An Iconic Mural Near Campus Just Got a Well-Deserved Update

When Rick Turner, BFA ’72, and Tommy Bauman, BA ’73, were students at UT, their College of Fine Arts professor had never seen airbrush painting before. The first modern airbrush tool—connected to a canister of compressed air that sprays paint in a controlled way—was invented in 1893, but it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that airbrushing gained prominence in the art world.

“[The professors] were annoyed at our presence in studio painting classes,” Turner says, “because we would set up our compressors on either side of the room and sit there and noisily spray away at our canvases.”  

But for Turner, along with Bauman and fellow art major Kerry Fitzgerald, ’73, airbrush painting was vital for the creation of a project that persists in Austin 50 years after its creation: the “Austintatious” mural.  

Inhabiting a wall on 23rd Street, the massive and vibrantly colored mural depicts a rounded Austin skyline framing Stephen F. Austin, who holds armadillos in his arms. And the airbrush technique paid off: Turner painted the fluffy clouds on the skyline using the newer technology.  

“Every day I would haul up a compressor to the top of scaffolding, set that thing up with a huge extension cord around the building to the alley, and proceed to paint clouds with the airbrush,” Turner says.  

Bauman, Turner, and Fitzgerald—who is better known by his pseudonym, Kerry Awn—first started painting the mural in 1973 and finished in February 1974. The idea originated from the trio’s plan to create an “Austintatious” comic book when they were roommates. However, after learning about “The Big Three” Mexican muralists—Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros—they were inspired to develop a mural of their own.   

“We went to a Co-op board meeting with the design and showed it to them,” Awn says. “They were like, ‘We don’t really want a mural.’ And then we said, ‘We’ll do it for free. Just give us the paint.’”  

Fifty years later, the mural has tethered its creators together, even after their careers diverged. After graduation, Awn created an art band called the Uranium Savages and performed at comedy club Esther’s Follies for 30 years, gaining prominence in Austin’s comedy scene. Bauman transitioned to digital art and graphic design, while Turner worked restoring rare books, paper works, and paintings. But, in 1982, 2002, and 2014, Austin’s own “Big Three” reunited on 23rd Street to restore and repair their original work.  

“It’s not common in the art world for an artist to work for 50 years and still be remembered for some of these very first things you did,” Turner says.  

Fading, water damage, and graffiti have each taken their toll on one of the oldest murals in Austin, which still features a “’74” on a stamp painted in the top-right corner.  

“I guess we’re stuck with it,” Awn says jokingly. “We thought maybe it was going to last a couple years when we first did it.”  

Most recently, in the fall of 2022, Awn, Bauman, and Turner returned to restore the mural once again, this time updating the skyline with Austin’s newest downtown buildings, adding Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards, and even including an Austin FC soccer ball and someone wearing a mask.   

While Awn and Bauman still live in Central Texas, Turner resides in New York. But he doesn’t mind the frequent trips down to Austin, regularly making the 25-hour drive to see his friends and fellow artists.  

“They’re like the brothers I never had,” Turner says. “We just went through this life’s initiation period together and attained a very similar outlook or perspective on life on this planet. When we get back together, it’s just kind of like we’re one mind and one paintbrush.”  

The three longtime friends are planning to hold a celebration to honor the mural’s 50-year anniversary on April 1 this year. But as far as another 50 years of the mural goes, Awn isn’t too optimistic.  

“The wall is just chicken wire,” Awn said. “It’s the only thing that holds the wall up. I’m just glad it’s still here 50 years later. It’s so rare.”  

But the iconic “Austintatious” mural is still a fixture in Austin and on the Drag, and recent efforts from the City of Austin and the nonprofit Phogg Foundation include backing the restoration of the mural and a push to preserve the mural as a historical marker.  

It’s a far cry from when Awn, Bauman, and Turner had to fight to paint the mural. And the three artists are still going to fight to keep it gracing West Campus for as long as they can.  

“If it needs us in the future,” Turner says, “we’ll be there for it if we’re alive.”  

CREDIT: Matt Wright-Steel



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