[gentle music] - I am driven to paint women, not exalted or anything like that, but in their highest self and in their most magical self and in their most mythical self.
That's what I mean by goddess art.
[inspirational music] [Narrator] Women are rising on the walls of Austin, Texas.
From legacy murals honoring accomplished artists and activists to spiritual icons with messages of female empowerment, public images of women are flourishing in this eclectic Texas town.
Come face to face with the Au stin murals celebrating women and the artists who are creating them... here on "Muraling Austin."
[inspirational music] [upbeat music] Stencil muralist, Niz, has mo re than 30 murals in Austin-- several on large public walls and many more located on private properties or businesses.
She describes her work as street art with a spiritual twist and often includes mythical elements.
While her murals include a wide variety of subjects, women are a particular inspiration.
- The goddess archetype stuff, I really just started calling it that but I feel like I've been doing it for a while.
I am driven to paint women.
I like to imagine that we're creating their most fantastic version of themself.
[soft music] [Narrator] One of her public murals featuring this archetype resides on the wall of a high traffic underpass in the heart of downtown's re sidential high-rise community.
The "Be Well" murals were created during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic by the City of Austin's Art in Public Places Program and curated by the nonprofit or ganization Raasin in the Sun.
- It was part of a public arts project for the City of Austin.
They picked out six of us to create murals that would uplift mental health and so I chose to tackle the spiritual aspect of it, getting more in touch with that inner flame, that inner source of strength that you can tap into when times are really hard.
[inspirational music] So I have a mirror image of a girl and one side represents like your real self, your actual self, the one that moves around in the physical world and then the other side is like sunset colors.
And that one refers to that inner part of yourself that you can draw strength from when things are really hard and when it seems like everything else is dark.
I feel like access to public art, and especially art that uplifts people improves the quality of life.
The mural that I created on the South Lamar underpass, the whole point of that was to uplift people during a time in the pandemic where people were super down and they might be sitting in traffic and having a bad day and to have something of substance on the wall that would just uplift them.
I feel like it just makes life better.
[upbeat music] [Narrator] Originally from Lima, Peru, Niz and her family immigrated to the United States when she was a child.
Her journey to creating large scale murals started on small surfaces, skateboards and healthcare flyers for street teens.
- I moved to California when I was 12.
I kind of immediately fell into the subculture of skateboarding and, initially, I got into spray painting through skateboarding.
A lot of skateboarders wanted their grip tape painted, the part you stand on on a skateboard.
And so I made it my mission to learn how to do it.
And then I started playing with it and eventually my first art jobs were making grip tape for skate shops.
I was in college at UC Santa Cruz and I started volunteering for an HIV prevention, hepatitis C prevention drop-in center, and we catered to like punk rock kind of street kids.
So there was a need for high quality public health.
You know like when you go to the doctor's office and you get a pamphlet and it's really boring and you don't wanna read it.
[upbeat music] So I got into the aspect of making health more appealing, you know, by making it brighter, by using different language.
Once I got into social work, I realized that there really was a need for art within that context.
So I think that kind of transitioned me over.
I started wanting to learn how to have more of an impact visually, and so that's how it started.
And then I just got on the path of being an artist.
[upbeat music] [Narrator] That path ev entually led to Austin, Texas and creating stencil art in public places.
- A lot of people started encouraging me to paint graffiti and it wasn't necessarily something that I was super interested in.
Graffiti is painting letters illegally, but when I moved to Austin and I didn't really know anybody, the graffiti artists here are some of the first people I met, and they invited me to paint, but in the traditional sense of the word, I wasn't painting graffiti.
I was painting stencils, which is different.
I would do stencils on skateboards but then I would also do stencils on the street.
So I was painting what's now known as street art but I was painting it with other graffiti artists.
[gentle music] Well, the stencil art that I do is photo-based.
So I start out with a photo and then I break it down into different shades or layers.
I print those out and then I hand cut all the different shades, one piece of paper per shade, and then when I go to paint it, I layer.
So I start with like a base color and then I add a darker color and then a darker color and then lighter colors.
And then for my backgrounds I use a water painting technique.
It's house paint that's watered down and then that follows like a certain gradient pattern.
I like the colors to resemble colors in nature.
So if I want it to have a certain impact like a knowledge of color symbolism or just the effect that certain colors might have on somebody.
[inspirational music] [Narrator] Vibrant colors, images of nature and spiritual symbols are building blocks for her murals.
She also often pairs images that might seem unconnected.
- I can paint a musician with mermaids coming out of the trumpet and all that's on the surface seems very unrelated, but in the end all of those themes have to do with some type of elevation of consciousness, having a more deeper or more meaningful experience.
[inspirational music] This was one of the most inspirational projects I did and it was one of the most life changing, coming up with the ideas and manifesting it into the physical world and it really inspired me to do more projects like it.
The overall inspiration for the mural started from a conversation with the owners of the house about different levels of consciousness about the spiritual journey and incorporating elements of free-diving.
It kind of follows a storyline.
The first thing is Bastet, and that's the Egyptian cat God, represents fertility.
We call this section of the mural "The Portal."
So it's how you kind of drop into the spiritual experience or drop into a different level of consciousness and that represents the moment in your spiritual journey where you let go of things, the death of things that don't serve you and that aren't good for you.
[upbeat music] [Narrator] Raising awareness of the contributions of community leaders is also an important mission for Niz.
The "Resilience" mural bordering an outdoor movie theater in East Austin was just such a project.
- I did it along with Raasin from Raasin in the Sun.
We chose to highlight hyper-local prominent figures from the Black community in East Austin in the hopes of just bringing attention to them and honoring them and then educating people that are moving here about the history of East Austin.
There's a lot of pastors, there's a lot of community leaders, there's a lot of civil rights activists.
The first one is Nick Turner.
He is an educator and a rapper.
Dorothy Turner, civil rights activist, Harrison Eppright who's a historian in Austin who does Black history tours.
Cindy Elizabeth does photojournalism of different African Americans in east Austin.
McClelland, renowned pastor in East Austin.
Super inspirational group of people that did a lot for the community.
[inspirational music] I really want my impact to make the city more vibrant and to establish this city as a place where there's a creative freedom with an elevated state of consciousness.
[dramatic music] [Narrator] Providing opportunities for creative expression in Austin is a mission for muralist, Luis Angulo, whose artist handle is ULOANG.
Founder of the artist collective and gallery, Something Cool Studios in East Austin and the Looking Up Mural Fest, Luis makes space for muralists, mosaic artists, graphic designers and more to create, collaborate, and display their work.
- We're building a community and setting a stage for artists where they can flourish and grow.
There's an immense amount of talent here in Austin and we wanna create opportunities for ourselves and for other artists to just grow together.
[Narrator] Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Luis moved to Miami when he was 11 years old.
Inspired by the artwork of his grandmother and encouraged by his parents, he eventually earned a BFA with a focus on painting as well as a master of fine arts.
- I would describe my art as large.
I like to work big.
That's why murals kinda really suits my style.
I would say also my art is varied.
I don't only do murals, I do sculpture, I work on canvas, I do augmented reality and animation.
So you could say I have artistic ADD just 'cause I can't sit still.
My art is just always moving, changing, evolving.
[audience cheering] - That's the artist right here, y'all, yeah!
[gentle music] [Narrator] While his journey as an artist began in the US, his childhood in Venezuela had a strong impact on his creative instincts.
- My parents decided to move to the States.
I'm so thankful they did that because in Venezuela, the situation is really rough right now.
But the imagery in Venezuela finds itself in my work a lot.
I was impacted by the slums, for example, Los Barrios that are on the mountainside.
People basically had no other place to live, so they took over these mountainsides and built their homes on them.
It's really impacting visually to see a lot of different colors and textures and shapes.
So that kind of imagery pops into my work a lot.
Inspirations come to me from many different sources, noticing how perhaps neighborhoods are changing, society's changing.
Just from looking at the world around me, social issues that are happening around the world I'd like to explore in my work.
So a lot of times my canvas work in particular will have kind of a political message to it.
[gentle music] [Narrator] Elevating women's stories is one such message.
Luis had the opportunity to assist in installing the largest mural in Austin, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment.
- As a father to a six-year-old girl, I can see now how important it is to create art like that that has that message and to continue to help society evolve ideas of what a women's place in society should be.
[upbeat music] [Narrator] When a developer commissioned Luis to create a mural on the side of a new office building in East Austin, his impulse to celebrate women and honor the historic culture of the neighborhood came into play.
- Mexican families have lived here for many generations.
The developers wanted to put art on the building that would honor the culture of the neighborhood.
We landed on a mural honoring Frida Kahlo who's a Mexican artist and very famous, very beloved.
She symbolized somebody who fought hard to keep her identity and to do things her way.
She was a pioneer in many ways.
So I wanted to, in the mural, include somebody that represented these values of strength and courage and I was happy to get the opportunity to pay tribute to her and the woman that she was, the artist that she was and all the contributions she did for the art world and for society.
[gentle music] I first started with the photograph of Frida.
It's a very iconic photo of her where she's just reclined and she seems to be lost in thought.
Then I had to build a whole world around her wanting to make it all very symbolic and layered and rich.
I wanted to make it colorful.
So I included a lot of different types of desert flowers found in this area or in Mexico.
I also included some birds as well to have a playful symbolism to it.
And then I also worked with tepid patterns you would find on tiles in Mexico.
All these components came together to create this composition.
I really tried to put my heart into it and take risks and be daring and bold with the choices I was making artistically which is what she was all about.
[Narrator] The Frida Kahlo mural is on private property, however, creating public murals is something that Luis feels most passionate about.
- Public art opportunities give artists creative freedom, are extremely important because us muralists, we make a living out of doing commercial murals.
So if you paint something for a burger joint, the general public, they can tell they're advertisements and they don't have depth or meaning or symbolism.
They're not engaging.
There's nothing lasting about 'em.
So those murals will disappear over time, right?
So when I'm creating public art, first I feel honored to even have the opportunity because my work is mostly murals on exterior walls.
I take that responsibility very serious because I'm creating stuff that's gonna be out in the open and people are gonna have to see this art piece every day.
[dramatic music] [Narrator] Luis was also invited to contribute to the "Be Well" murals on the walls of the South Lamar underpass.
It was a project he had long envisioned.
- This wall is a wall that I always dreamt of painting.
They're massive walls, but also the traffic that you get through South Lamar, and thousands of people get to see it on a daily basis and that's what you want as an artist, you want people to see and appreciate your work as much as possible.
So this mural was based on a sketch that I created when we were first stuck in quarantine.
I was inspired by the feeling of feeling stuck and not just in a physical sense, but also maybe in a psychological or an emotional sense.
It starts with all the figures kind of in these colorful cubicles... and then it transitions into an open space where the cubicles are kind of disintegrating and then it finally ends with the portrayal of this woman who's kind of floating in air and free of her confinement.
So it's meant to be read from left to right to see that transition of feeling trapped and breaking out of that and taking flight.
[upbeat music] Public art opportunities are extremely important because all of a sudden you're creating art that's pushing the envelope forward.
It's helping the art form progress.
It's challenging the public, it's creating something that has depth and symbolism.
So these mural opportunities like public art give a chance for the artist to really express themselves and take those risks.
That's what I hope my legacy will be.
[gentle music] [Narrator] Texas native, Sadé Lawson, also created a message of wellness near the South Lamar underpass.
Her mural entitled, "It's Okay Not To Be Okay," was one of two large-scale murals commissioned by the downtown Austin Alliance Foundation for their first Writing on the Walls initiative in 2020.
- It was all about women's empowerment.
So I kind of wanted to take another role with women's empowerment, being us being empowered by all of our emotions and that we feel.
It's one figure but it's one figure expressing three different emotions and she's submerged in a body of water with lotus flowers in it and one figure is more happy, the middle's more assertive and then the blue figure is more despair.
As women, we have this expectation that we are like the nurturers.
We don't have time to be sad or to be mad.
So just kind of putting that in that space and letting people know it's okay to not be okay and that you really can be empowered by feeling everything that encompasses being human.
And that even if you do struggle, that there's still hope and that it doesn't make you any less of a person.
[upbeat music] Mental health is big in my work.
It's something that I struggle with.
So art to me is really just one of the few ways that I kind of process everything in life, whether it's something that happens to me or that I notice going on around me, it just kind of is a lot easier sometimes to translate thoughts into imagery.
I like to gather as much potential visual information as possible because it's like putting together the pieces of a puzzle.
Most street artists are predominantly spray painters.
[energetic music] Coming into like the scene here was very daunting because I felt like I needed to adapt to what they were doing instead of realizing I can still paint how I paint on the streets.
I just need to get more paint and bigger brushes.
I like to use spray paint for sketching and sometimes for filling simple stuff.
But then I do all of my detail work with brushes.
I have big mural brushes that I use that just kind of really get it done quickly.
I love color and I correlate it a lot with like feelings and moods.
It's very powerful and I just love loud, vibrant work.
It just speaks to me and it kind of like just draws me in and I feel like a lot of the work that has inspired me has been very vibrant.
I would definitely consider myself a shy introverted individual.
It's just at times harder for me to kind of say things.
I feel outspoken more internally than I am externally.
So art, I can kind of say whatever I wanna say.
It can be as big and loud and crazy as I want to.
I can just put it all onto the canvas or the panel or the wall... and let the images speak for themselves.
[upbeat music] [Narrator] Sadé began exploring art in middle school receiving accolades through the Texas University Interscholastic League.
The UIL organizes competitions for public high school students throughout the state in a variety of areas, including the arts.
- I just remember getting a lot of positive feedback and then that just kind of stayed as a constant in my life.
After I graduated, it was just kind of like a matter of knowing I am an artist but where do I fit?
Like what path is kind of right for me?
And it's really been like a big like trial and error of being like open-minded to whatever opportunities come my way.
I never thought that I was going to be a muralist.
It feels liberating being able to like work on a large scale and be able to like move your body and stuff like that while you're working.
It's very, very, very vulnerable.
It's kind of brings a mix of feelings and emotions but then when you're done and you can kind of step back and see what you've accomplished, it's just like I can't believe me, like a tiny like human was able to kind of do something with just my two hands.
It's pretty wild.
It feels pretty incredible.
While you're working on it though, whew, it's hard.
It's hard work.
I would not trade it for anything.
[giggles] [Narrator] Another one of Sadé's large scale murals sits just a couple of miles south on the same busy South Lamar corridor.
The mural was a collaborative project with two other artists, Niz and Zuzu Perkal.
It honors two influential civil rights activists, Angela Davis and Austinite, Dorothy Turner.
- We chose people that really stood up for what they believed in.
I painted Dorothy Turner and just kind of put the message that, you know, your potential is limitless.
I feel like they're both women who were very loud and tenacious and fought for what they believed in.
Dorothy Turner was an activist here in Austin.
She fought a lot for rights of people specifically in the Black community.
She definitely was a fighter.
Sometimes you kinda need those people to be loud and speak up and say the things that we all wish that we could say.
Putting two Black women on a wall who were predominantly like in social justice kind of work, that can only help educate people to let them know of people who they may not have known about.
Especially who were influential here in town.
[uplifting music] [Narrator] While large-scale murals are plentiful, Austin also harbors a plethora of smaller, hidden gems on fences, shops, walls and uncommon objects.
Customers sitting outside at Try Hard Coffee Roasters on East 11th might not notice that bordering the patio is another one of Sadé's murals.
- So while I was working on the Black Artists Matter mural that's actually on the street, this coffee shop was in the process of like still being built and they actually had asked me like, "Hey, like would you be interested in painting our fence?
We just kinda want something tarot card themed."
There's the figure and she's holding the scroll and then there's the pomegranates are around her and there's two pillars and just all the symbolism but it's in my own kinda like style.
- As an artist myself and as an art teacher, I'm always thrilled to see art in public spaces when we're grabbing a cup of coffee or you know, walking our dogs.
I think it's beautiful to have something like Sadé's mural remind us that beauty and poetry is part of the everyday experience.
- Making art like as a woman of color and just an artist of color, I think it's just very important.
I would love to continue to make work that is representational not only of me, but the people that I look up to and that maybe people don't really see a lot of.
And I just wanna be able to share stories with other people who may not understand the things that we go through.
And I feel like art really has that power to bring people together and have those conversations.
[upbeat music] - Graffiti and street art is about the democratization of art that anybody and everybody can do it and you can do whatever you like.
It's just complete freedom of expression.
- I really want street art's impact to be empowering to establish this city as a place where there's creative freedom and the desire to be a better society.
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