As the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas, and murals are no exception. From Texas’s bustling cities to more remote, smaller communities, murals are becoming ubiquitous. In addition to telling stories, making statements, and educating, these life-sized splashes of color are transforming unremarkable spaces into extraordinary canvases.
J. Harding & Co., a screen-printing and design business in the Houston Heights District, knew what to do to stand out when it commissioned artist Beans Barton to paint a funky, playful mural of cartoonish lime green cats, orange and green oversized bird busts, and a frog with full, smiling lips. The Houston Is Inspired mural (by artist Mario Figueroa, Jr.) spanning one side of a sprawling building on Travis Street across from Market Square Park is, as intended, inspiring to gaze upon. Its style of psychedelic graffiti weaves vibrant colors, patterns, and designs on a proverbial canvas that is both busy and bright. Figueroa’s intent was to highlight Houston’s arts and culinary scene. At one time, the mural was the number-one Houston photo posted to Instagram.
Diverse and historic San Antonio has so many murals that it offers a map online with the locations of walls San Antonio Street Art has commissioned artists to paint. According to its website, since 2018, the nonprofit has been paving the way for murals and street art in the Alamo City to create The Largest Outdoor Gallery in Texas™. From underneath bridges to the sides of buildings to outdoor parking garages, the organization is responsible for 63 murals from 46 artists and counting. Many murals in San Antonio memorialize celebrities, including Chef Anthony Bourdain and Tejano singer Selena, and pay tribute to those still living, including Spurs basketball players Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and country crooner George Strait. The latter, titled King George, depicts the Texas singer in full regalia, including a crown atop his cowboy hat.
Art in Uncommon Places is the driving force behind many murals and outdoor art pieces in historic San Angelo, a city of about 100,000 people. AIUP’s Julie Raymond and Joy Thomas draw from San Angelo’s vast talent pool of fellow artists to transform the most unexpected and neglected spaces: alleyways, once-abandoned lots, and bridges. They collaborated with Downtown San Angelo Inc. for the Pop Art Museum on Twohig, an open-air museum named for the pop art movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, which borrowed imagery from pop culture, comic books, and everyday objects. Pop Art Museum showcases dozens of murals from more than 30 artists.
A block away, Paintbrush Alley breathes new life into the backsides of buildings, which are affixed with panels all thematic of the movie Giant. The 1956 classic was largely filmed in and around Marfa and stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean.
Longtime muralist Crystal Goodman, whose largest and most difficult project in San Angelo was a downtown two-story building, said murals on businesses can draw in more traffic, educate, and convey a message. “The latest, largest mural I’ve done is for TXDOT, and it was the Road Runner [from Loony Toons] cleaning up everyone’s trash,” she said. “He has a trash bag in his mouth, and it says, ‘Don’t Mess With Texas.’ I hope it helps show people [and kids] that your trash is hurting the animals, and not just the environment.”
Indoor murals can also have a profound impact. Child Protective Services’ offices in San Angelo in 2020 renovated four parent-child visitation rooms, each with a mural and theme.
“Artist Ashley Perales designed The Lorax [room] to where kids felt like they were walking into a story book,” said Liliana Mata, Faith- Based Community Engagement Specialist for The Department of Family and Protective Services. “The space theme [spraypainted by Inx Davila] was designed to be a place of solace. Gabi Torres said she chose superheroes who had overcome obstacles so the children could feel they were strong, too. The jungle mural [by Lexi Haag] had characters facing the door, so when the children walked in, all the animals were looking and smiling at them, as if they were welcoming them; parents could also talk to the kids about what animal it was and interact more with them. The murals create that atmosphere that promotes bonding between parent and child.”
Long renowned for its thriving arts community, it is no surprise that the capital city is chock full of murals. The I love you so much painted in red loopy cursive on the exterior of Jo’s Coffee on Congress Avenue is simple but still a popular background for social media photos. Musician Amy Cook wrote the romantic proclamation to her partner, Liz Lambert, the owner of Jo’s, probably never imagining what a tourist magnet the wall would become.
On 1st Street, the Greetings From Austin mural made to look like a vintage postcard is another attraction that artists Rory Skagen and Todd Sanders unveiled in the 1990s. The mural depicts the city’s major landmarks, including the state capitol building, the University of Texas tower, Congress Avenue Bridge, and Barton Springs.
Just a few blocks over, on 6th Street—Austin’s hub for live music and shopping—a mural comprised of staggered blocks in shades of baby blue, red, and rust proclaim the city’s status as the Live Music Capital of the World, welcomes visitors and notes its 1839 founding date.
Austin’s most high-profile (literally) and colorful mural is the hand-painted rainbow stretching more than 100 feet tall outside a parking garage of a building on the corner of 2nd and Brazos Street. The Capital Improvement Project commissioned Transylvania-born Austin resident Josef Kristofoletti, who completed it in 2018. Kristofoletti titled it Tau Ceti, named for a star in the Cetus constellation, which has an infrared spectrum akin to the sun. He said he also intended for the rainbow to be thematic of diversity and unity.
Many Texas murals have achieved social media fame, but the intention behind them is more poignant. Murals on some historic, once nondescript buildings pay homage to notorious figures and educate passersby about a town’s history and heritage, while the colorful stories stretched across the walls of office spaces and businesses lend an inviting, artistic ambiance.
“I suppose a mural will make people slow down and look up, take a minute to see what’s around them,” Goodman said.
Perhaps mural hunting will teach you something, stir something within you, or if nothing else, provide the perfect backdrop for a social media selfie.