Consider Austin a blank canvas or even an ever-changing masterpiece. Though the humble street artists that paint the city would never admit to the latter, that’s how we think of their work and something we’re very proud to show off on all our tours.
Austin’s culture may have been paved by music, but it’s colored by spray paint and that’s visible with every step you take in this city! You can’t go very far in Austin without seeing a mural, stencil or even a wheatpaste that can literally move with the help of technology. While some pieces stick around for years, others may only be available for mere minutes!
No place is this more evident than HOPE Outdoor Gallery, where the street art and murals change with each day, depending on what’s going on in the world or what’s on the artist’s mind. Rather than hopelessly looking for one particular piece – why not be on the lookout for different street artists and their unique style? Here are a few of our favorites to spot when wandering around Austin.
Originally from El Paso, Archuleta, also known as El Federico, was influenced by both cultures on the border town, which is one characteristic you’ll find in his work.
“El Paso is a grey zone between the black and white of the Mexican/American border, in that both cultures mix so that everyday conversation is both Spanish and English,” says Federico. “So that spilled over into my work.”
El Federico always loved drawing and started painting at age 13. He arrived in Austin in 2001 permanently after visiting several times before and loving it. Always an artist, he started on the street art scene in here in 2003 while working on window displays at Tower Records. While he uses a lot of different techniques and themes. He does have a particular style that’s very well-known.
“There is a Mexican pop culture theme with much of what I do,” he says. ‘The stencil style is only one facet of my work.”
His art is colorful and vibrant and can be found throughout the city. Some destinations to find his work are on the Goodwill Boutique location at 914 N. Lamar as well as Green and White Grocery (1201 E. 7th Street) and Whistlers (1816 E. 6th Street).
Also known as “Sloke”, this Austin native has been apart of the city’s street art scene since the 90s and is one of the originals to the current movement.
He says it was films like “Beat Street” and “Wild Style” that exposed him to the scene in New York as a kid growing up in the 80s and inspired him to find that in Austin. Luckily, Al Martinez, aka SKAM was a mentor him early on.
“Austin was very different back then,” Nordstrom says. “[Street art] was very underground. You had to know the right people, more than that, you had to know the handshake. It wasn’t for the public. It was for the artists.”
Sloke returned from a stint living in San Francisco in 1994, which could be considered his college education in street art as he learned from the scene there and sketched a lot, only to find sad news about his mentor and the hometown street art scene he loved.
“Al passed in 1995, so I would now have to learn myself,” he says. “When I started in Austin, graffiti was dead, it was all gang-banging and tagging and I didn’t want to do that.”
After being arrested three times for graffiti, he had to make a decision.
“Do I quit doing the thing I love,” Nordstrom says. “For me it was more of a personal decision to continue doing what I love without the consequences and the way I found to do that was by knocking on business doors and asking… I started getting permission and that led to commission and that led to doing it professionally”
That was in the early 2000s and Sloke says he’s happy to see how the scene has developed and become more acceptable and appreciated in Austin since then.
His work is raw street art, in the same style as the 80s graffiti of NYC that inspired him originally. It also has characteristics of street art from the West Coast, where he lived for a few years. His skills, technique and creativity produce a piece of self-expression that is like nothing else you’ll ever see around Austin.
You can find his more permanent work behind the White Horse off E. 6th Street also on the Austin Metal and Iron building on E. 4th Street.
Sweet is a staple on the street art scene in Austin these days. Her bright, bubbly and humorous murals can be seen all around town and she can be found quite often at HOPE Outdoor Gallery, not only creating herself, but also checking out other artists, maybe because that’s where it all began for her.
“I moved to Austin in the early 90’s to work as an engineer,” says Sweet. “Three years ago I decided to attempt my first aerosol painting at HOPE Outdoor Gallery, because that place is an amazing opportunity for an artist!, and I’ve been hooked on it ever since.”
You might have guessed by her name a characteristic of her work, but there are a few.
“I only paint large-scale murals and I only use spray paint-no brushes,” she says. “I think I can pretty much paint any subject at this point, but my personal style is definitely positive and usually colorful. Also I love to paint food, especially sweets.”
Just like a good sweet – her works will always indulge your soul and make you smile. You can find it often at HOPE, but more permanent murals on buildings like Jerry’s Artarama, Lustre Pearl East and Rock Rose in the Domain.
Johnston goes by the name “Truth” and that’s what he wants his art to tell. He started showing up on the Austin street art scene when he moved here in 2010. Though he went to college for art, it was not until he and his wife spent four years living abroad.
“When we taught in Shanghai and Kuwait our schools were blank canvases and they gave us freedom to paint the walls,” says Johnston. “It was great practice!”
He spent 12 years teaching in schools and continues to teach in different ways today, inspiring younger artists. They inspired him, now he hopes to inspire them through street art.
“Watching kids create without filter or inhibition gave me courage to create whatever I wanted and not to worry about rejection,” says Johnston. “I still travel to schools and do lessons with youth on street art and mural techniques. Occasionally I have interns and that helps me grow as well. Being able to create art is one thing, but getting to share some tricks-of-the-trade with the next generation is empowering!”
With a comic book style, he often pays homage to well known figures, like his Michael Jordan or Mr. T. His work includes painted murals, stickers (made with wheatpaste) and stencils. He’s been commission by SXSW and Alamo Drafthouse among others to paint murals.
“Street art is the best way to share your art with the world,” he says. “Its nonexclusive and can reach the masses. I love that I can take my favorite heroes and inspirational quotes and share that with others.”
Johnston, along with Lucas Aoki painted the ninja mural on the outside of Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter (5701 W Slaughter Lane). You can see all his past and current work on his website. He is very involved in the Austin art scene, a member of SprATX and his work can be found at the Austin Art Garage. You can even make it permanent on your own walls!
Street art is also a family affair in Austin. Aoki not only worked with our last artist, Johnston, on the Alamo Drafthouse mural, they’re brothers-in-law! They have the same love of character painting, but with very different styles and also a very different history, with Aoki growing up in Cordoba, Argentina.
“I grew up spending so much time hanging out outside with my friends and exploring nature (the river was, and still is, a few blocks away from the house) when the area wasn’t so developed,” says Aoki. “Outdoor activities with friends and family pretty much every weekend was the best and most important part of my childhood.”
While his work ranges, you see a lot of the character style around town.
“I’m not sure if there’s a particular theme in my artwork and I try not to go for a specific subject,” he says. “But I guess I could say there’s some sort of interaction of different characters/creatures trying to tell a story of some sort? Some people say is imaginative, whimsical, from a different world that seems familiar at the same time. I feel it will evolve as I learn new ways to express myself.”
He moved to Austin to be closer to his wife’s family, but the move inspired this artists to turn to street art.
“Murals have always inspired me, so after getting started with canvas painting I decided I wanted to experience getting my visions on a wall. I’m happy I did. I got to understand what it meant for people that are not exposed to art on a regular basis. They have the chance to experience art in person in a very accessible and natural way.”
One example of his work is the mural he did with POW! WOW! on Barton Springs Road near Terry Blacks. Like Johnston, Aoki’s work can be found at Austin Art Garage and he’s a member of SprATX.
This list only scratches the surface of the creative force in our city’s streets. We hope it helps to start your education of Austin street art though and we recommend using HOPE Outdoor Gallery as a classroom at least to start. If you want to learn about other street artists and local culture, while also eating street food, check out our Street Art, Street Food tour! It’s a unique way to see and learn about Austin.