When Botham Jean died after being shot by off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, the city was brought into upheaval, and the case became international news.
Over two years since his death, the people of Dallas have found various ways to commemorate Jean through the establishment of the Botham Jean Foundation and several memorials throughout the city and beyond.
One of these memorials was unveiled this week on the two-year anniversary of Jean’s death. Local artist Theo Ponchaveli paid tribute with a wall-sized mural on the side of Scott’s Liquor on South Lamar in the Cedars, just a few blocks away from where Jean lived.
“The Botham Jean Foundation and his family reached out to me to do the mural,” says Ponchaveli, who was asked to create the mural before Jean’s birthday on Sept. 29, when they hope to hold a ceremony at the location. He was recommended to do the memorial for the foundation by another artist who had seen key themes in Ponchaveli’s artwork that aligned with what they were looking for.
“I feel like, in Dallas at least, I was one of the first to start the current events and icon murals. Most of my work features icons or something involving what’s going on in the world,” Ponchaveli says.
Where other artists and muralists might favor abstract concepts or scenery, Ponchaveli’s work tends to be centered on realism and portraits of idols across time. And after six years of doing murals, he’s got more than a lengthy portfolio of icons he’s painted across Dallas and other cities.
Some of his most notable murals include the controversial Lee Harvey Oswald mural in Bishop Arts District, depicting Oswald's mugshot after the assassination of JFK; a massive Erykah Badu piece by Fair Park, painted earlier this year; several Selena works, as well as depictions of Willie Nelson, Cesar Chavez, Snoop Dogg, Bruce Lee … and the list goes on.
“I mean, I’m known for doing that kind of artwork,” he says. “There’s a lot of artists out there now who have that similar style, of doing commemorative work.”
This past week alone, Dallas saw two memorials to victims of police brutality. In Highland Park, the First Unitarian Church in Dallas created a memorial with photos and flowers to honor Emmett Till and Martin Luther King Jr., among others. In Klyde Warren Park downtown, a memorial was set up as by the same organizers, under the same name (Say Their Names) to commemorate those slain by police such as George Floyd and Tamir Rice.
While the theme of portrait-style commemoration has risen across murals of late, especially throughout the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s been Ponchaveli’s typical approach in his murals, as well as in his oil and canvas artwork in the past.
“I feel that I’ve inspired,” Ponchaveli says with a shrug, “but somebody may not say the same, so I just continue to do what I do and hopefully I inspire people beyond just doing art and murals but in life. My goal is not to inspire people to do what I do, but to do something great."
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