Alex Roman Jr., aka Donkeeboy, teamed up with his mother, Donkeemom (Sylvia Roman), on a one-night-only gallery show and interactive event on Saturday. The expositional pop-up sponsored by Jack Daniels took place in The Union HTX, a re-purposed historic home turned rotating art gallery in the heart of the Sixth Ward Art District.
The inaugural event will become a yearly exhibit of the mother-son duo's growing collection of work. Already one of Houston's most recognizable muralists and street artists, Donkeeboy has recently been working more closely with his talented mother, whose original paintings from the mid-'70s graced the walls of the intimate gallery alongside her and her son's more recent work.
As hundreds of fans passed through the house, they were first greeted by a room containing early works from both mother and son. A few early pieces of art by Donkeemom dated 1976 depicted nature scapes and a classically portrayed image of Jesus. Beside them, one of Donkeeboy's earliest works form his days at Houston Community College — a painting titled "Boob Tube" of a topless slim-figured woman with a television for a head. "I've sold it like eight times," says Roman laughing. "I keep buying it back."
The painting was inspired by a Jack Johnson lyric and an ex-girlfriend of the Houston native. "That was the first piece I made where I felt like I expressed myself."
Outside the first room, a small vestibule was dedicated to Houston-specific pieces by both artists. There was the original and now famous "El Musico" by Donkeeboy — a mural of DJ Screw in the style of a Mexican Loteria card. On the adjacent wall was the more recent "Bossquiat". Originally painted as a mural, the expressionist portrait of Slim Thug paints the rapper in the style and aesthetic of late-contemporary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (a recurring inspiration in Donkeeboy's art). Also in the Houston-themed room, there hung a painting of Donkeemom's now beloved pink astronaut that originally appeared in a mural outside of 8th Wonder Brewery.
"I did seven pieces for this show, seven new ones," explains Roman, who laments he only had three weeks to put the whole show together. While some pieces were originals from both his and his mom's private collections, some were new creations and most were available for sale. Outside, vendors spread out in the Jack Daniel Neighborhood Flavors Pop Up Market, selling artisan goods against the backdrop of local DJ's.
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The main room of the gallery, a large open space once filled with walls and bedrooms, was now lined with both new and familiar works of art. The show's undisputed centerpiece was an interactive installation inspired by what is perhaps Donkeeboy's most iconic mural. We're talking, of course, about Buttsquiat and Warholio, an intersectional pop-art pun combining Beavis & Butthead with modern art icons Basquiat and Andy Warhol. The original mural at 2101 Polk in EaDo has become a classic piece of Houston pop-art and one of Donkeeboy's defining works. In a brilliant interactive recreation, Donkeeboy made wood cut-outs of the two characters and placed them in seated positions on a sofa in the corner of the room. The three dimensional creation brought the mural to life by inviting guests to take a seat between the fictional and hilarious Buttsquiat and Warholio.
"She started at the top," boasts Donkeeboy of his mother's natural skills as a painter. "In Mexico, in a small town, with minimal tools." The muralist, who was partially raised in Mexico after being born in Houston, describes working alongside his mother as one of the greatest opportunities of his career. He also recalls his early years as a struggling artist, working odd jobs for months at a time. "I've probably had 25 to 30 jobs at this point," he says. "I would work for about two months, quit, buy art supplies, then go get another job."
Now 36, Alex Roman Jr. is more than a working artist. He is one of this city's most notable and recognizable creative figures. His murals are the artistic backdrop of the East End, and grace the sides of iconic Houston businesses like Shipley's Donuts and Burns BBQ. The mother-and-son pop-up was more than an art show. It was a look into their collective history through the lens of their work, a milestone of their success in both the arts and the city they call home.