The 42 Murals project started with a bunch of blank walls in Deep Ellum. Some of them were crumbling. Some were covered with chipped paint. Some were dotted with recessed doors and barred windows.
Starting in 2012, 42 Real Estate, a real estate investment and development company, had purchased 31 new buildings (read: a lot of wall space) in Deep Ellum. Developer Scott Rohrman explains that the company wanted to contribute to the community, not invade it with preconceived notions. “We tried to learn what makes Deep Ellum tick,” he says. “As we talked and listened, we determined that art is an integral part of it. We thought, ‘How can we help Deep Ellum, help artists, and blend that with helping our properties?’”
The answer: splashing those blank brick walls with a bit of color.
“We’re not looking for the best art, we’re looking for the best community,” developer Scott Rohrman says.
The project inadvertently jumpstarted when Adrian Torres, an artist who’d recently returned from painting murals in impoverished parts of the Philippines, was due to leave town again. Rohrman loved Torres’ proposed mural so much that he asked him to paint it before he left: in late summer, before the project officially started. The resulting painting, “Deep Ellumphants,” has become one of the most iconic works of the 42 Murals projects. It features a color-flecked herd of elephants with a raw, fluid quality.
To date, all but three of the 42 murals are complete. No one contacted the media to find artists; no press was alerted nor ads placed. Word transferred from mouth to ear until more than 200 artists had submitted work. Rohrman explains that the artists weren’t chosen for previous recognition, their portfolios, or awards won. “This is not about the elite painting walls and the rest don’t get a wall, this is about everyone painting walls. Fully half the artists had never painted a mural,” Rohrman says. “We’re not looking for the best art, we’re looking for the best community.”
“I’m so happy to see this change and to be a part of the culture,” says Lesli Marshall, who created “Cosmic Journey.” “I only hope for it to continue throughout the city.”
The artists come from all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area and include a 14-year-old high school student and a grandmother. There are teachers from Dallas ISD and Richardson ISD. There’s an award-winning animator. Leighton Autrey blended masculine (lions) and feminine (roses) elements in his striking Christianity-influenced mural, “Beauty and the King.” Lesli Marshall, curator and project collaborator, painted a funky-colored mural called “Cosmic Journey,” an ode to Diane and Justin of Pecan Lodge (there was even a video made about it).
“I’m so happy to see this change and to be a part of the culture,” Marshall says, referring to the buzz created by the project. “I only hope for it to continue throughout the city.”
Rohrman isn’t ashamed to admit there’s a business side to it, too. After all, the more Deep Ellum draws folks into its welcoming art-centric alcove, the better his investments will pay off. The murals are a boost to the community and the art culture, but, he hopes, will attract attention and boost commerce, too.
And like Deep Ellum itself, this project can be expected to grow and change. There’s no guarantee that these murals will be here forever. Rohrman admits he’s puzzled over 42 Murals’ next step. They do plan to continue the project, even if that means that at some point, the current works will be painted over.
“Deep Ellum is a living, breathing community,” he says, “In 20 years from now, how rich will our lives be if we’ve had 20 different sessions for 42 Murals?”
It’s an organic process, after all. A conversation about what art really is, and whether it’s permanent.
“I have no art background,” Rohrman says. “We have no answers, only questions. But we’re going to keep putting things on walls.”
Take a look at our complete gallery of all the murals, along with information about the artists’ inspirations and history on their pieces. By Emily Heft; photos by Imani Lytle.
For a daily dose of what’s new and next in Dallas-Fort Worth innovation, subscribe to our Dallas Innovates e-newsletter.