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Street Art of Denton

Take a socially distant, 10-stop tour of some of the city’s best murals with art lover Chris Oller.

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Driving around Denton, it’s easy to spot murals. Street artists have used the sides of buildings as canvases all over town, but for every piece of art you see, there are probably three more you missed. That’s because so many are off the beaten track and hidden from view — unless you’re on foot or riding a bike.

Chris Oller knows them well. “I’ve traveled up and down just about every road in Denton County,” he says. His interest in murals is fueled, in part, by his background in art and drawing at the University of North Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree.

You’d probably know Chris if you saw him — long and lean, wearing a do-rag, Chaco sandals and a smile that says he’s glad to see you. I first met Chris when he was head chef at The Cupboard Natural Foods Café. He was one of the founders of Denton’s Peace Kitchen as well as the Denton Vegan Cooperative.

More recently, he has become a local legend among geocachers, climbing Denton County’s tallest trees to reach carefully placed capsules hidden within their highest branches.

But most likely, if you bump into Chris, he’ll be pedaling around town on his pale green Salsa Marrakesh bike. The bike kept him going through a year of grueling radiation and chemo after he was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer of the neck and tongue. “Every day was a struggle,” he recalls. “The bike was my motivation. I bought it and kept in my room with the promise that I would ride it someday.”

Chris guided us through some of his favorite murals, so you can take your own outdoor art tour. Who knows? Maybe it’ll inspire you to explore some of the (many) other pieces of impressive public art that we couldn’t fit on this tour.  

START: Downtown Denton

There are plenty of murals within walking distance of the Square; those stops are starred with asterisks (*). We’ve also added a few extra stops that are more easily explored by bicycle. If you don’t have two wheels of your own, take advantage of Denton’s VeoRide bike-share program. While VeoRide bikes are scattered around town, you can most likely find one on the southeast corner of the Square next to Wells Fargo bank.

*STOP 1:  Denton Square: Locust and E. Oak Streets (northeast corner)

The unmistakable outline of the Denton County Courthouse on the Square is central to our first welcoming mural, painted by the Denton High School Art Club on the side of Recycled Books and Records. Look behind you for Daniel Black’s 2018 masterpiece wrapped around the northside of Andy’s Bar. Called “Band on the Run,” the painting of two guitarists escaping on motorcycles is one of more than 60 Denton murals painted by this prolific artist. (Another Dan Black mural on the Square can be seen on the southside of the Discover Denton Welcome Center.)

*STOP 2:  111 W. McKinney Street

“Cutting through alleyways and parking lots is part of the adventure,” Chris says. Take a shortcut through the alley between Pecan and McKinney Streets toward the Courtyard to see more of Dan Black’s work. On the way, catch a glimpse of Black’s portrait of “Howard,” a tribute to the father of B & O Towing owner Danny Byington. (Note the little bird on Howard’s shoulder — a nod to the St. Louis Cardinals, his favorite baseball team.)

The courtyard is easy to miss. Dan Black’s two murals are strikingly different. One is a monochrome portrait of a woman; her head, slightly turned, is adorned by a cascading trumpet vine growing from the top of the building. The other is a capricious pipe-smoking bird sporting a purple stocking cap who shares a Denton secret. Oftentimes, murals are partially hidden, in this case, by a trash dumpster and air-conditioning units. “That’s the problem with urban art,” Chris says, “There’s urban stuff in it.”

*STOP 3: N. Austin and E. Pecan Streets

“Be authentic” and “In this space all things are possible.” These feel-good messages are incorporated into Erika Tolbert’s rich, mandala-inspired mural, completed in July 2017. Painted in vibrant purples and greens, this mural can be found on the backside of Bloom Yoga.

If anyone needs an excuse to kick back a cold one, Roy Warren Lunt’s whimsical “How to Brew Beer” on the east side of Bearded Monk is the perfect reason. Lunt is credited as being among the first Denton muralists. His Texas-themed mural inside Sweetwater Grill and Tavern is an abbreviated version of his original from the first incarnation of the restaurant opened in 1996. In 2018, when Sweetwater reopened, Lunt recreated the Sweetwater Snake mural on the Cedar Street side of the restaurant.

*STOP 4:  Construction Fence - 100 Block N. Austin Street

An iconic piece of Denton was forever lost when the Downtown Mini Mall was engulfed in flames, and to date, nothing has replaced the now vacant lot where the building once stood. Kelsey Heimerman’s joyful murals, which stretch the length of the property on the front and back, brought salve to the Square where there was once deep sadness.

“It’s a monument to the Mini Mall experience that people loved. Eventually those murals will go away — hopefully somewhere else. It’s a temporary structure – but it may be years.”

Turn around, and you’ll find flying unicorns, wild-eyed half-human beasts armed with hair tools and galloping white horses painted in cotton-candy colors. Travis Sykes’ fanciful mural, “My Lucky Locks,” is painted on the side of Studio One 16. For more of Sykes work, pop inside Andy’s Bar on the Square or keep taking this tour.

*STOP 5: E. Hickory Street and Industrial Street

Another Dan Black work of note commemorates Denton’s annual Day of the Dead celebration. The coffin races that start at the top of the hill pass this mural and end at Industrial Street.

“It’s beautiful with red roses on all four corners,” Chris says. Other murals near the Square by Dan Black can be found surrounding Bullseye Bike Shop, Cross Timbers Church and Free Play Arcade.

*STOP 6: Industrial and Mulberry Streets

Murals popped up all over town as part of a public art initiative that coincided with 2012’s 35 Denton Music Festival. Street artist Cut Throat’s homage to the legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix is one of the pieces from that era.

*STOP 7:  E. Sycamore Street and Railroad Avenue 

Trek toward the train tracks to find art by Eric Mancini, whose work can be recognized by its signature stylized X’s and O’s. The tiny square building has a different painting on three of its four sides.

Then turn back to look at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio. The mural on its east side represents “the heart of Denton.” It was created by Nevada Hill, an illustrator, printmaker and musician of international repute. Hill, a fixture at Rubber Gloves and a vanguard of Denton’s visual and musical arts scene, passed away far too soon at age 34 in 2016 after a lengthy and courageous bout with cancer.    

STOP 8:  1207 W. Hickory Street 

The side-by-side creation at Lucky Lou’s is another Eric Mancini creation in his iconic style. “Mancini’s work is all over town,” Chris says. “It’s very recognizable.” There are several other nearby murals as well. Try to spot them all.

           

STOP 9: 708 N. Locust Street

“Thousands of cars drive by this mural every day and don’t know it’s there,” says restaurateur Ken Currin. “Forgotten Future,” created by ArtLab3000, is only accessible from the Juicy Pig parking lot. The 91-foot wide by 17-foot high mural combines flying pigs with Monty Python, 1950s imagery and iconic Denton personalities.

STOP 10:  N. Bell Avenue and E. Sherman Drive

This mural by Travis Sykes and Lauren Naples was completed in 2016 as part of Artscapes, a community beautification initiative by Keep Denton Beautiful.

Photos by Chris Oller

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