It feels like nearly every block of Austin has some giant expression of creativity blasted against its walls for the world to see.
Most murals appear suddenly, in places you wouldn’t expect: on a downtown high-rise, against the back side of a coffee shop, in an abandoned alleyway behind a dumpster.
It’s part of Austin’s murals’ mystique and glory. No descriptions, no special lighting, no rules against touching. Which makes me wonder…How did you get up there, frog? Who made you? What are you trying to tell me with those big, kind eyes?
After some digging, I found answers. In this article, I break down the inspiring histories behind four of the best murals in Austin, all of them well-known and time-tested.
Because four is just scratching the surface, there’s also a gallery of my other favorite murals at the end. Enjoy!
Jeremiah the Innocent
Known to many as the charming “Hi, How Are You?” frog, this simple image, often incorrectly perceived as graffiti, is an icon of the Austin music scene.
Daniel Johnston first raised Jeremiah to local fame when he put this friendly frog on the cover of his 1983 album “Hi, How Are You: The Unfinished Album.” It wasn’t until 10 years later–1993–that Sound Exchange record store commissioned Johnston to make a mural of his music. Jeremiah has been bright-eyed and bearded (I like to think it’s a beard) ever since.
However, it hasn’t been all lily pads for Jeremiah.
In 2004, Sound Exchange went out of business and Baja Shrimp moved in with the intent to remove the mural from their wall. Disgruntled locals rallied together and pleaded with the managers of the restaurant to keep Jeremiah there, citing his historical resonance within the local community. The pressure from neighbors proved too much. Baja Shrimp evacuated the building, leaving Jeremiah untouched.
David Roberts, owner of Thai Spice which currently occupies the building at the corner of 21st Street and Guadalupe, has witnessed the impact Austin’s most lovable amphibian has had on his business’ success. Roberts decided to pay licensing fees for use of the image, thus securing Jeremiah’s good vibes in perpetuity.
How am I, Jeremiah? To quote the lyrics of Johnston, your creator, I’m happy “some things last a long time.” You being one of them.
W. 21st Street and Guadalupe Street
Greetings From Austin
There are few streets with more character than South 1st. Local businesses abound. Bright colors, food trucks, vintage clothing–the neighborhood is alive. The cherry on top is this beautiful rendition of an iconic Austin postcard, “Greetings From Austin.”
The Austin mural was initially painted in 1998 by artist Todd Sanders, owner of Roadhouse Relics. Sanders and his friend Roy Skagen intended to add color to a neighborhood that was, at the time, taking a turn for the worse.
Twenty years later and “Greetings From Austin” is still shining, as vibrant as ever after being restored in November 2013. The beauty of that restoration was the result of contributions from the local community. In August 2013, Sanders launched the restoration project along with Skagen and Creative Action Color Squad. In just two months’ time, they maxed out their donation goal of $10,000.
Today, the mural is as photo-worthy as it’s ever been. So much so that on a warm day (or even a cold day), you may have to do a bit of standing in line for a shot in front of this well-loved wall.
1720 S. 1st St.
You’re My Butter Half
Since 1924, United Way of Greater Austin has been supporting the local community, by leading the effort against poverty and providing resources to families in need.
In 2012, as part of the organization’s rebranding efforts, the team unveiled this brilliant token to positivity and unity. Local designer John Rockwell of Creative Suitcase (now part of Mighty Citizen) provided the inspiration for the design. He and the whole Creative Suitcase team volunteered two days of their time to the completion of this meaningful and fun piece of street art that still adorns the wall of the United Way property.
With its particularly charming text, “You’re My Butter Half” has become a common spot for sweethearts to snap a photo. Unlike “Greetings From Austin,” which may require some fast fingers and finagling, this mural is out of the way of traffic and boasts a lush green lawn at its base. This makes it the perfect spot for a few-minute photo sesh–jumps, hugs, kisses, and all.
2000 E. MLK Jr. Blvd.
“i love you so much”
In 2010, local musician Amy Cook took a can of red spray paint and wrote this five-word love letter to her partner, majority owner of Jo’s Coffee, Liz Lambert.
The sentiment quickly went viral. In the near-decade since the mural’s inception, the stylings of Amy Cook have become iconic to Austin. The words are widely featured on local hats and shirts, now shared between family members and friends around the world.
Its reputation has only strengthened, despite the efforts of ne’er-do-wells over the years. In at least three separate instances, the “i love you so much” mural has been vandalized. But the infantile damage has never lasted long. The message of love has prevailed, with the Austin mural always quickly restored to its original spirit.
Today, waiting for a chance to step in, smile with a loved one, and step out for some hot coffee and good food, the crowd that lingers outside Jo’s Coffee is a spectacle in and of itself.
History aside, the infamous “i love you so much” mural has become as much a sentiment from locals to the city, as it has been from each of us to another.
Explosion of Austin Street Art
There are so many beautiful murals in Austin. This is a short list of the classics. If you’ve got a favorite, don’t hesitate to tell us about it in a comment.
Here are some of my personal favorites (click for larger version).
@theAustinot wants to know:
Can you share the story of another iconic mural in Austin?
Jackson Prince minored in English in college and is working hard to prove its worth. He works in film, but, more importantly, he is undefeated at laser tag.
The first version of this article was published Oct. 28, 2013.