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These Walls Can Talk: Muralist Steve Hunter Honors Notable Dallas Residents

If you've driven at all through Dallas, you’ve no doubt come across some of local artist Steve Hunter’s work. Be it signage painted on the exterior of one of your favorite watering holes, or a mural that you took a selfie in front of in Deep Ellum, Hunter has painted his mark on the city of Dallas.

The muralist hails from the U.K. He first visited Dallas in 2004 to work on some murals, and after that trip, he decided to move here on a work visa. While Hunter was teaching art in Oak Cliff, he met his wife and settled in Dallas permanently. After six years of teaching, he quit to become a full-time muralist.

“It wasn’t for the money, of course, it was just really something I wanted to do,” Hunter says. “I just decided to go for it.

“After the recession, there were a lot of businesses opening up in Deep Ellum that needed murals or signage. I first painted a mural at Club Dada to see if I wanted to make it a business. I enjoyed it, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Hunter has always been drawn to large-scale work. “I went to art school in Glasgow back in the 1990s and the teacher was trying to teach me these things I didn’t want to do,” he says. “I’ve never enjoyed working on a smaller scale. I prefer being on a ladder and getting messy.”

Hunter also appreciates the exposure that his murals get. “It’s the whole community thing that I really enjoy; so many people get to see them,” he says. “And people like seeing the work in progress as well. It starts as just a scribble on a wall and then suddenly there’s this 20-foot-tall mural.”

Hunter’s work spans from signage at local establishments like ZaLat Pizza and the Dallas Public Library to murals of iconic Dallasites — from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Rawlins Gilliland — to his newest work's subject, Linda Darnell.

The Oak Cliff-born Darnell starred in 43 movies from the late 1930s to 1950s. Darnell’s stardom was cemented with The Mark of Zorro from 1940, as the love interest of Zorro, played by Tyrone Power. She went on to star in multiple adventure movies with Power, and after her career waned in the late ’50s, she turned to television and plays. Darnell’s life was cut short in 1965 when she died at age 41 in a house fire in Chicago.

Hunter’s mural of Darnell is on the facade of the Novel Bishop Arts apartments, off East Davis and Zang Street. “Novel just finished construction a few months ago,” Hunter says. “They got in touch with me last year. They took me around and showed me a space that could be a cool mural. They wanted to keep it local — with a local artist and local subject.”

Darnell was chosen as the subject because of her ties to Oak Cliff and her role as a strong female figure. Hunter deliberately made Darnell the central figure of the mural, with Power (as Zorro) merely a background player.

“I reversed it, so she gets prominence,” Hunter says.

The mural is graphic and done in black and white, with the only color coming from the sharp red slash of “Zorro” toward the bottom of the piece. “I came up with the concept of taking the old, cheesy matinee posters and making it look all creased and wrinkled and sun-bleached,” Hunter says. “It pretty much painted itself.”

The first mural Hunter painted in Bishop Arts is a rendering of actress Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, another Oak Cliff native. Hunter painted it as a memorial, after her passing in 2015. “It was another one of those murals that just painted itself,” says Hunter. “It’s one of the more popular ones. Lots of people take photos in front of that one.”

The Batgirl mural is behind the Hunky’s restaurant on North Bishop Avenue. It's bold and bright and campy, with 1960s influences. “It’s a positive message,” Hunter says. “She’s a strong female figure. I remember watching Batgirl as a kid back in Scotland, and I never thought I’d be painting her in Dallas, Texas. It’s funny how things work out.”

Hunter’s work is all over the city, with some notable examples in Deep Ellum. He painted the much-photographed mural of Stevie Ray Vaughan outside the restaurant Stirr, at the intersection of Crowdus and Main — a multicolored, prismatic work done in a mosaic style. Vaughan’s eyes are shadowed by his iconic hat and he holds a cigarette in his mouth.

“It’s fun to see my murals on Instagram and getting messages from people about them,” Hunter says. “It’s kinda cool when they find out I’m the guy behind a certain mural, and they get a kick out of it. I enjoy the public community thing, seeing people enjoy them on a large scale.”

The first mural Hunter painted in Deep Ellum is of local poet Rawlins Gilliland. Part of the 42 Murals project, it is on Crowdus at Elm. It’s an arresting image done in mosaic, like his mural of Vaughan. Rawlins scowls out at you, lip curled and eyebrows furled. “He’s been around Dallas forever. He’s a real character,” Hunter says. “He loves it. He loves being in the street like that. It’s one of the less well-known ones, but I get a lot of folks commenting on it.”

Gilliland wrote a poem about Deep Ellum to accompany the mural, which Hunter added to the piece. But the Deep Ellum Hostel bought the space and during its renovation, the poem was removed. Hunter hopes to paint the poem back in at some point.

Hunter is currently working on a project for the El Bolero restaurant on Fitzhugh and will soon move to their location in Fort Worth. His first work for them, mosaic-style murals of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, are on the exterior of the Design District location.

Hunter is thankful that he’s been able to make a career as a muralist in Dallas. “I’ve always been the guy that was just painting on walls; I was never interested in anything else. I just didn’t believe that people could paint on walls and make a living.”

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