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The Artistic Odyssey

Alton DuLaney believes in the transforming power of art.

Alton DuLaney (Photo by Alex Rosa)

Whether he’s curating the perfect exhibit at Houston airports or creating dazzlingly wrapped presents as “The World’s Most Famous Gift Wrap Artist,” Alton DuLaney lives and breathes art.

“Art, and beauty, has always been and continues to be the driving force in my life,” he says. “Creativity has always come easy to me. My mom likes to tell the story that when I was six years old, I announced to her that I was going to be an artist when I grew up. I said I would travel the world and be famous!”

DuLaney made his childhood dreams come true, as the artist has appeared on numerous national TV shows including Rachael Ray, The Jimmy Kimmel Show, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and CBS Sunday Morning. In addition to being featured in numerous local and national publications, DuLaney’s own show, The Great Gift Exchange on YouTube Originals, encourages creativity and the beauty of inspiration. He is also the host of #HoustonAirportsArt, where he promotes art in public places.

Ever since he was a teenager, DuLaney has been captivated by the freedom and creativity of art. “I’ve always been fascinated with art’s ability to transform objects, images, and actions into something else,” he says. “What makes a clump of clay into an invaluable sculpture? What makes the movement of the body into dance? What makes sound into music? The answer to all of these is art.

Archival print from DuLaney’s 2018 ART Brand performance at the Splendora Gardens.

“Growing up in Splendora, I discovered the world of art through the James Surls studio, where I became an intern and was exposed to artists, exhibitions, performances, and an entire creative universe,” he recalls. Those connections soon took him across the country as he gained more and more experience in the art world.

“My entire adult life and career in New York, LA, and now back in Texas, has all been lived under a creative umbrella encompassing some pretty exciting career opportunities. Flash-forward to the present, and I currently have a piece of sculpture in the A Gift from the Bower show curated by DiverseWorks out at the Locke Surls Center for Art and Nature in Splendora.”

What has garnered the most national attention from the public, however, is DuLaney’s gift-wrapping abilities.

“Working as the creative director for a paper-goods company, I was nominated to represent the company in a national gift-wrap competition. The event was held at Rockefeller Center, home of NBC. When the curtains opened and with the cameras rolling, the show began. I won the competition! The next thing I knew, I was in a limo headed to Good Morning America. That afternoon, I was on a flight to LA for a talk show. The press appearances have continued for the last 15 years. CBS Sunday Morning did a feature and coined my now-famous nickname: The World’s Most Famous Gift Wrap Artist!”

Alton DuLaney on set with Rachael Ray

Currently, DuLaney is the Houston Airport System’s curator of public art, overseeing one of the largest public art collections in Texas. DuLaney says this title comes with a lot of pride, and he strives to leave travelers with a fantastic exposure to Houston’s diverse art scene.

“As the curator, I am playing to my audience,” he says. “At the Houston airports, that audience is literally the world. We serve, on average, one million passengers per week. The largest museum in Houston doesn’t get that many visitors in an entire year! So, the exposure for our artists and our program is unparalleled anywhere in the city. Our goal at the airport is to deliver a 5-star guest experience, for which the public-art program plays an important role. Many of our guests [who just change planes in Houston] never leave the airport, so we want to provide them with a taste of the culturally rich and creative talent that is the Houston art world.”

There is something so multifaceted and exciting about Houston’s art scene, with its Southern sensibilities and its melting pot of artists who create their art with an eclectic and interesting palette. 

“Having lived in a number of cities around the world, Houston has by far the most supportive and embracing art scene,” he says. “It is friendly, hospitable, and welcoming. There is undeniably some of that Southern charm. It makes me proud to call Texas home.”

RT Bench 1, 2021. Carved gray Texas granite, on view at the Splendora Art and Nature Center.

DuLaney believes that the LGBTQ community’s natural affection for art is because the community is forced to be creative in a predominately straight world.

“It takes an inventive mind and an inspired sense of survival to navigate cultural norms to find your true self,” he observes. “The world of art is a safe haven for many original thinkers and non-traditionals—not just the gay community. The world of art, television, film, and decor are realms of created realities. Similarly, each of us ultimately creates our own reality.”

Art will always be an important part of our society because the medium can mend gaps and spark conversation between groups of people, DuLaney says.

“There is always beauty in art, if we are open to see it. Art can get you to surround yourself with beautiful people, places, and things.”

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Connor Behrens

Connor Behrens is a communications graduate from the University of Houston. He has written for the Washington Post, Community Impact Newspaper and the Galveston County Daily News (the oldest newspaper in Texas). When he's not writing stories, he is likely watching the latest new release at the movie theater.
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