Artists in Residence: Steve Hunter
Inspired by iconic Polo imagery, three artists took to the streets of their beloved cities to create large-scale murals that reflect both their neighborhoods and their signature style
Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood has held great import in Steve Hunter’s life since he moved to the city from Scotland in 2004. Though only a few blocks in each direction, it’s been the center of Dallas’ artistic community—from the ’20s, when Blind Lemon Jefferson would play blues guitar on the corner, through the early ’70s, when Stevie Ray Vaughan got his start, all the way to today.
“There are the more conservative parts of town, like Uptown, where you’re not seeing much public art anywhere, but you go to somewhere like Deep Ellum and that’s all you see,” says Hunter over the phone from his Dallas home, where he lives with his wife, an art teacher, and his Chihuahua, named Tequila.
Hunter, an artist by training who was invited to Dallas to paint a mural at a school in 2004 and ended up accepting a job as an art teacher at that same school, has a great personal stake in Deep Ellum as well. In 2011, he was thinking about leaving teaching to focus on painting murals, and it was in Deep Ellum where he found his first clientele.
“[People] were just opening up new bars right about 2011, after the big recession,” he recalls of the early days. “So I tried a few murals there and had a lot of success, and I decided to make a full-time job of it. Deep Ellum helped me out when I was trying to get on my feet with the business.”
With a signature building-block style, his murals are broken up into rectangular sections, with each section appearing to have a filter of color over it. In fact, each rectangle is simply painted with a different hue of high-quality acrylic paint, giving his work a kaleidoscopic quality. But though he’s become known for the style, Hunter, who studied at the prestigious Glasgow School of Art, laughs when asked how the colorful, pop art aesthetic developed.
“I was doing a mural in Deep Ellum of a good friend of mine, [iconic Dallas poet] Deep Rawlins [Gilliland],” Hunter says. “And I gridded the portrait up just to get it as realistic as I could for my friend because I didn’t want it to look kind of like him; I wanted it to look like him exactly, and gridding is probably one of the best ways to do that. And instead of getting rid of the squares, I thought, ‘Well, why not keep the squares?’ And that’s about as deep as it got; I just thought it was kind of cool.”
This summer he’s bringing that trademark style to the Ralph Lauren mural that he’ll be painting in his beloved neighborhood. When it came to picking a subject matter, with COVID-19 forcing a new reality, instead of a Deep Ellum icon, Hunter enlisted someone a little closer to home: his stepson CJ.
“I asked CJ and his girlfriend to lie on their backs, staring straight at the camera with an impassive kind of expression on the face,” Hunter says. “They sent me some great photographs that I could use as reference images. CJ is facing straight ahead, looking right on the viewer, and his girlfriend is, too, but I turned her upside down on the other side of the mural and separated them by circles. Right in the middle is the Ralph Lauren logo.”
As for the mural’s colors, when Hunter was researching the project, a page from the soon-to-be released book Ralph Lauren’s Polo Shirt (Rizzoli) that featured a grid of Ralph Lauren shirts in each color popped out to him.
“I’m like, ‘Well there, there it is. I mean, there’s the mural,’” he says, laughing. “All the color in [the mural] is the color of Ralph Lauren shirts.”
For Hunter, who has been quarantined for the past few months, the project will serve as a way of safely getting out of the house and once again enjoying the streets of Deep Ellum.
“I’m pretty darn excited about painting this mural,” he says.