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Renowned Printmaker Dennis McNett Builds His First Art Car, Will Give Lecture

Dennis McNett, one of the nation's renowned printmakers, practices the tedious, time-consuming art of carving. Most of his works are huge and have a graphic basis in '80s skateboard and punk rock culture; they are frequently described as "surly."

He also specializes in large, mobile pieces such as the Wolfbats he is currently exhibiting across the country as well as a Viking ship replica he displayed in Philadelphia last year.

Living in New York City since 2001, McNett has come to Houston to construct his first mechanically powered piece, an art car for the 25th anniversary of Houston's famed Art Car Parade. He will be working with Burning Bones Press in the Heights, who is assisting McNett with the construction.

McNett will also give a lecture at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Art Car Museum as part of this year's Art Car Parade activities.

McNett hopes his talk at the Art Car Museum will encourage artists to have some resolve and to stick with what they believe in doing.

"I like to tell about how tough it was for me when I first moved to New York," McNett explains. "I was essentially snobbed by the art scene there, like what I was doing was somehow second-class art or something. Sometimes you really have to believe in what you're doing even if it seems like it's being rejected."

McNett also wants to explain "where I'm coming from and how what I do has evolved."

"I like to explain the process that took me from 2-D prints to these bigger 3-D pieces, explain how all that evolved inside me," says McNett.

We were curious whether McNett actually makes his living off the large, mobile pieces.

"Not really. I've had a couple of sponsorships for pieces, but most of the large mobile stuff is funded by my other work."

He went on to explain that his primary income is from graphic designing.

"I've done lots of work with skateboard companies," he notes.

Much of McNett's work involves sitting at a table and carefully carving the designs used to make his prints.

"I've been doing it 22 years now," he notes, "and for me it's kind of like meditation. I really get lost in doing the work."

"I've also learned that it takes a physical toll, so I've developed the habit of stopping once an hour and moving around, stretching my arms and back.

Asked how he's enjoying Houston, he laughs.

"I'm such a creature of habit, and I need to get this work done by the time the parade starts, so my routine pretty much consists of three things: the work space, the coffee shop -- Antidote is a great little place-- and trips to the hardware store. Carlos [Hernandez of Burning Bones Press] did take me to this wonderful Mexican food place.

"But I was telling him I'm going to have to plan another trip down here so I can get out and look around, because every time we go somewhere in the car I see stuff that looks really interesting."

So what will McNett's first art car look like?

"Since the art car thing has such history, I wanted to do something that tied our car to Houston," McNett explains. "I got Carlos to send some photos of Houston and we finally zeroed in on one of the buildings downtown that has what looks like an Aztec pyramid on top."

"Then we got to thinking about the whole apocalyptic Mayan calendar the-world-ends-in-2012 thing," McNett laughs. "So what we're building is a three-tiered pyramid on top of a car with a six-and-a-half foot eagle fighting a thirty-six foot long snake. It's our way of celebrating the end of the world."

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William Michael Smith