Last month I interviewed the artists from the group show Ten Ants. Following that interview, I continued to see participating photographer John Bernhard, at what seemed like every event I attended. We kept up a conversation of sorts when we would see each other. Bernhard is the kind of person who immediately catches your attention, he’s got passion in what he’s talking about and like many artists, seems to have lots of projects going on at the same time.
Bernhard is from Switzerland and since 1980 has lived and worked in Houston as a photographer, artist and writer. His list of accomplishments, publications and work included in permanent museum collections is way longer than I am allotted for space here. He has a studio at Silver Street, and is also the publisher of ArtHouston, a new bi-annual magazine with a heavy focus on Houston’s visual arts which is filling a big vacancy for the Houston art scene.
Our last conversation, though, really got my attention when he told me about how he traveled all over the U.S. before settling in Houston. He kept a journal and based on that journal, he has published a book, now available via Amazon. The questions started forming on their own.
Why did you eventually decide to settle down in Houston?
“Sometime after returning to Geneva from my year-long road trip, I became homesick for America, and particularly Texas of which I had spent considerable time and was very fond of,” Bernhard said. “I settled in Houston because of its down to earth and happy-go-lucky attitude. Houston was booming in 1980 – the want ads section of the newspaper was as thick as a phone book. Life was wild and crazy, and I loved it!”
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the arts in Houston since moving here?
“Art was at its infancy in so many ways,” Bernhard said. “We did not have many galleries, art districts, or artist studios! But then again, we didn’t have many choices at the grocery stores either. It was tough finding exotic spices, cheeses from around the world, and the wine selection was extremely poor! I think Houston has come a long way in so many areas, and it is still going and growing, and I am enjoying it!”
What stands out about Houston’s arts community/scene compared to other cities?
“We have one of the most thriving art communities in the country,” Bernhard said. “We have five state recognized Art Districts, and I am happy to have my studio at Silver Street, which is part of the Washington Ave Arts district, one of the largest in the nation. The synergy, the relationship, and the camaraderie among all artists in the community is so vibrant you can feel it in your bones. It keeps us focused on the creative pathway.”
What can you tell me about your magazine? Why now and why publish in print?
“It all started in early spring last year during an exhibition I was having in Marfa, TX (population: less than 2000), when I stumbled upon an attractive, well designed magazine dedicated to the arts,” he said. “I felt brain zaps in my head, not as a result of drugs or lack thereof, but from the realization that Houston, one of the largest cities in the US had nothing of this kind! Yes, we do have good on-line zines with short stories, but nothing in print. So I decided to change that, and within months I had my first issue out. I wanted the magazine to fill a void in Houston, which has a vibrant arts scene but which lacked a magazine devoted to the arts. The magazine had a very successful launch. ArtHouston has been received with tremendous praise. In fact, feedback from readers and the art community at large has been so good I think the road ahead is wide open.”
Websites: johnbernhard.net Magazine: arthoustonmagazine.com Book: johnbernhard.wordpress.com
This Saturday is the 12 year anniversary of my First Saturday Arts Market, stop by for some tall tales, great music and amazing art! More on my website.
Cohen is the founder and manager of First Saturday Arts Market. Contact him at ArtValet@gmail.com or visit him on the web at ArtValet.com.