There's a plain esplanade, with grass and trees, on Montrose in front of the Art League of Houston building now. Up until recently, the colorful, whimsical Funnel Tunnel snaked its way through the trees. The public art installation was created by Patrick Renner, a 2015 Houston Press MasterMind Award winner. Made up of hundreds of thin strips of wood painted in a wild variety of colors and attached to a steel frame. Renner's Funnel Tunnel was recently dismantled and a new Renner installation popped up on the plaza of City Hall's front door.
Made of materials similar to those used in Funnel Tunnel, the round sculpture is three feet wide and 12 feet tall and resembles a tower. "It's called Sentinel," Renner tells us. "Originally it was going to be two smaller pieces, one o each side of the front doors. But then that idea was scrapped and I was told I'd have to move away from the doors. So instead of two six foot tall pieces I made on 12 foot tall piece."
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The tower, which reflects a sawtooth pattern Renner saw on the art deco style of the City Hall door handles, is open to interpretation. "It has multiple layers for me, but on the most basic level its a lone figure, a little bit imposing, like a watcher or guard. I was playing with the idea of representing the idea of community, all of these individual pieces of wood coming together and becoming something bigger, but with the individual pieces still whole.
"There's something of a crown shape to it. There's a hint of something regal about it.
"I was also toying with the idea that this is a government building and government is supposed to be here to protect us but at the same time we have to watch eye on the government. We have to watch the people who watch us."
Students at the Sharpstown International High School, where Renner is an art teacher part-time, helped paint the dozens of wood strips. "I have four classes; that's about a hundred students. We painted for two days. As usual my instructions were pretty open; they always are at these painting parties."
Each student was allowed free reign in painting the strips of wood. There's was no required image or color. The result, as Renner expected, was diverse. Some students created patterns or forms while others produced abstract color strips.
"When I went back to work, I told the kids they should go and see it; some of them had already been to city hall to check it out. That was really fun for me."
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