Who the Hell Is TVHeadATX?
The local wheatpasting provocateur reveals … a thing or two
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
6:31AM, Thu. Aug. 11, 2022
TVHead’s bold work can be found all over the city, his wheat-pasted posters and ubiquitous stickers pulling public eyes to walls and utility poles and traffic signal boxes throughout our rapidly metastasizing urban core.
The art’s central image: a business-suited citizen with a big old-fashioned cathode-ray-tube of a television in place of where his head should be – and that TV’s screen always emblazoned with some arch command.
You’ve seen those images. Hell, maybe you’ve even seen the man himself, live, in the TV-capped flesh, holding court at a street-art-focused gallery opening or some you-gotta-know-a-person house party.
We recently interviewed TVHead, for one facet of our current article about Austin’s Show Me Pizza, because the artist’s graphics are what inaugurated the joint’s Pizza Box Art project. But we had more questions beyond that topic; and TVHead had more to say; and so, ah – look, you’re already reading this damn thing, right?
Let’s get into it.
Austin Chronicle: Are you from Austin, originally? One of those rare natives?
TVHeadATX: I was born and raised in Texas, but I was up in the Dallas area. And I was an artist when I moved to Austin in 1998 – I was selling my art and making a living off of it back then – and so it’s just evolved. And in 2017, that’s when I took the TVHead art to the streets.
AC: You were already making those images?
TVH: I worked in video production, so I had the TVHead costume already made before I even created the art for it. In fact – see, this is where lines get blurred, in trying to keep myself anonymous – I won awards from the city for my video production work.
[Note: Several paragraphs of transcript were REDACTED here, to protect the artist’s identity.]
AC: But you didn’t have, like, exhibitions in any legit galleries around town?
TVH: Well, I’d created some amazing pieces and I wanted to get them into galleries. So I went to three different galleries in Austin, and none of them would even look at it – they wouldn’t even respond. Well, okay, one of them was like, “It’s not what we would put in our gallery.” And I was like, “Screw the gallery settings, I’m not trying to sell something for ten thousand dollars, I just want people to see my art.” And I came up with the idea that I would put my art everywhere on the streets of Austin.
AC: Just – random art, whenever the mood hits you?
TVH: From 2017 until now, every three or four months, I come up with a new campaign where I create three to five new designs. And I hand-paint them, or I print them and embellish them with spray paint, and then go out and put them in the street everywhere, going out in the middle of the night and putting things up. And I’m known in Austin for doing big shit on billboards: I climb up buildings and put stuff on billboards, big 8-foot or 12-foot pieces that I’ve hand-painted. So if you ever want to know what’s going on with TVHead, go look in the streets. It’s the newest stuff I’ve made, and the galleries will never see it.
AC: But you are in a few galleries now?
TVH: First, in 2020, I got up here on the wall at Bender’s.
[Note: That’s Bender Bar & Grill at 321 W. Ben White, where the man behind the avatar might very well be one of the regulars.]
And in early 2021, that’s when galleries started reaching out to me. And they were like, “Who are you? What’s going on?” And I was like, “I just make art.” And they were like, “Do you have gallery work?” And I’m like, “Yeah, of course.” And they’re like, "Can we see it?” And I was like, “Sure.” But I had three galleries hit me up – and two of them were ones that had previously turned me down. And I didn’t tell them who I was, that I was that same person, I just told them, “No, I’m cool, thanks.” But I took some stuff to the third gallery and worked with them for a little bit.
AC: So that was the start?
TVH: And then Natassia Wilde found me at the Almost Real Things gallery, and she was like, “I’m doing a pop-up in a retail space on South Congress for ten days, and I’d love to have some of your work in it.” And I was like, “Shit yeah, let’s do this.” At this point, everything’s an opportunity. I mean, things that I would’ve sold for $500 – if you came to my house and brought a six-pack and a joint and we were getting high, you could’ve had the piece for $500 – but now these people are telling me “Oh, I can get like $4,000.” And I was like, “Holy shit, are you kidding me? What the fuck?” I couldn’t even comprehend that, because it’s not the direction I wanted to take this. Natassia sold three canvases and a handful of my prints – $5,000 – in 10 days. And I was like, “Okay, she’s a hustler like I am, she can read people and sell to them.” So she represents my work to galleries. And I do installation work, too – the guys at Mohawk just contacted me.
AC: So, back in 2020, 2021, when the ’ronas were shutting everything down. How did that affect your campaigns?
TVH: When everything was boarded up and everyone was at home during COVID, I was covering the city with my art. I was going out two or three nights a week. And everything was covered over with plywood, so there were all these blank canvases everywhere, so I went and pasted it all up. And that led to me meeting SMACK, he’s a street artist in town. We became best of friends over the street art scene, and me and him will go out in the middle of the night and do street art together.
AC: And what about that, uh, was it a sculpture that you did? An installation Downtown?
TVH: Yeah, near Sixth Street and Waller. Okay, there’s Violet Crown, and there’s a Mexican restaurant – and there’s this old building where everybody does graffiti. And on the top of that building, there’s a TV pyramid with horns on it. That’s mine – and it’s been there for three years now. But the new property owners, the people who bought the building, contacted me.
AC: Oh shit.
TVH: Yeah, and I thought I was in trouble – because, obviously, I’d trespassed on their roof, right? But they were like, “Hey, just to let you know, we’re not mad, and everything’s cool.” That was the first thing their representative said. They were like, “We want to meet you.” And I was like, “Um, does this have anything to do with the police?” And they were like, “No, not at all.” So I showed up, and she’s like, “Hi, we wanna take that piece down and we wanna have it professionally wrapped and protected. Because, sooner or later, we’ll want to tell the history of this building – and we want your piece to be part of that. So can we have your permission to take it down and put it into a crate and store it until we decide how we’re going to present the history of this building to the community?” And I was like, “Holy fuck.”
AC: That’s amazing. That’s pretty fucking cool.
TVH: Me and my roommate – we put that piece up in five minutes and 38 seconds. We’d practiced everything before we went there.
AC: Like for a heist.
TVH: Exactly – you have to.
AC: Okay, I don’t mean this in a snide way, but why is your artwork so popular? I mean, I think it looks great – it’s totally eye-catching – but you, you really seem to’ve struck a nerve with this stuff.
TVH: I think the being anonymous thing? Is 50 to 60% of it. The thing is, there’s lots of TVHeads. People dress up for cosplay and do all sorts of stuff. It’s not like I’m the only one. Hence, I’m always TVHeadATX. ’Cause even people that I work with, they just put #tvhead when they’re writing about me. But you type that into a search engine and you’ll get a million different posts. But you put in TVHeadATX, and you’ll get me – so I want to make that clear. I mean, there’s some local artist, and he just dropped a video where he’s calling himself TV Man, and he’s got a TV on his head and he’s dancing, and – that’s not me. I’m not the dancer.
AC: But you are the guy who’s done the first artwork for this Show Me Pizza project.
TVH: Yeah, somehow Natassia knew or crossed paths with Ben at Show Me Pizza, and together they came up with this idea for the box – this is my version of the story – to have a monthly artist and put their work on the box.
[Note: The Pizza Box Art project was initially pitched by Samantha Alcantara of Luxe Art Agency, nomming pies and brainstorming in Show Me Pizza with her associates.]
And at first I was like, ‘Ehhhh.” But, see, I’m a designer. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been into making my own products and, like, ads and stuff … and I’m still doing that. And I’m proud of this project, too – proud to work with Show Me Pizza, and to have Natassia represent me. When I was asked if I’d do this, I said, “Lemme go try the pizza.” So I went there anonymously and tried it. And I’ve been in Austin since ’98, and I think it’s the best pizza in town right now.
AC: Okay, but doesn’t it seem like there’s a weird disconnect here? You’re this authority-flouting, rogue wheat paste guy, right? Doing your transgressive shit under the cover of night and so on. And now the anticonsumerist TVHead message is – c’mon, now – it’s being used to sell a consumable product?
TVH: Oh, well, yeah, of course – that’s the greatest thing ever. That’s the joke of the joke. Even though the art’s on a pizza box for a business, I’m telling you exactly to consume it. It’s satire, as far as I’m concerned. It’s almost like that movie, you know, where they had the glasses, and, uh –
AC: They Live by John Carpenter?
TVH: Yeah, it’s like that. But I just make my shit so you don’t have to wear the glasses.
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