The most oft-repeated phrase on them is "God bless." Then there are the blunt requests: "Lost my dog, husband, truck. Please help," or "Vietnam Vet -- need 21 cents for food." DeLeon admits these signs are "just a bunch of BS" to entice a handout from passersby. But they are these people's livelihood. Soliciting via signs was their business, and DeLeon conducted it with them.

"There were some people who were critical of me, saying I was just enabling them to be alcoholics by giving them money," he adds, "but I saw it as a fair exchange." But life, as he'd discover, hasn't treated everyone fairly. During one exchange, a woman was convinced DeLeon wanted a blow job and walked around to the passenger side of his vehicle. "That freaked me out," he says. "I said, 'No, I just want your sign.'"


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