When people imagine cultural hubs in the United States, their minds naturally wander to New York, Los Angeles and even Chicago. But one city beginning to emerge on that list is Houston, Texas, and it’s not just because the Astros are in the World Series for the second time in the last three years. In 2019, H-Town was named the most diverse city in the country according to Thrillist.com. As a result, Houston’s culture is thriving as people from all over the world flock to the Space City looking for jobs and affordable housing.
Houston’s diversity is also reflected in the local art scene. One can find renowned art in distinguished venues such as the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Bayou Bend, The Rienzi and the Contemporary Arts Museum. But the street art scene is flourishing as well. Not many know this, but there are well over 100 murals throughout the downtown area. Listing them all would be quite the task, but here are the top 10 must-see murals next time you’re in H-Town.
1. “Greetings from Houston”
It seems appropriate to kick off the list with “Greetings From Houston,” by Daniel Anguilu. Located in The Heights, this mural is painted onto the side of Gelazzi, a local gelato shop, as a friendly welcome to visitors and residents alike. The piece features everything Houston from an oil rig to a rocket blasting off. Design elements such as mixed-and-matched patterns to bubbled letters make Anguilu’s creation pop right off the wall. The self-taught graffiti artist started out spray painting the sides of freight trains, but eventually gained permission from local business owners to do public pieces that bring personality to several parts of the city. He frequently refers to his art as “collective therapy,” hoping to inspire Houstonians to create the positive change they want to see in the world.
2. “Perfect Wave”
During the 2016 Huston Urban Experience (HUE) Mural Festival, Brazilian artist Hilton Alves blessed the downtown area with some crazy Hawaiian vibes. An orange beach setting with the black silhouette of a seemingly concerned onlooker provides the perfect contrast for a blue sky and even bluer wave. Alves captures the movement of water by using different shades of blue and features white highlights for the sun’s reflection off the wave’s crest. It all combines to make it seem as if the maverick is coming right for you. Yet with all the excitement within the piece, the simple aesthetic of “Perfect Wave” brings a calm, tropical element to Commerce Street.
3. “Justice Mural”
Another product of the HUE Mural Festival, “Justice Mural” takes a more serious tone within the street art scene. As indicated by its title, the mural is intended to call attention to racial inequality within the city and across the country. The main figure is an African American man made up of portraits of different women, news articles (one of which prominently displays the word justice in all caps on his left cheek) and other patterns on a black background. There are several theories as to what exactly the artists were trying to say, and viewers have their own theories. The gritty, urban aura this piece gives off attracts thousands of visitors to see it for themselves at the Houston Graffiti Building.
4. “Love Wall”
While you’re at the Houston Graffiti Building, you can also witness a beloved local favorite. Since its creation, John Whaley’s “Love Wall” has consistently been providing the perfect background for Instagram posts that are sure to garner plenty of likes. The simple design of a pink wall with layered hearts of all sizes and colors maintains the urban graffiti tradition with a friendly, welcoming twist. This is part of a larger contemporary theme that involves taking older concepts and redesigning them to suit new purposes, breathing new life into historically downtrodden areas. This piece celebrates love in all its forms, sizes and colors.
5. “JW Marriott Downtown Mural”
This Warhol-esque mural is inspired by 1950s pop art and is located on the front wall of the JW Marriott Downtown hotel, hence the name. The location actually serves a practical purpose, according to the artist, Michael Rodriguez. The piece features comic style skyscrapers, a United airplane, a blue and black globe and the prominent face of a glammed-up woman. Rodriguez’s creation is meant to celebrate the worldliness of the city and to welcome travelers to the hotel. An estimated 22 million people visit Houston per year, according to Houstonia. Those numbers grow every year as more businesses and potential employees settle in the Houston metro area.
Another all-time local favorite, the “Houston” mural honors the city’s ascent to a major cultural hub using urban motifs, combining the skyline with vibrant colors and wave-like mixtures of patterns. The upward motion in the skyline’s color scheme reflects H-Town’s exponential growth, and the bright stars in the night sky above it are a nod to Houston’s pivotal role in the moon landing mission, which gave it the nickname Space City. The rugged “Houston” lettering completes the graffiti theme, but overall the work is meant to symbolize Houston’s huge growth through its diversity. It can be found at the Houston Graffiti Park. That’s right, the city has a Graffiti Building and a Graffiti Park. Beat that, Dallas.
7. “Preservons La Creation”
Measuring out to 9,750 square feet and taking up an entire city block, this mural by Sebastien Boileau is Houston’s largest by far. The name “Preservons La Creation” translates to “Let’s Preserve the Creation,” and the piece stays true to its title, channeling Michelangelo’s masterpiece from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, with some minor changes. The “God” figure is dressed in the traditional white robes with a full white beard. However, he gives the gift of street art by holding a can of spray paint instead of giving Adam the gift of life. Boileau’s creation combines cultural influences by calling attention to preservation of precious history, while also embodying the phrase “everything is bigger in Texas.” This mammoth is located at the corner of Fannin Street and Tuam Street.
Daniel Anguilu strikes again, this time with a geometric arrangement using Latin American artistic styles that form animal shapes amidst a seemingly urban setting. The repetition of eyes gives a more serious tone to this mural, and the faded colors used for the bases affirm this. Anguilu’s message is more cryptic in this installment, featured prominently on the side wall of BJ Oldies Antiques in Montrose. The only clue the artist gives the viewer is an inscription on the top left corner that reads “LOVE IS THE LIGHT THAT SPARKED WHEN ONLY DARKNESS EXISTED.”
9. “Houston Is Inspired”
Mario Figueroa Jr.’s masterpiece, “Houston Is Inspired,” has become a cultural landmark for Houstonians. In fact, the mural is the number one photo posted in Houston. The piece is actually the product of the Greater Houston Convention and Business Bureau’s 2013 “Houston is Inspired” campaign, dedicated to raise awareness of the Bayou City’s emerging cultural influence. According to Figueroa Jr., the multitude of colors and patterns act as “butterfly wings” that show the city’s beauty but ultimately draw the eyes to the center, which reads: Houston Is Inspired. Similar to many artworks around the city, the mural borrows from Latin American traditions to create vivid, multicolored shapes that commemorate the city’s history.
10. “Chalkboard Wall”
Located in Midtown, the “Chalkboard Wall” is a continual work in progress as visitors write new inscriptions on the giant, double-sided blackboard. One side is meant for advice, and the other is meant for dreams and aspirations. There are hundreds of entries on each side, ranging from “never give up and have faith!” to a simplistic, yet uplifting “laugh.” The majority of the advice is positive, which is nice to see. The purpose of the wall is to bring the community together and celebrate both differences and similarities between all people.
Honorable Mention: “Be Someone”
Although it’s not a mural and you can’t really visit it so much as drive under it, it would be a disservice not to mention the “Be Someone” sign on the Union Pacific bridge over I-45 heading into Downtown. The simple, yet powerful message gives Houstonians daily inspiration during their commute into the city and has essentially become synonymous with the city itself. No one really knows who first painted the famous words onto the bridge, but the sign has continually been altered by other graffiti artists, although not for the better. However, in April 2019, three college students restored the local treasure to its full glory and were hailed as heroes.