It's Friday night and downtown's MKT Bar is packed. Drinks are flowing, the DJ is spinning and the main attraction is a new collection of tile. Yes, tile. But not just any new tile collection, but the most unique and fascinating tile collection to ever come out of Houston.
For over a decade La Nova Tile has stayed largely under the radar as an importer of contemporary tile from Spain and Italy, despite being a favorite among local designers for their chic, often minimalist wares. But for La Nova's first in-house collection, owner Erick Calderon wanted to do something totally different.
Calderon is a resident of Houston's East End and a big fan of the local street art scene. Inspired by a Spanish tile brand that incorporated Banksy's graffiti art into tiles, he rounded up 13 of Houston's most prolific graffiti artists who agreed to license images of their works into a new tile collection. The result is "Rethink! Houston Streets," a colorful, limited-edition collection of 50 individual tiles that feature high-res snippets from 47 local Houston murals by Wiley, Gonzo247, Mr. D, Dandee Warhol and others.
"We're known for contemporary products, so gray is a big theme," says Calderon. "In general there's a lack of color and a lack of art in the tile business. This is an opportunity to use tile as an art piece."
Each 18-inch-by-18-inch tile depicts an almost life-size segment of a mural, meaning that though a few are immediately recognizable—the Biscuit Paint Wall by Mr. D, for example, or Gonzo247's Houston mural near Market Square Park—others are more surreal; abstract collections of color, shape and pattern that are almost guaranteed to challenge a viewer to figure out where they've seen each one before.
"They are kind of weird by themselves, it only really works when you see them together," says Calderon.
The collection is limited to 10 sets of 50 tiles and is available in random sets of 10—the only way to guarantee that any particular tile would be included is to buy an entire set of 50. Calderon has plans to use part of the collection in the entranceway of his house, where all his visitors can see them.
"My biggest fear is that this goes into a powder room or a game room and is never seen again. My goal with this collection is to see one restaurant or coffeehouse or commercial public setting in Houston install it somewhere that people will interact with it," says Calderon.
If the collection gets a strong response, Calderon plans to travel to cities like New York, Austin, Chicago and Los Angeles this summer with a photographer to start working on a graffiti tile collection that features street artists nationwide.
Houstonians can check out the "ReThink! Houston Streets" tile collection this weekend at La Nova's booth at the Pop Shop America Summer Festival this Saturday and Sunday at Silver Street Studios.
"It's a validation," Calderon says of the enthusiastic response that the collection had in its MKT Bar debut. "I love color. I think people need more color in their lives."