Houston’s Hardy & Nance Is The Place For New Artists

Houston’s Hardy & Nance Is The Place For New Artists

It’s the third Saturday of the month at the Hardy & Nance Studios. Nominally, the crowd is here for the Portraits in June show, one of the many themed gallery events that Hardy & Nance host twice monthly. While that part of the gallery certainly draws a crowd thanks to a lovely lineup of pieces done in various styles, most people are here for the open house. In a seemingly endless set of small studios, the resident artists wait to meet interested patrons, fans, looky-loos, fellow artists, and more poke there heads into the best space in the city for creators just starting out.

Two of those artists are married couple Nesreen Alawami and No-L, who have been there since 2017. The former is a thoroughly whimsical potter who makes pieces inspired by her Middle Eastern heritage, often in cute animal shapes such as cats and dogs. Even when she uses skull motifs, her work is vibrant and colorful. 

Meanwhile, No-L is a painter and photographer. Her work is intensely Houston-centric and would look at home on any mural along the nearby Southwest Freeway. She incorporates pop culture elements like robots and paints subjects like Mexican paletas sales carts. Bespectacled and constantly grinning, she is clearly having the time of her life at the open house.

“You know, we can allow people to come in here and like, oh, man, I see their tags on their on their shirt with their names there,” says No-L. ‘“Hey, so we’re showing together? Oh, yeah. This is my first time!’” They get so excited, you know? And they're like, ‘Yeah, I really want to have a studio like this.’ You definitely can have a space like this one day. I was just like you. So, I think that's inspiring.” 

Hardy & Nance has always been one of the easiest places for artists to get their start. The rent is low (No-L and Nesreen say it was about half the price of comparable spaces in the city), and the frequent theme shows give new artists a chance to show easily. In July Insomnia Gallery will present a show dedicated to art inspired by slasher films in the space. Later that month is the gallery’s famous tiny art show, focused on pieces 4 inches or smaller. 

All of them are gateways for aspiring creators to get their foot in the door at Hardy & Nance.

“I think you need a lot more spaces like Hardy & Nance because it's really truly about the artist and not about the organization or the people that run it,” says Nesreen. “It is artists for artists. A lot of more of the other places are more businesses. We have a lot more of an artist collective. The art scene had changed in Houston quite a bit. It has become more business oriented than, and that's sad, I think.

Founded in 2012 by the late Donald Tucker, Hardy & Nance hosts around 50 artists at any given moment. The building is a rambling, twisting labyrinth of art that is easy to get lost in despite the signage. There always seems to be more to find, like Rivendell, if dockworkers instead of elves built it. The randomness of the place adds to its mystique as a hidden gem of the city, despite having been serving the community for two decades.

On the of the newest artists in Miche Gim. She specializes in watercolors and pastels, with a penchant for small yellow birds. Gim has only been a resident since February but has already felt welcomed by the community.

“I was definitely very scared the first day I was ever open,” she says. “I didn't even have frames on my artwork. I was not ready. I actually got a lot of positive feedback on the first day. There were two people that I specifically remember who so badly wanted my artwork that they were very aggressive about pricing it and everything, and I didn't even think about pricing it because I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ It was intimidating, but I think after that first day it definitely got better.”

Gim’s studio space is still fairly sparse. Before Hardy & Nance, she struggled to find the time to paint. Since coming to the space, the encouragement and security of having her own studio has helped her jumpstart her production. Now, she has to turn down offers for her work simply so she has enough to display and for upcoming shows she wants to take part in.

“Sometimes it would take me about a year or two to finish one or two pieces,” she says. “But being here? I've created about like four artworks, so it’s gone up exponentially. Knowing that I have like a separate space that I can go in and just do art, is really nice.” 

“And it's also sometimes seeing other artists and their artworks and on the walls and stuff will inspire me and. I also really enjoy the gallery space being used and having like their own little themed event because I could also go there and get inspired and it's like always rotating every month, and that's always nice.” 

Leaving Gim’s studio, the crowd hasn’t thinned at all even two hours into the event. The narrow hallways are clogged with people discussing art and catching up with old friends. A couple who were waiting patiently while Gim was being interviewed immediately flood into her space once its over to gush about her pieces. Gim’s smile at their compliments is as bright as her birds. It’s clear that she’s found a place to belong, like everyone else at Hardy & Nance.