Five of the Best Dallas-based artists who prefer to do it in public.
Dallas has sustained a respectable outdoor art scene since the ’90s heyday of Deep Ellum’s murals. But today’s street art—and the artists to thank for it—have become an indispensable ingredient of every up-and-coming and established neighborhood across the Metroplex. From the Bishop Arts District to Uptown to the wilds of Plano, it’s hard to find a part of our city that doesn’t possess at least one Instaworthy wall. Meet five of our favorite locals who are keeping things colorful. —Kendall Morgan
A graphic designer-turned-muralist, Kyle Steed entered the street art world full force with paintings on the Plaza of the Americas building downtown, along the Trinity Trail, and adorning the reverse side of the iconic Coors Light billboard off of Harry Hines Boulevard.
Time spent living in Japan while serving in the Air Force helped him hone his minimalist eye. “When I think of art, I think of deep things that challenge people’s perception of reality,” say Steed. “One thing about murals that intrigues me is that they can affect people on a subconscious level. You may not even pay close attention, but the power of the work radiates off the wall.”
Known for utilizing a monochromatic palette, Steed has recently expanded into glorious Technicolor, crafting a vibrant wall outside Bishop Arts’ Neighborhood Cellar. While 2018 was about “an explosion of color and risking it all,” his larger goal remains recreating the gallery experience on the city’s streets. “I want to bring a purer kind of experience to the public spectrum,” he says.
With an Aztec-on-acid aesthetic, Drigo’s mix of ancient and pop culture is so compelling that everyone from Sweet Tooth Hotel to Urban Taco to Converse has come calling for one of his works.
“When I first started painting, it was more Native American and a lot darker,” Drigo (née Eric Rodriguez) explains. “But as I developed, I was reading more about different cultures and playing with visual language. I’m Mexican, so I got more interested in Aztec culture along with Mongolian and African—I just sort of mesh that all together.”
Only 24 years old and self-taught, Drigo has come a long way since creating his first mural in his hometown of McKinney, Texas. Balancing his time between concrete and canvas, Drigo is currently planning his largest (60- by 36-foot) work to date. “Big art plays a big part
in the growth of different neighborhoods,” he says.
After graduating with a studio arts degree from the University of Texas, painter Mariell Guzman embraced screen-printing, selling her canvases alongside her line of tees, bags, and jewelry. “I wanted to not limit myself to the gallery world where only some can afford your art,” she recalls. “I wanted to exist and be in everyone’s life.” She later moved on to murals as “the ultimate way to give everybody access to the power of art.”
Approached to contribute to The Foundry’s Inspiration Alley in Fort Worth last year, Guzman opted to colorize the largest space she could get her hands on: a 75- by 35-foot wall behind the Craftwork Coffee Co. In the street art world, there are few female artists and going big showed she meant business. It paid off. Artist Will Heron approached her about joining his Wild West Mural Fest, and she is up to create a new work at The Hill.
Drawing on the palette of her native Monterrey, Mexico, Guzman says she wants to continue her trajectory in the street art world. “Just like the way plants grow in one direction or another, I want to make my imagery appear to be fluid or expand in a way that’s not just completely static,” she says. “It’s always about transforming visual information into something new.”
What are words worth? Quite a lot in the hands of Brennen Bechtol, who is as adept at creating traditional signage as he is crafting amusing murals designed to make viewers stop and think. From his Oak Cliff-based studio, Bechtol harnesses his studio arts background to vividly proclaim: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat Tex-Mex,” and “Long Live the Death of Sign Painting.”
“I started painting these signs to poke fun at the seriousness of sign painters,” he says. “A lot of it was influenced by hand-painted signage I’d see around town—there’s always one or two that aren’t lined up correctly. I like all those little flaws.”
Burnt out on the traditional gallery system after years of showing at spaces such as 500x Gallery and Fort Worth’s William Campbell, Bechtol was first drawn to murals when a friend asked him to create a work for their Oak Cliff skate shop.
This snowballed from a side-gig into a full-time job, and now Bechtol splits his time between logo and sign commissions and murals for the likes of Walnut Hill’s new shopping enclave, The Hill.
You may see his phrases all over town, but what you won’t see is Bechtol taking himself too
seriously. “The more quirky and fun stuff comes because I like the release of just doing and saying whatever I want and having that creative freedom.”
Dallas street art wouldn’t be what it is today without Will Heron. The artist, who paints with an art and design crew under the moniker “Wheron,” has done so much for local murals and muralists from his now-defunct West Dallas project space The Platform to his ongoing Wild West Murals series.
A part-time high school teacher, Heron makes time to both expand his personal practice and continually curate the work of others. For him, the recent proliferation of murals is a good thing—not just for fans of his optic, black-and-white works, but for the city at large.
“Public art is a visual marker for a city. It’s a taste of that city’s culture—not unlike architecture or nature,” he explains. “When you put up a wall in Bishop Arts or Deep Ellum, you’re joining a decade-long conversation with street artists.”
With more than 25 walls scattered around the city, including Walnut Hill, Bishop Arts, and Deep Ellum, Heron is “cresting the wave” of the mural trend with hopes to paint walls around the globe.
“I think it’s magical how artists get to represent themselves in the world,” he says. “I really want to push my craft and evolve as an artist first and foremost—take a piece of what’s in my head and leave something nice for people to look at.”