If you've visited the Kerbey Lane on Guadalupe St. near the University of Texas campus recently, you may have noticed a new mural proclaiming Austinites' love for the melted cheese dip known as queso. Back in April we commissioned local artist, Mike Johnston ("TRUTH"), to add a pop of color to the side of our building to give patrons the opportunity to snap a photo in order to publicly display their affection for our famous queso.
Johnston is a street art evangelist who aims to bring a message of joy to the masses. His major influences have been travel, comic books, Jesus Cristo, and a variety of street art. He and his wife, Erin, traveled across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East before making Austin their home eight years ago. He quickly became known for the portraits of pop culture icons and bright, graphic, illustrative murals he painted throughout the city.
Born into a military family, Johnston moved around a lot as a kid, but finished high school in San Antonio. From there he went onto obtain a BFA and a Masters in education from Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He began teaching art in Dallas, Texas where he met his wife who was also an art teacher. Together, they went on to teach overseas in China and Kuwait before returning to Texas.
Seven years ago Johnston became an Austin street artist under the name "TRUTH," which was inspired by a stencil he had created of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was the most powerful word he could think of and he uses it as a motivator both for himself and others.
The "I ♡ Queso" mural took Johnston and his wife three days to complete. The process involved tracing the image that had been projected onto the wall during the early morning hours before the sun came up and painting began once daylight hit.
Johnston is a resident artist at HOPE Outdoor Gallery, Austin's iconic graffiti park located at 11th and Baylor St. in downtown Austin since 2011. He told us when he first started painting there a piece would last for months, whereas now you have to take a picture immediately after finishing because it will likely be gone the next day. "The nature of street art is temporary", Johnston pointed out, "so I’m ok with it." HOPE Outdoor Gallery will relocate a memorial wall and expand with the creation of a new six-acre project launching at Carson Creek Ranch with expected completion some time in late 2018.
In the last four years Johnston estimates he has painted more than 200 murals. He has been hired to paint his fourth mural for Austin's Capitol Factory and this fall, and he and Erin will travel to Beijing to work with middle and high school kids while participating in a visitor artist program. Previously the couple had participated in similar programs in Poland, Delhi, India, and San Diego, California.
When asked if he ever imagined he'd be doing what he is today, Johnston said that he never expected to be a full-time artist–he thought he would continue teaching and as he put it, "make art on the side for a little date night money." He told us, "At the end of the day, I’m super grateful that Erin and I ended up in Austin and for the ability to paint every day. There are a lot of creative people here who are open to what we do and, who knows, if our story would’ve taken us to a different city this may not have been the outcome."
Johnston attributes a large part of his success to the opportunities given to him by Kerbey Lane. His very first art show was at Kerbey's UT location in 2011. His work has also been on display at our locations on Kerbey Ln., S. Lamar Blvd., and W. William Cannon Dr.