Sound & Color: Four Visual Depictions of Austin's Musical Identity
A whole palette of music-related art happenings of late, from a new Daniel Johnston mural to Bob Dylan's depiction of the Hole in the Wall
The Contemporary Austin Unveils New Daniel Johnston Tribute Mural
Last Saturday, driving into Downtown, I passed nuns and figures in old-timey robes holding cloth banners. I saw little boys in suits carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary on their shoulders, marching like a pint-sized funeral procession to the annual anti-abortion rally occurring on the state Capitol grounds.
A few blocks south, a group gathered outside the Contemporary Austin to celebrate another world of moral iconography. A new mural honoring the late Austin artist Daniel Johnston adorns the side of the museum, featuring sky-high editions of his signature ducks and friendly demons, like the multiheaded beast referencing the Book of Revelation. His famed Jeremiah the Innocent dons a Nirvana tee, Johnston's thank-you nod to fan Kurt Cobain.
Joined by District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo, Mayor Steve Adler proclaimed Johnston's birthday, Jan. 22, Hi How Are You Day. Amid the consistent clatter of Downtown construction, he referenced the mural as a bastion of local identity "in this city that is just changing so much."
"You see that strength in everything that's happening around us, with all the cranes," said Adler. "But, [Johnston] recognized the frailty that is also part of that. It's the soft doubt that we all have … To take these symbols, and to put [them] in such a visible place in this city, is so incredibly important."
Inside, the first-ever exhibition of the artist's work, "Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams," runs through March 20. Alongside video and Johnston's worn, white piano, the largely printer-paper-sized works emphasize the mural's impactful scale. Speaking to the crowd, Dick Johnston remembered when fans rallied in 2003 to save his brother's iconic mural on Guadalupe.
"It has been Dan's experience, and it continues to be mine, that all the things that he wanted to do but didn't have the tools to do – people always appeared, magically, and helped him do it," he said. "My take is, you know, he's gone, but he meant for it to go on. The continued story, he would call it."
Vans and local skate shop No-Comply provided funding for the mural, painted by Austin's Show Goat Mural Works. Donning colorful Half-Cab sneakers with Johnston's characters, owner Elias Bingham previewed No-Comply's third Johnston shoe collaboration, due for mid-March. The first collection, in 2019, commissioned exclusive doodles and lettering from Johnston still in use for the upcoming line.
"For the last one, we had a line for six hours at the store, and the rest sold online in less than a minute," remembered Bingham. "There's a lot of excitement, globally. We had people reaching out from all over the world. Being able to support the Hi How Are You Project with proceeds and keep that story around it – of the art and the mental health awareness and the music – all resonates with what we do with skateboarding."
His skate-and-coffee shop closed for an hour to bring a troupe of board-toting employees to the mural opening, located at West Seventh and Congress.
"We want people to know this is here and see it," said Bingham. "Hopefully, it'll resonate enough that the community says, 'We don't want it to come down.' That's my goal. If it's seen as an Austin staple, I think it's possible for it to stay."
Bob Dylan Paints the Hole in the Wall, With a Twist
When Bob Dylan plays UT's Bass Concert Hall on March 16, as announced Monday, we have a guess as to one local establishment the famed songwriter may visit.
In London, Halcyon Gallery currently displays a new painting of Hole in the Wall created by the artist. The piece, titled "Hole in the Wall" and dated 2020, features a glowy after-dark view of the Guadalupe club, for an unlisted price. Dylan, also known for longtime work across formats as a visual artist, has never played the 48-year-old venue.
(Halcyon Gallery did not respond to the Chronicle's request to publish the painting, which can be seen on their website.)
Adding intrigue, the landmark Sixties songsmith took some artistic liberties in his depiction. While HITW features a prominent mural of a young Dylan on its south wall, the artist swapped his own image for a black-and-white Elvis in his painting. Renowned local muralist Federico Archuleta, originator of the real-life Dylan mural, was charmed to learn of the Easter egg.
"It's kind of odd, right?" he remarked. "I'm actually flattered, because I think he did it as an inside joke. He probably picked to paint [HITW] because he was on there to begin with. He was probably like, 'I want to change that detail around because I don't want to, like, kiss my own ass.' Maybe he put Elvis as somebody that inspired him."
The mural is now Archuleta's remaining Dylan depiction on the Drag, as his stencils of various musicians outside the former Tower Records location were covered up last year for renovation of a new CVS store. At the behest of longtime HITW booker Paul Minor, Archuleta originally created the mural in 2005 for a Dylan tribute night. The muralist continued to show his fandom in updates to his "Subterranean Homesick Blues"-inspired work.
"It's an image of him dropping the cue cards, referencing the music video. It originally said Dylan Hoot Night and who was going to perform. After that I reset and put, 'How does it feel?' Also, I put, 'I'll be your baby tonight,' for Valentine's Day. After that, we stayed with, 'Don't need a weatherman,' for over a decade now.
"I kind of feel like I should change it now to Elvis standing on his toes, from Jailhouse Rock," added Archuleta.
Mobley Archives Black Cultural Leaders With “Austin Storybox”
Mobley, local multiformat artist and musician extraordinaire, had a bit of a chip on his shoulder about the frequent exclusion of audio from public art. So, upon learning of the city-sponsored TEMPO program supporting short-term installations across Austin Public Library branches, Mobley envisioned "Austin Storybox." On display outside the Carver Library, on the side of the building facing Rosewood Avenue, the four-sided structure features portraits of elder Black Austin artists.
Snippets of in-depth interviews with the creatives, conducted by Mobley, swirl around the structure from a solar-powered playback system.
"It was really genuinely a pleasure, in every way imaginable, to pick these people's brains and give them an opportunity to tell their stories," said Mobley. "Our current culture in the United States is probably pretty unique across human history in the degree to which a lot of people just don't really experience multigenerational interactions on a regular basis. A lot of knowledge is getting lost, and a lot of younger and older people are really isolated from each other."
Mobley collaborated with local visual artists Dawn Okoro and Adrian Armstrong on the selection of three longtime Austin-based cultural leaders. The portraits colorfully depict musician/East Austin arts advocate Harold McMillan, multidisciplinary artist/activist Carla Nickerson, and veteran singer/bassist Andrew Venson, also known as the father of Jackie Venson.
Mobley said an audio selection from McMillan, who founded the nonprofit DiverseArts and oversees East 11th venue Kenny Dorham's Backyard, captured the goal of the project.
"In terms of a visible African American presence in this community, [this] is the last stand, the final frontier," said McMillan, currently nominated for the Austin Music Awards Hall of Fame. "So, that is about investment in reestablishment, preservation. Starting now, [this is about doing] work that ends up being institutionalized to the extent that going forward, in 100 years, you'll be able to come to this community and know where you are."
While putting the installation together, many subjects dropped out due to complications related to COVID-19. Armstrong, who painted the portrait of McMillan, decided to represent them with the sign of an absent performer, an empty stool. (Find all TEMPO pieces on display, across 10 library branches, through October.)
"We decided to do a more symbolic piece, with the stool, to represent the Black people being pushed out of Austin," said Armstrong, known musically as Njune. "We're also representing the Black people who have been taken through COVID."
Armadillo World Headquarters Sign Sells for 52K at Sotheby’s
An artifact from one of Austin's most historic music venues, the Armadillo World Headquarters, sold Tuesday for $52,920.
The 16-foot-long wooden sign, reading "Armadillo World Headquarters Concert Hall and Beer Garden," once hung over the patio entrance to the famed Seventies venue. Sotheby's, the planet's oldest and most prestigious art auction house, auctioned the sign starting at $35,000. Ahead of the sale, multiple people formerly involved with the Armadillo questioned the piece's origins.
That was later disputed, though, by the auction house and eyewitnesses to the original sale.
Armadillo founder Eddie Wilson and Leea Mechling, a core staffer at the Armadillo who is now the executive director of local culture nonprofit AusPop, both told the Chronicle the sign was stolen after the venue closed in 1980. The sign was created by 'Dillo staffer Don Cowley, based on Camel cigarettes-inspired lettering by famed poster artist Jim Franklin.
Derek Parsons, vice president and senior press officer at Sotheby's Americas, adamantly denied accusations that the sign was stolen, writing: "Sotheby's takes seriously any claims about auctioning stolen objects. For all consignments, Sotheby's proactively conducts rigorous due diligence and research to establish provenance and an object's history. In looking into the Armadillo sign, it was established that the sign was sold at auction in 1981, and there were no concerns about the chain of ownership. There is no evidence to support the claim of theft."
Sotheby's auctioned the sign for Michele Krier of San Antonio, who said her ex-husband Don White bought it in 1981. White's sister, Susan, confirmed that account to the Chronicle – as did artist Debracarol Hearne who says she took White to the 'Dillo that day.
"I was there when he wrote the check. I don't remember what he paid for it, but I remember it was a lot of money," Hearne recalled of White's purchase. "He said, 'I can't believe I'm doing this!' And my background is art history, I'm an artist, so I told him, 'Look, this is the only one – this is the only sign like this. It's a one of [a] kind sign and it's worth having it.' We had to rent a U-Haul and it was a big event to get it loaded up and people helped us. He'd checked out with his little auctioneers ticket and everything. Nobody stole that."