PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston May 2021

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Buffalo Bayou, which the Buffalo Bayou Partnership is mindfully redeveloping along this section over the next couple of years. The afternoon of our visit, the trail and the bayou were preternaturally still, as was Navigation. It was as if time was suspended; one sensed the rarity of the moment. Soon greater acclaim would no doubt arrive for Gaines, as well as developer attention to the area. As I parked in front, the studio door was ajar to welcome me, as did Gaines and his collaborator, Brittney Mayfield (aka Umi), who sources many of the plants through her firm, Foliage Faerie. The couple met at a Juneteenth event at Emancipation Park in 2019, when Mayfield was a resident in the Project Row Houses' Young Mothers Program. They've been together since, united in greenery. It's "nonstop plants and love and it's beautiful," Gaines says of their relationship. Studio Confidential The vast studio space with its great swaths of draped raw-linen-like fabric, are reminiscent of a swooping Sam Gilliam canvas, dyed to a golden hue by turmeric rubbed with beeswax by studio mate Mich Stevenson. The artists will collaborate for the CAMHLAB residency, titled "Nurture." Gaines gives a tour, pointing out plant specimens in various phases of growth, propped upon staged settings of mostly found furniture. We plopped down on Gaines' sustainably designed pair of chairs with their smart modernist bent, topped off by groovy vintage vinyl upholstery. The chairs are built to be easily shipped and put together without hardware — no glue and no screws, exclusively tongue and groove, honeycomb-like truss construction. The artist demonstrated their surprisingly swift disassembly and reassembly. Next to a Mies van der Rohe '70s-era chair stands a coffee table formed from a majestic tree stump, primal in its energy, rough-hewn and unpolished, to which casters have been added. All around, plants held sway, while Gaines played a soundscape — via his dad's vintage '70s-era speakers, acquired when in the military and stationed in Germany — destined for a future installation. The artist simultaneously discoursed on the vibrational frequency of light and its properties to propel plant growth. "I experience all harmonic frequencies at one time — [I'm using] light, color, sound, and space to basically create a sensory stimuli and solution," Gaines says. "Plants play a role in the overall feel of the space. They typically refer to it in architecture as biophilia — using plants and nature and the properties of nature to comfort people inside of a space." His plant obsession and marriage of plants with design and architecture reflect this moment in our zeitgeist but are a philosophy he's come to organically, over a period of years. It's also personal: "For me, plants are therapy," he says. "Being able to get out and commune with nature and tune into those frequencies of the plants brings me a certain level of relief and peace." The road to Inanimate Nature began with architecture and design, fields of study inspired by Gaines' upbringing. Raised in Fort Worth, with family roots on the East Coast, he was a child of accomplished parents: His father, Amos Gaines, a retired Air Force officer turned teacher, is now an artist; his mom, Sonja Gaines, is a high-ranking mental health director with the State of Texas. "It's kind of like architecture and construction," Gaines says. "I've got turn this spring. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston director Hesse McGraw and deputy director Janice Bond paid Gaines a studio visit in March and immediately offered him a residency, timed to Earth Day 2021 and continuing for at least the next three months. The CAMH brass arrived days before our interview with Gaines, which took place at the artist's heroically scaled warehouse, an 8,000-square-foot East Side space that he shares with fellow creative Mich Stevenson. The cavernous interior has a half-dozen spatial plant deployments. The back door fronts a trail rimming (Continued on page 101) Preston Gaines and Mich Stevenson's studio, East End, Houston The artist in studio, April 2021 87

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