In the lesser-known 2004 John Waters movie A Dirty Shame, Tracey Ullman plays a sexually repressed housewife named Sylvia Stickles, who, after sustaining a massive head injury, sees sex everywhere she looks. In the film's DVD extras (remember those?), Waters talks about how perverted the knots on trees look—after Sylvia's concussion, every tree appears to have genitals and breasts.
Waters is known as the Pope of Trash, and even by his standards, the movie is terrible. I should know—I'm one of the few people who saw it. And ever since, I haven't been able to look at a tree the same way.
So when I was walking through my Montrose neighborhood around Thanksgiving and I noticed that some of the knots of those stately old live oaks were painted pink, I chuckled to myself. I assumed it was simply pruning sealant, but did it have to be pink? Didn't those arborists know how it looked?
I snapped a pic and posted it to my Facebook with a pithy joke and moved on. Until a few weeks later when I caught the tree-painter in action. She was kneeling by a tree and, at first, I thought she was feeding one of the many stray cats that live in east Montrose. Until I saw the tale-tell pink paint. As I slowed, she stood up and began to walk away briskly. I stopped my truck and called out to her: "Hey! Can I ask you about your art project?"
Her name is Bianca Gonzales, and she goes by the moniker "Switchblade Bubblegum," which she told me is a reference to her artistic style—mixing the whimsical with the grotesque. On Instagram, her bio says she is "Making your grandmother's unmentionables mentionable."
She told me the project was a way to bring some color and cheer back to the Montrose, a neighborhood formerly known for its gritty dive bars and gay scene, which, like much of Houston, is now overrun with condos and expensive restaurants. Much of her work is abstract, though still vaguely, uh, yonic, if you know what to look for. Other works are decidedly more graphic—it should go without saying that her Insta is NSFW.
I also asked her about John Waters, whom she said is one of her biggest inspirations. Our chat was brief; I was on the way to an appointment, and she was standing in the middle of the road. But from now on, when I walk or drive through my neighborhood, I notice her work and it does add a bit more whimsy to my day.
To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a tree is more than just a tree.