It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Austin. Each week, thousands of people stop by HOPE Gallery to check out the latest artwork to grace the walls. While some pieces can be completed in a matter of minutes, the full-scale murals can take several hours… and be gone in a matter of days.
“Come out here, it's just complete self-expression. I can do whatever I want here,” explained Luis Angulo, one of the artists who frequent HOPE Gallery.
As a muralist, Angulo typically works on assignments that last several years, a far cry from the relatively short life-span of art at HOPE Gallery.
“You kind of have to accept that everything you do here is impermanent. Which is kind of cool, because it's kind of a metaphor for life because nothing lasts forever,” said Angulo.
It also has a mindset that directly contrasts much of the art community – where a work is often valued in part by its age. At HOPE, Angulo noted the opposite may be true.
“It makes time more valuable here because people know there can be a brand new mural on any given day and if you don't go see it soon – it will be gone,” Angulo explained.
There are obvious differences between HOPE Gallery and most workspaces, many of which are obvious from the offset.
For one, its outside – which creates its own set of issues. Often, that means high-temperatures.
“It can get pretty hot… especially in this spot right here. All these words reflect heat. So around noon if it's sunny, it's unbearable in here,” said Angulo, pointing to an area with three high walls.
However, on the day we met, heat was not an issue – rain was.
For the better part of the afternoon, rain pelted Angulo and the wall, causing two stoppages.
Paint on the wall began to drip, and the paint in the buckets lost its consistency as it was drenched with water. While Angulo was able to wipe away many of the drippings, by the end of the afternoon, the rain was too strong to continue to work through.
“Overall, I'm very happy- I'm a little sad that I couldn't just get that final touch, those details that just really tie everything in,” Angulo explained.
Due to a previously scheduled trip, Angulo needed to complete the portrait in a day. But even if there was no trip, the hectic nature of the area would have left the painting at-risk to be painted on
Still, he looked at it from a positive point of view – the dripping created a style he had long wanted to try but never had attempted to create. While that wasn’t his plan heading into the work, he was happy with the effect.
Another issue artists face – the canvas.
“I mean this is just layers and layers of paint, posters,” Angulo said, as he picked up a piece of the wall that was hanging off.
Since the walls are so often painted, a smooth surface is not always a guarantee.
“When (there are) areas that need to be soft and subtle, it can be a problem,” said Angulo.
Even the ground itself can be challenging. Much of the area is dirt grounds, which on a rainy day can soften up the surface. If an area has a particular amount of debris, it can be difficult to position the ladder.
“There’s so much stuff on the ground, that I can’t put the ladder where I’d like to put it. So I just have to use my other hand to draw. I’m a lefty, so sometimes I’ll have to use my right hand. So it’s not an ideal drawing situation at all,” said Angulo, who said it can also affect his viewpoint while drawing.
“I don't want to be known as the guy who paints serial killers,” joked Angulo.
On this day, he’s painting a mural of Liz Taylor.
“Images from pop culture like that – they're iconic, they're just very attention-grabbing out here,” Angulo said.
The painstaking process takes hours to complete, with each spray and stroke meticulously planned.
After establishing a base color, Angulo usually paints an outline in brighter colors – he explained it’s easier to see - before finishing it off with original colors.
As a muralist, he tries to get as close to the original image as possible.
While Angulo is not paid to work at HOPE Gallery, it does serve a different purpose.
“It's for practice, but they definitely serve as a kind of a marketing tool,” Angulo explained.
He documents all his work on social media, with a particular emphasis on his Instagram account. The hustle to find new clients is a skill he’s picked up outside the classroom.
“It's tough. They don't teach you that in art school…. At all,” said Angulo.
Lately, Angulo has been painting six days a week, and his work has gained him attention. Many of his most recent assignments were by word-of-mouth, showing his work has caught the eyes of many business owners.
It also caught the eyes of people who visited HOPE Gallery and shared their thoughts on his work.
“I love the people who stop by and ask questions. This place attracts people from all over the world, all kinds of races. Everybody comes here. I love hearing their stories and hearing their comments. That means a lot to me. That’s a big part to me. You’re creating art to share with people, and when they – when you can get into conversations and learn about other people like that, it just makes it all the better,” said Angulo.
That is the essence of HOPE Gallery – artists sharing their ever-changing work with an ever-changing world, where today’s painting can become tomorrow’s canvas.