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Arts & Culture


Meet the Artists Behind SA’s Most Iconic Restaurant Interiors

Photo: Courtesy, License: N/A


Duran's Día de los Muertos-inspired remix of Renoir’s 'Luncheon of the Boating Party' at Bistro Vatel

Photo: Rolando Ramirez Ramos, License: N/A

Rolando Ramirez Ramos

Tatum's Mellow Mushroom Man in Space mural at Mellow Mushroom

Do you find the venues or do they find you?
They just see my work. I’m really easy to get a hold of. ... I don’t pitch any work, people call me, which is pretty cool.

Is there any type of maintenance involved?
There’s touch up on murals. I’ve done 16 bars all by the same owner, the Karam family. They own Las Vegas Bar, Chicago Bar, New York Bar, Boston Bar–I did all the city-themed bars. They wanted me to come all the way down [to the floor], and I always encourage clients to start at a wainscoting, where they have a border and start the mural up from there. He likes the mural to start from the floor and people put their feet on it, they lean on it … I was going in (every few months), but I keep raising my prices. I put it in for the first couple of years, as maintenance, free. But … the older I get the more I can raise my prices ... Now I can’t go back every week and touch it up for free. I probably made more money at the end of the year, touching up, than I did initially during the whole mural. It’s a pain in the ass, you have to match all the colors. I would rather spend my energy creating something new for that money than going in and touching up and touching up. Every time you touch up it starts to change. It’s like being a scientist and matching all those colors. I’m good at that, but it still changes it a little.

What is your favorite thing to eat at the places that do show your work?
At Umai Mi, it would be their deviled eggs–they’re like crack! I like simple things. …
It’s hard to choose a favorite. Every time I go back I experiment with something I haven’t tried. At Luxury, their pulled pork sandwich is pretty damn good and I don’t eat pork [laughs]. I’m pretty spoiled; when I go to different places I ask for things that aren’t on the menu.

Is there any trade involved as payment?
It depends. Yes, there’s a bonus. I still have my price, and then I’ll help them curate young [artists] who do need exposure. … It adds an ambiance [for] the owners, and how dare, how dare any restaurant or a bar try to take a percentage from any young artist? That’s just bullshit. They should be paying that artist for the ambiance they’re creating. “Oh, we want to give exposure to the artist,” “We’re only going to take 30 percent.”… Whatever, dude. That’s what I try to help young people out with, to not get suckered into that.

Are there any local artists you collect or would like to?
Yeah, I collect a lot of young, upcoming artists. One, it’s a lot more affordable. I think that with my age, and everything I’ve done, there’ve been a lot of young people that look up to me. I’ve enjoyed buying their art and watching them grow, but at the same time I think they appreciate me taking the time to go to their shows and buy their work. It makes them feel good. I buy it because I like it. The dynamic that goes into that is important. Show them the value of their work and give them some comments. It’s easier for them to take criticism when you purchase a piece. It’s a teaching process and I think I’ve been very lucky so it’s important for me to give back. There’s Evil Dave, who’s a tattoo artist out of Calaveras. Dennis Hodges, who’s from San Antonio but now lives in San Marcos. His early work was brilliant and now it’s just awesome. Scotch is one that I collect; he’s real quiet and shows outside of San Antonio. I like independent artists. Soupé I’ve known since he was a kid and I’ve seen him come a long way. I think his photorealism of characters is flawless through spray paint, but I’d want him to get more conceptual.

When you do a gallery show, how does that come together?
That’s galleries approaching me, ’cause I do have a reputation for not liking galleries. I’ll do one every few years … but I’m a whore in this town. My shit’s everywhere–my logos, signage–the whole list. I don’t want people to throw up when they see my work. It’s a small town and I’ve been here 21 years. I’ll do stuff all over Houston, but who knows, maybe in 20 years I’ll be a whore there, too.

Where do you fit between contemporary, commercial and fine artist? Which do you identify more with?
Take all three of those, and just combine it. Throw it in a bowl of soup and add one more ingredient and that’s who I am. I just like to create. Whether scribbling or painting.

What’s the ingredient?
It’s a secret!

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