If you’ve visited Austin recently, you know what a hub of activity and development South Congress is these days. Yet, too many iconic buildings, facades, and pieces of art have been ditched in favor of what’s new and next. As we looked to move into our new flagship store, it was important to approach this special part of our hometown with respect. With careful consideration we asked Austin artist Federico Archuleta to reimagine a massive entire wall while preserving the mural of La Virgen de Guadalupe that he had painted more than 15 years prior. We couldn’t be more proud of the way it turned out. Here’s more about our friend, El Federico.
How did you get into painting in public places?
Once upon a time, I was a display artist for Tower Records, and when they went bankrupt, I decided to tile the exterior of the building with LARGE stencil art! That was 20 years ago, and the act of doing that rewrote how I make a living!
What draws you to public spaces vs painting a smaller canvas?
Painting in public spaces is great because it’s nice to get outdoors and stretch one’s limbs! But more importantly, it allows me to spread positivity and bring my art directly to the public, which is a key element, as opposed to creating work on canvas.
How has your work evolved over the years?
When I first started graffiti stenciling, my work was a bit more crude, and certainly not as detailed. The same goes for my canvas work and hand-painted murals. Coming from El Paso, Texas, there’s always a Tex-Mex influence in my work, but lately, my public stencils need to have a positive proactive message to them.
Why did you move to Austin? South Congress has obviously changed a lot, what’s still special about it?
In the ’80s, Austin’s music scene made this El Paso teen take an 8-hour drive to sniff around; in the ’90s, it was the film scene that drove me to visit a bit more, until finally, in 2000, I made the move here. And back then, I had ZERO CLUE that Austin would morph into the city we have today!
When did you paint the Virgen De Guadalupe on the building and how did the new mural take shape?
La Virgen de Guadalupe was painted back in 2007 when Tesoros Trading, Co. occupied the building. When Tecovas moved into the building in 2022, they commissioned me to paint a mural that would span the ENTIRE WALL, yet preserve La Virgen. We both decided that it had to represent the Austin music scene. Willie came to mind, but I felt that he was already established as mural subject matter. Then it hit me: how about I paint him without showing his face; and only let his braids and his guitar identify him? Upon studying the wall further, I saw that I could utilize the bars in the window to my advantage, and with a few strategically placed dowel rods, we managed to create a sense of flow across the entire wall. And, by turning the original painting of La Virgen into a votive candle, we managed to save her and make her a part of the mural’s composition.
What does Willie represent to you?
When Willie first moved to Austin, he was escaping the uptight Nashville scene. He let his hair grow to the point that he braided it, united the hippies and rednecks, and helped create the country music outlaw scene! He started Farm Aid, supports the bio-fuel movement, and has his own brand of marijuana. And he’s also a damn good actor! (Check him out in “Thief”, and his personal favorite, “Barbarossa,” a great western partially shot in Big Bend!)
Willie represents that independent Texas spirit of maverick individuality! We choose a quote for the mural that sums up his view of life, “If you really want to get along with somebody, let them be themselves.”
Also, I happen to share a birthday with the man himself. Well, sort of; my birthday is April 30th, and his was on the 30th, until they decided to change it to the 29th! You’ll have to google the backstory of how that came to be!
What are your hopes for your public art and the art of others in Austin?
My hopes for public art in Austin is that I hope it will continue to expand and grow. There are now so many talented individuals and crews doing FANTASTIC work! And most of it is being produced by talented women! As for my work, may it last so that it may continue to inspire the next wave of artists.
What does Don’t Go Gently mean to you?
To me, “Don’t go gently” means that nothing in life is worth going into unless you jump in with gusto and determination! And as someone that has to contend with Parkinson’s disease, take it from me: Take advantage of the abilities you have while you’re young, because when you start to lose them as you age, well, it gets tough! Strive to keep it ALIVE!
Photography: Britton Orrange (Portrait and store exterior at night) and Team Tecovas
Featuring: Federico Archuleta