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About Jesse Lott

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Jesse Lott is an African-American Houston-based artist who is known for his visionary wire sculpture, paper figures, and works on paper made using found materials. Lott is one of Texas’ most respected artists and has exhibited in major museums and universities in Texas and throughout the South. His art has also been shown at The Studio Museum in Harlem and The Alternative Museum in New York. His primary goal however has not been recognition and financial success, but simply to communicate true realism (Harithas, 1999). For the past forty years, his work has been grounded in an approach to art that he calls “Urban Frontier Art,” which involves the recycling of discarded urban material into art. His work expresses deep feeling and a magical sense of the mysterious other. In the words of the artist, “creativity is that part of awareness that goes beyond knowledge.” His signature sculptural aesthetic reflects a sophisticated grasp of folk art and often depicts a cast of characters including mythological beings, heroes, and ordinary people, as a way to explore the many complex dimensions of being human (Harithas, 1999). Through the lens of urban archeology, his art is inspired by the everyday, and becomes a vehicle of exchange through which viewers can re-examine their own sense of humanity and spirituality.

When talking about his perspective on the role of an artist, Lott notes:

“Artists are entrusted with a metaphysical vision. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. That means that many words have been entrusted to those to whom God has given the ability to create. When a pebble hits a pool, it starts a wave that covers the whole pool. The pebble is the concept. An artist puts out a concept and the concept changes the consciousness of the viewer, leading to a positive change in the pattern of his activity.”

The idea of using found organic or industrial material to make art occurred to Lott out of necessity. After he left his studies at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1969, he realized that the cost of materials would be prohibitive not only for himself but also for all artists of limited means. At the same time, he realized that in a commodity-driven society a vast store of materials is available to any artist for the taking. His Piñatero method, based on the Mexican piñata, demonstrates the transformation of waste paper into sculpture (Harithas, 1999).

In addition to his visionary artwork, Lott’s shaman-like presence in the art community of Houston has also had a wide ranging impact, influencing many Texas artists including Rick Lowe, James Surls, Bert Long, Robert Pruitt, Angelbert Metoyer, and Robert Hodge among many others. He is respected for the integrity and mojo power of his art and greatly admired for his many private acts of compassion to the homeless, to poverty-stricken seniors, to the young and to artists throughout the community. His all-ages workshops that he has held over the years in his studio as a community service have inspired many students who would otherwise have no exposure to art. Lott has also been involved in the genesis and aesthetic orientation of a number of significant community activities including Adept, the first museum devoted to African American culture in Houston, The Midtown Art Center, the Ann Robinson Gallery and the Art Car Museum. Lott’s community oriented philosophy and his Artists in Action program helped spark the creation of the now famous Project Row Houses (Harithas, 1999).

Born in Simmesport, Louisiana, Jesse Lott has been a resident of Houston’s 5th Ward for over forty years. During his youth, in Houston’s Fifth Ward, he began creating and selling his works at the age of fourteen. He was well acquainted with, now well-known artist, Mel Chin and his family. Mel’s father, Benny Chin, was a legendary community activist and the local grocer. He saw Art as a mechanism for commerce in the community, and strongly encouraged and supported Jesse in his efforts. After high school he attend the Hampton Institute, Hampton, VA from 1962-1964, followed by California State University in 1965, concurrently with studies at Los Angeles Community College, and the Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles, CA from 1966-1969, and returned to Houston in 1974.

Lott’s work has been widely exhibited within Texas, throughout the South, and in New York. He has had solo exhibitions at venues including D. M. Allison Gallery, Houston TX (2013); The Station Museum, Houston TX (2009); G Gallery, Houston, TX (2007); New Braunfels Museum of Art and Music, TX (2004); Artscan Gallery, Houston, TX (1999-2000); Art Car Museum, Houston TX (1999); Museum of Contemporary Art, Washington D.C. (1998); Oakland Museum of Art, California (1997); Project Row Houses, Houston TX (1995); Art Museum of Southeast Texas, TX (1991); Midtown Art Center, Houston, TX (1991); Lawndale Art and Performance Center, Houston, TX (1989); and Hiram Butler Gallery, Houston, TX (1987).

Lott’s work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions at venues including Williams Tower Gallery, Houston, TX (2008); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston TX (2008); Museo de la Nación, Lima, Perú (2007); Beeville Art Museum, Beeville, TX (2001); Art Car Museum, Houston, TX (1999); The Society of Contemporary Crafts, Pittsburgh, PA (1998-2000); Laguna Gloria Arts Museum, Austin, TX (1992); The Lubbock Fine Arts Center (1991); The Lubbock Black Cultural and Heritage Center, Lubbock, TX (1991); Texas Southern University, Houston, TX (1991); Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, NC (1990-1992); Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL; Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, TN; Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, LA; Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando, FL; Lawndale Art and Performance Center, Houston, TX (1990, 1982); Staten Island Art Center, New York, NY (1998); Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX (1987, 1979); Studio Museum in Harlem, NY (1986); Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, Houston, TX (1986); Alternative Museum, New York, NY (1982) and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, PA (1978).

Additionally, Lott’s work is featured in several public spaces around Houston. In 2013, Lott was one of twenty-two artists commissioned to create a sculpture by Metro Rail's Arts in Transit program. The sculpture originally titled The Spirit of Transport, and later re-named by the community as Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!, was installed on the Southeast Metro line at Scott St. and Elgin St. in the Third Ward, and depicts a figure with its arms in the air constructed out of stainless steel and mixed metals. The same year, he was also invited to participate in the Texan-French Alliance for the Arts (TFAA) citywide “Open-The-Door” public art project, and created a tribute painting to Houston artist Bert Long. In 2010, he was commissioned by Hermann Park to create a public art piece for Lake Plaza where he integrated art objects and materials found around the city into the plaza’s walkways.

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Untitled, 2017
Pen and ink on paper
Work: 17 x 11 in (43.18 x 27.94 cm)
Frame: 20 x 16 in (50.8 x 40.64 cm)
Courtesy of artist

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Jesse Lott
  • Dimensions
    17 x 11 in (43.18 x 27.94 cm)