We showcase three amazing artists who have not only ushered in a new era in Texas public art, but are transforming the shared spaces within which they work.

Each day, you pass by a blank gray wall that sucks all the light around it – apathy embodied in concrete. You notice it only for its absence, its lack of life. Then, one morning, in its place is a new world: a jubilee of crimson, indigo, and magenta, glowing as the sunshine hits it; inflated words and kinetic images, floating across its expanse like helium balloons. Your eyes, and maybe even your heart and mind, open wider.

That’s the power of public art. And no one knows that better than these three artists who bring some Texas-sized awe to the streets of their hometowns throughout the Lone Star State.

GONZO247 [Houston, TX]

Creativity fuel Tacos – any kind, as long as the tortillas are homemade.

Inspired by Watching indie films, listening to music, and visiting museums, especially the Menil Collection in Houston.

Why does public art matter? “It expresses the soul of a place and gives people an opportunity to experience art in real life.”

For Houston native Mario Enrique Figueroa Jr., whose nom de plume is GONZO247, rap was the first stop on the road to art. He discovered hip-hop culture about age 11, and the music led him to the culture’s visual language: graffiti. He was hooked at first tag.

“Graffiti gave me a vision,” he recalls. “It was my first taste of free speech – a way to voice an opinion on a larger scale, an opportunity to express myself that was larger than life.”

GONZO247’s graffiti mirrors the local character: laid-back, colorful, diverse, and definitely big. “I want people to have this sense of discovery where, every time you turn a corner, there’s this beautiful piece of art waiting for you,” said the indie film buff, who has partnered with city agencies and corporations to create public art projects and has worked with youth organizations and nonprofit arts groups.

Bill FitzGibbons [San Antonio, TX]

Biggest influence The Russian Constructivists, for their monumentality and minimalism.

Object of admiration Marble Garden, by Isamu Noguchi.

Why does public art matter? “You’re able to reach so many more people than a museum or gallery. Everybody who walks down the street is a viewer.”

street art

Photo courtesy of Bill FitzGibbons

Harnessing the power of light, Bill FitzGibbons illuminates neglected places and makes them shine. Light Channels, installed in 2007, is the perfect example: Using LED fixtures, FitzGibbons lined two highway underpasses that connect San Antonio’s downtown with glowing color, creating otherworldly spaces that erased fear along with darkness.

“Not only are people no longer afraid to walk through these places, but they’ve also become destinations in their own right,” says the 64-year-old. “That’s the power of art – it can transform something into a spiritual, magical experience.”

The father, grandfather, and lover of a good dinner party has also created multiple projects in his hometown, from the lighting of the historic Alamo in a collaborative performance with the San Antonio Symphony to the 40-foot-tall Day Star Archway at the city’s airport. He even designed the light sculpture in Culebra Creek Park that sits above a time capsule, getting local kids to emotionally invest photos and letters in something that has already enriched the area even though it won’t be opened until 2065. “This piece is their piece, and a part of their lives is in this piece,” says FitzGibbons. “That creates a special relationship between a neighborhood and the artwork.”

Jason Archer [Austin, TX]

Weapon of choice: Exterior house paint.

Biggest influences: Bugs Bunny, Helmut Newton, and the state of Texas.

Why does public art matter? “Looking at something on the street can change your mood in an instant.”

street art

Photo courtesy of Jason Archer

Jason Archer has made award-winning music videos. He has worked on Richard Linklater’s animated films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. He earned a teaching position at Texas State University thanks to a controversial series of Texas Biennial photos that reimagined black-and-white photos of Helmut Newton through a quirky Lone Star lens. But it wasn’t until Archer started making murals that he found a medium that allowed him to stretch as far – and wide – as he could go.

Archer’s humorous figures are disarmingly poignant; like cartoons, their heads often look too large for their bodies, yet their eyes are soulful, their expressions nuanced. The 42-year-old soccer fanatic and gardener often pays homage to Texan and Mexican culture with sly symbolism – like the horses (representing freedom, mobility, and travel) featured on the mural Conservatorium of Infinite Wisdom, Sustenance & Guidance, created for the Pop Austin show. Before it was painted over in spring 2015, visitors often mistook the wall for the entrance to an actual academy.

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