It started in Waco. Mick Burson, 16 at the time, watched freight trains decorated with graffiti roll past him. The markings felt free to him. They represented a breed of art that wasn't self-serving or introspective, but mobile, liberated. He absorbed these inscriptions and wondered where the artists were from. In what city did the paint originate? When a city paper named two local graffiti artists, he managed to find and join them. With them, Burson developed a name for his work (which he's careful not to divulge), but kept a code when painting — he never wanted to inconvenience anyone. When tagging trains, Burson avoided marking over identifying information used by operators.
"It was always guilt-free," he says. "You're not destroying anyone's homes, and I like the fact that it's just gone the next day. You don't know where it ends up."
Eleven years and one move to Denton later, he continues the same practice — but now he just asks for commission instead. Burson takes his unrepentant love for public art and channels it into murals around the city. And if you've driven anywhere around the town's square, you've already crossed paths with his work by accident.
Back in Waco, he'd had two run-ins with authorities around the age of 20 when he realized he needed to adjust his course. But in doing so he had no intention of changing the message — just the medium. He asked local business owners if he could paint their walls with his drawings and found most people were accepting or excited to provide a canvas.
Burson's relocation resulted from a nudge by an ex-girlfriend. She'd filled out an application for him to the University of North Texas in Denton to attend alongside her, and he was accepted. By the time he moved there, the relationship had dissolved. But he opted to still pursue studies in the city, despite not knowing anyone.
"It was kind of weird at first, for sure," he says. "But I really love what Denton offers, and I've been able to survive on my art here."
In order to eschew the starving artist stigma, Burson makes the majority of his income from doing sign painting for Denton businesses. You can see his work at the Creative Art Studio, Denton Camera Exchange, and Oak St. Drafthouse to name a few. And though he's thankful for those opportunities, they don't quite offer the creative freedom that he desires. When he gets that itch, he looks for a wall.
Painting a mural usually takes about six days, eight hours each. First he uses a level and china marker to sketch the skeleton of the mural, drawing all the vertical and horizontal lines that he plans to fill in. Once that's done, he'll add accents and gradients at his own discretion before proceeding with the planned vision for the wall. Though he used to be more prone to using spray paint, he's recently grown more fond of rollers and brushes because of it requires a meticulous attention to the details.
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"With brushes it takes longer to make each decision," he says. "And I like having the time to think over each choice rather than spray it all and be done."
Burson admits that there are points when despite his spirit being wiling, the flesh proves weak. On more ruthlessly hot Texas days, he says he has to keep an eye on his physical state even though his mind wants to continue powering through the project. After the first day, he can usually determine what parts of the day he'll be shaded by the wall and plan accordingly. Beyond that he'll bring umbrellas, sunscreen, and his hat to keep from frying under the Texas sun.
As he works with businesses to make a living, Burson keeps his origins in mind. He doesn't plan to go back to trains, mind you, but he embraces the same philosophies whether he's painting a sign or a wall — he wants to impact the public.
"When I'm in my studio working on something, it almost feels selfish," he says. "I'd rather make something that belongs to the public when it's done, rather than just me."