Heights artist John Carroll Runnels checking measurements for his newest sculpture. (Photo contributed)

Heights artist John Carroll Runnels is inspired by the everyday. His sculpture "What Goes Around Comes Around" for True North, the Heights Boulevard sculpture project, is made up of more than 350 hubcaps. Now, it is hazard signs that have his – and everyone else’s – attention at a new project on Richmond Avenue at Fountainview called SAFE HOUSE- SIGNs of the TIMES.

“I have been collecting these glorious caution/hazard signs and hazard blinking lights for 30 years,” Runnels said.

He said that he complied them awaiting inspiration, which came both from the caution colors as well as Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” which his grandson Tristan used as his poem of choice to present to his 4th grade class.

“It is a song that is always in the back of my mind and on the tip of my tongue,” he said.

The finished 16-foot sculpture, consisting of both contemporary polyethylene and old wooden planks, does look like a house of sorts, but as one of the fabricators from Astro Fence company noted, there are no windows or doors.

Runnels said that painting and arranging each side of the SAFE HOUSE was both tedious and fun.

“The oblique stripes [lead] the eye in one direction while herringbone chevron military configurations play spatially with illusions of advancing and receding planes,” he said.

Before delivering the numbered planks to fabricators – 21 planks per side and 120 boards in all – Runnels was on all fours double checking the measurements in his studio.

It took six men to raise the SAFE HOUSE on Richmond and the 4 x 4-foot sculpture is secured with a 5 x 5-foot concrete base. There are flashing hazard lights on each side with sensors that will start blinking at night.

In his artist statement, Runnels said the piece is a response to the precariousness of life, acknowledging there are forces out there greater than oneself.

“SAFE HOUSE is also a towering response during [COVID 19],” he said. “These safety traffic barricade signs - Warning Signs - have been used to shape a Safe House Art Watch Tower, notice NO windows or doors. [It’s] a metaphor for the insecurity and security and comforts of ‘home sweet home.’”

SAFE HOUSE is part of the Richmond Ave Public Art Project, an initiative of the St. George Place Redevelopment Authority to rebuild and enhance critical infrastructure within the Redevelopment Zone. The installation is the start of a program along Richmond Avenue that will continue all the way to Hillcroft Street.

“By acknowledging the role of art and culture as economic development drivers the 25,000+ people driving Richmond Avenue every day will be able to enjoy a rotating ‘museum in the medians’ showcasing local, contemporary art,” said Bill Hutz, Chairman of the George Place Redevelopment Authority. “In these unusual and challenging times, this seems especially timely and fitting.”

Gus Kopriva, the owner of Redbud Gallery on 11th, was a driving force of the True North installations on the esplanade of Heights Boulevard. He is also the curator of the Richmond Ave Public Art Project, which has 10 exhibits now installed. He is the curator, too, for a similar project along Long Point in Spring Branch.

“I hope to do more and more of these,” Gus Kopriva said. “Civic pride and confidence are fostered, and quality of life is improved.”

Runnels said he thinks SAFE HOUSE integrates into the urban landscape, sharing space with a fire hydrant, No U-Turn Signage, two manhole covers and one tree, but he also adds something special.

“Richmond Avenue is a major Houston thoroughfare lined with a diversity of businesses,” he said. “Landscaping of the esplanade should be finished next week to complete the enhancement of the neighborhood with a windshield perspective of artwork seen along this new Sculpture Trail.”

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