In the Studio

“The Mecca”: This Is How Mitchell Reece Is Painting North Houston

The Prairie View A&M instructor and artist is chronicling his family through his work.

By Amarie Gipson January 7, 2022

Artist, designer and educator Mitchell Reece in front of a painted portrait of his grandfather, who passed away only days after he was born in 1990.

Image: Troy Montes

Driving through North Houston on an unusually warm day in December, Mitchell Reece retraces his steps. 

The visual artist and educator just finished teaching his first semester of art classes at his alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. We cruise through the streets of Studewood (Independence Heights) and then to Acres Homes where he points out his old daycare, the barbershop, library and community center he frequented as a child. “This is the Mecca. Everything in my life, my work started right here.” 

We arrive at the home of his maternal grandmother, a destination for his family’s gatherings and the site that fuels his artistic practice. Formally trained as a graphic designer and working across mediums, Reece uses painting to unlock and preserve memories of his past. “I try to capture people’s spirits in my paintings,” he tells me as he stands in a living room adorned by framed photographs, a cozy recliner and a wooden piano his grandmother used to play. “I’m thinking about how to reclaim memories, space and the lives of people who are no longer here.” 

Mitchell Reece, Jesse Frank, 2021. Oil and acrylic on canvas. 

His latest body of work has a spiritual quality, domestic scenes with solid black backgrounds and sometimes faceless figures grouped together in communion. The largescale paintings are usually based on old photographs of relatives, like his aunts and cousins, but sometimes culled from his imagination. “I would have these recurring dreams that started off in my grandmother’s living room, the lights were very dim and a glimmer of light would appear. It took me a while to understand, but I always come back to the living room. There’s something to it.” 

Motivated by a desire to preserve familial history, Reece possesses a deep sense of neighborhood pride that permeates his work. He was born in 1990 and came of age during the rise of Houston’s rap scene. As early as 7th grade, he was introduced to Swishahouse Records, the Acres Homes music label that birthed pioneering rap talent including Slim Thug, Mike Jones, and OG Ron C. Like many artists of his generation, Reece’s creative spirit blossomed as a kid who, alongside his friends, would draw characters from his favorite TV shows like Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon. As a child, he was always in tune with his environment, looking and watching closely at the details of his everyday life. Reece uses art to reflect the community that made him. Education, creativity and innovation are in his blood; both of his grandmothers were teachers, his father was a draftsman who shared Lowrider magazines and art books with him, and his grandfather designed spacecrafts for NASA in the mid-1960s. Reece’s mother, Carolyn Hausey, always knew he’d grow up to be an artist, saying “I feel so honored that he chronicles our family history in his paintings. He’s always been so curious and it makes me feel good that he’s capturing these memories.”

Image: Troy Montes

After graduating from Klein Forest High School and attending PVAMU, Reece found his footing in local art institutions like CAMH and the Menil. In undergrad, he was mentored by artist and museum director Lauren Kelley and grew up witnessing the emergence of the city’s most prominent visual artists, including Nathaniel Donnet, Jamal Cyrus, Robert Hodge, and Robert Pruitt. “I always felt a part of that network. They showed me what I could do. I’m thankful I came up with that generation because they had already been through and experienced the art world.”

In 2016, he moved to New York City and marked the start of focused dedication to his practice. He completed an MFA in Fine Art and Design at the School of Visual Arts, taught at Pratt Institute, and lived in Brooklyn. He was inspired by graffiti and street art and was immersed in a thriving community of artists. Now, he splits his time between Harlem and Houston, painting and teaching. 

More recently, he was chosen among four other artists in a design contest that CAMH, hosted in conjunction with The Dirty South exhibition. Now, he’s preparing for a solo presentation 3402: A Labor of Love, that builds on his recurring dream, the culture and landscape of his community. 

Coming back home has always been Reece’s mission. “Houston has some of the most influential creatives. There are so many tastemakers. Even if we don’t have the resources, we make our way.”

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