Deep Ellum looks much more vibrant than it did a few years ago. This owes partly to a mural project started by real estate developer Scott Rohrmann in the summer of 2015, which invited local artists to create 42 murals on properties in the neighborhood owned by his company, 42 Real Estate.
Over 200 artists submitted proposals for the first round of the project, and the chosen murals represent a wide range of styles. The cartoonish forms in Jorge Gutierrez's "Viva Deep Ellum" share a block with Steve Hunter's color-blocked portrait of a local storyteller, and a more abstract, technology-inspired work called "Insekta." But any of these could be painted over this spring.
One of the underlying premises of the 42 Murals was that after a year, Rohrmann and Lesli Marshall, who helped curate the project, would choose a new group of artists and murals to replace them. Submissions for round two are open now through March 15. But if you'll miss passing by a certain mural on your way to a show at Three Links or a bite at AllGood Cafe, there's still a way to save it.
Each of the current murals is posted on 42 Murals' account, @42murals. Vote for your favorites by hitting the "like" button — you can vote for as many as you want — and the three murals with the most likes by 4:42 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, will be spared from becoming blank slates.
Hunter is one artist who's been campaigning on social media to save his mural, which has seen lots of activity in its short life. “I've seen some pretty wild things happen in front of the mural over the last 18 or so months — graduation parties, lots of models posing in front of it," Hunter says. "But the wildest without question was the wedding of two women in front of the mural last summer."
The wedding was officiated by the mural's subject, Rawlins Gilliland, a poet and storyteller who graced the cover of the Observer's "People Issue" in 2015.
Some of the artists foresee problems with using Instagram to tally votes. "Ultimately I’m happy with the project,” Sarah Reyes, who painted the "Think Ellum" mural on Main Street, says. "I do think it might be difficult for people to find the Instagram ... or to understand the premise of how to vote, but they’re doing what they can.”
The playing field is also uneven since some artists already have a strong online presence and following that can help them earn votes, whereas others do not. Hunter worries that an online popularity contest may not accurately capture fondness for the murals among the people who pace Deep Ellum's streets.
“I have a relatively small Instagram following for @deeprawlins and my business page @huntercreates, some 400-500 followers, so it's obviously very difficult to compete with artists with 10,000 to 20,000 followers. I'm still happy to see 'Deep Rawlins' in the fight, but I’ll admit it's frustrating to know I'm probably going to lose the mural due to more popular artists," Hunter says, adding that even so, he can't think of a better way to organize voting.
The murals in the lead are "Deep Elm" by Michael McPheeters, "Deep Ellumphants" by Adrian Torres and "Social Worship" by Jeremy Biggers, a portrait of local model Allison Ponthier. Biggers' mural was in the lead last week but was pushed out by Torres and McPheeters, the latter of whom came from the bottom after a 1,000-plus surge in votes.
“Any time voting gets to be a popularity contest instead of being based on the merit of the work, it's a little uncomfortable,” Biggers says of the Instagram voting process. “But if you actually care to win you have to ‘play the game.'"
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As of Monday evening, the full rankings for 42 Murals are as follows:
Michael McPheeters, "Deep Elm" — 1,423 likes
Adrian Torres, "Deep Ellumphants" — 1,875 likes
Jeremy Biggers, "Social Worship" — 1,334 likes
Alejandra Camargo, "The Collective Unconscious" — 1,298 likes
Jorge Gutierrez, "Viva Deep Ellum" — 998 likes
Lesli Marshall, "Cosmic Journey" — 862 likes
Steve Hunter, "Deep Rawlins" — 790 likes
Sanah Brown, "Mega Zee" — 620 likes
Leighton Autrey, "Beauty and the King," — 597 likes
Brett Dyer, "Heartbeats" — 578 likes
Monica Diaz, "Linus in Blue" — 478 likes
Jose May, "Night Owl" — 415 likes
Dan Colcer, "Catching Fish" — 360 likes
Mike Cruz, "Frida" — 337 likes
Carolyn Xu, "Apples" — 319 likes
Gabe McCool, "Cake" — 291 likes
Emma Miller & Jane Beaird, "Undefined" — 289 likes
Jerod Davies, "Trust Love" — 285 likes
Lisa Boorse, "Riduzione" — 270 likes
Daniel Driensky, "The Devil and Robert Johnson" — 258 likes
Areli Duran, "Do You Remember When" — 238 likes
Danny Dejong, "Color Strands" — 218 likes
Joey Delgado, "Insekta" — 199 likes
Jim Hastings, "Squid Beard" — 186 likes
Daniel Yanez, "Deep Texas Pride" — 185 likes
Matthew Brinston, "Derealism Portrait" — 182 likes
Eric Mancini, "Urban Oasis" — 179 likes
Travis McCann, "Heavy Is the Head That Wears the Crown" — 176 likes
Rebecca Butler, "She Smiles," — 146 likes
Nolan Mueller, "90% Saltshakers" — 145 likes
Haylee Ryan, "Truelove Series: Akard & Elm 1938" — 141 likes
Joseph Alexander, "Fairy's Treasure" — 140 likes
Sarah Reyes, "Think Ellum" — 127 likes
Mark Crow, "CityScape" — 125 likes
Jashua Davies, "Untitled" — 117 likes
Leigh Ann Williams Hickey, "Mars Volta" — 112 likes
Isaac Davies, "Aim High" — 109 likes
Aaron Kilbreath, "Untitled" — 109 likes
Santiago Huerta, "Blue Man's Face"/"Strength Beyond Measure" — 107 likes
Netanel Saso, "Psychedelic State" — 102 likes
Ebony Celeste Serrato, "Forever Rose" — 75 likes