Varsity Mural Finally Complete With New Image From Slacker
Empty 13th frame now filled by the iconic Teresa Taylor
By Richard Whittaker,
3:18PM, Thu. Dec. 7, 2023
It's taken over a decade, but Austin's most famous empty space – the blank spot in the middle of the film-themed mural on the northwest corner of 24th and Guadalupe – has finally been filled with an image from Slacker.
Yesterday, artists from SprATX mounted a scissor lift with templates and paint, and finally this 12-year-old pledge has been fulfilled. For Suzee Brooks, who has spent the last year gathering support to complete the unfinished mural, it was a thrilling moment. "It feels like it what's supposed to happen there," she said.
Musician Paul Minor, who had worked with Brooks on the project, nodded. "I've been looking at this blank space for many, many years, thinking it should be Slacker," he said, "I feel like a kid opening a present on Christmas morning."
The Varsity mural, as it is known, takes its name from the Varsity Theater: Right opposite the UT-Austin campus, it became a regular destination for students. In 1979 the owners commissioned artist Carlos Lowry to create a huge mural along the entire length of the building, including gigantic 35mm frames from films like Giant, Battleship Potemkin, and The American Friend (the titles being selected to reflect the tastes of UT-Austin's burgeoning film appreciation community). Eventually, the cinema closed, but the mural remained, outlasting both the Tower Records and Follett's Intellectual Property that took up the space.
However, in 2011, Austinites were astonished to see holes knocked in the mural as part of a renovation to turn the building into space for restaurants. At the time, architect Michael Antenora pledged to restore the sections of the mural above ground level, with one big addition: to add a 13th empty frame. The idea was to add a new image that, as with the original 12, reflected the tastes of UT film fans at the time.
In fact, it wasn't until July of this year that the final frame was announced: an image of late Butthole Surfers drummer Teresa Taylor in her iconic role as Pap Smear Pusher in Richard Linklater's seminal 1990 independent film, Slacker.
It's fitting that the final frame ended up being inadvertently reserved for a Texas film (the only other being an equally iconic image from Giant, with James Dean, feet up on the dash of his car). But it's not just any Texas film: It's a landmark movie made in Austin (indeed, several scenes were shot around that very corner) that not only played a key role in the 1990s indie explosion, it also introduced the world to Austin's unique and idiosyncratic artistic culture, helped define Gen X, and made Taylor an instant icon. Now she lives on in black and white, her signature baseball cap peeking out of the top of the frame. Minor said, "A lot of worlds come together in a beautiful way."
However, even with funding, a contract with SprATX, the support of Taylor's family, Austin Film Society, Slacker director Linklater and John Pierson, the film's sales agent, and the permission of the property owners, "it took this long to go through the city, close the sidewalk, figure out the scissor lift," Brooks said. "It was like building a house."
AFS CEO Rebecca Campbell was also on hand for the completion of the project, noting that she was "thrilled" that AFS had been able to help get it done. "It looks like it's always been there," she smiled. "We're only going to know it happened today because that there was photographic evidence there was a void."