Federico Archuleta

Graffiti artist Nathan Nordstrom works on his latest public art installment in West Campus. One of the most well-known names in Austin public art, Nordstrom will be live painting at Fun Fun Fun Fest.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

At Fun Fun Fun Fest, Austin graffiti artist Nathan Nordstrom makes a performance out of something usually done in secret. 

Graffiti is based on tags and spray paint wording, but street art has a broader definition, incorporating everything from spray paint and stencils to plastered posters.

“Graffiti has a long history,” Nordstrom said. “It has been built up by many pioneers on decades of experiences, where as street art is relatively new.” 

Nordstrom was one of the original artists asked by Fun Fun Fun Fest to spray paint live at the festival five years ago. This year the live painting will be on a larger scale.

“Last year we built a box and started painting the box … and it was a big hit,” Nordstrom said. “We are excited to paint again this year. “This year we hope to out-do ourselves. We want to build two boxes … and it has become an added attraction to the festival.”

Three of the biggest names in Austin’s public art scene today are Eleanor Herasimchuk, better known as Niz, Federico Archuleta and Nordstrom. The artists work in similar mediums, but their artwork is different.

Herasimchuk said her aerosol, photo-realistic stencil art is closer to street art than graffiti. The paintings often feature large portraits with graphic, contrasting colors. Her transition into the world of public art stemmed from her previous job as a social worker. 

“I used to work in HIV prevention,” Herasimchuk said. “I worked with kids one-on-one, but my focus was in education through art and in murals. So that was my first little introduction into it, and since then, the more involved I became in hip-hop culture and skateboarding culture, I kind of became pushed in that direction.”

Archuleta more closely identifies with graffiti, but his work also contains elements of street art. Archuleta said his start in the graffiti world was an accident, when he decided to decorate the exterior of Tower Records, a store on the Drag that closed in 2003 that he used to work.

Once I did that for the store, the feedback I got back from the public made me realize that, ‘Hey I could be pretty good at this,’”
Archuleta said.

As a veteran to the Austin graffiti scene, Nordstrom has been painting around town for the last 24 years. He was mentored by graffiti artist Skam and has been tagging ever since. 

“I would see these pieces around town when I was skateboarding in ditches and tunnels, and I was like, man, I want to learn,” Nordstrom said. “So when I met Skam, it opened a door. He gave me an outline to practice, and I’d help him out with projects … I started out on the bottom, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Public art is constantly being replaced by new pieces. It is this evolving nature that pushes Nordstorm to grow as an artist.

“That’s the beauty of graffiti art,” Nordstrom said. “You’re only as good as your last graffiti piece. I’m always trying to do a better job on the next piece. I mean I do have some pieces that I’m proud of, but I haven’t yet created ‘the one.’”  

Although Herasimchuk has never painted at Fun Fun Fun Fest, she has done many live art events and appreciates what Nordstrom and the others bring to their audience. 

“Graffiti is already in the public all the time; it’s everywhere, especially if you look for it,” Herasimchuk said. “But what I think is interesting about having live graffiti painting events is that people get to see the technique and skill that goes into it. They get to see it from blank canvas to finished product.” 

Federico Archuleta holds a cardboard stencil of Buddy Holly in his garage studio in East Austin. Archuleta, whose work can be found on walls across the city, was permitted by the new owners of the old Tower Records building on the corner of 24th and Guadalupe to touch up his original murals.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

The murals of iconic musicians at the intersection of 24th and Guadalupe streets will be preserved with the opening of four new businesses at the location.

The original artist Federico Archuleta said he was able to preserve and touch up the paintings this weekend thanks to the support of the manager at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf that will be opening in the space. He started stenciling in 2003. That same year, he drew the mural when Tower Records owned the building, just three months before the music store went out of business and was replaced by the bookstore Intellectual Property.

Archuleta said he painted the murals as a tribute to some of his favorite artists and included portraits of music greats such as Johnny Cash, The Clash and Bob Dylan.

“I tried to tip my hat to a variety of artists, including blues, rock and country,” Archuleta said. “Right before Intellectual Property opened, I took it upon myself to redo the stencils in different colors, and that has been the version that’s been around for the past few years.”

Archuleta said he was pleased to see the artwork has remained intact throughout the years and become an iconic image in the campus community.

“The response of the public has been very supportive, and it’s inspired me to continue maintaining the murals,” he said. “These have really become the ground zero for this type of art, and people do consider it a landmark of sorts.”

Archuleta said growing up near the border in El Paso influenced his artistic style, a blend of Mexican and American pop culture. He has lived in Austin for 10 years and said people are receptive to public art such as his.

“Whether the art stands the test of time remains to be seen,” Archuleta said. “You do your labor of love and you hope somebody cares enough to value it and say it is part of the city’s heritage and should be preserved.”

He said he strives to create art that is culturally meaningful and adds visual interest to his surroundings.

“If it’s not done well, people will just see it as graffiti,” Archuleta said. “I’m more than glad to be able to do the art a third time around so a new generation of students can experience it.”

Preserving art around the city is an important part of maintaining Austin’s individuality, accounting senior Brittney Rodriguez said.

“A lot of the art around campus buildings and things that are on the drag are most memorable to me because I see them every day,” Rodriguez said. “Austin is known for its creativity in all forms of art and I think keeping these murals will help preserve the city’s characteristic of being artistic.”

Communication sciences and disorders senior Behnaz Abolmaali said she hopes to see the culture of public art continue to thrive in the Central Austin area to differentiate it from more traditional suburban neighborhoods.

“I’ve lived in Austin my whole life, and these pieces of art are Austin fixtures,” Abolmaali said. “I would be glad to see the paintings be touched up and stick around for more years to come.”

Printed on 07/18/2011 as: Pop Art Preservation