Austin
3:59 pm
Thu January 9, 2014

Could These Iconic West Campus Murals Be Lost to Vandalism?

In 1974, a group calling themselves the Austintatious Artists wanted to express themselves. So, they found a wall in West Campus and painted what would become a venerated piece of Austin public art. Since then, that mural has lived on. They even painted another one in 2003 on the south wall of the same building.

Now, younger graffiti artists are laying claim to the same walls in droves. While it's something that's happened a lot over 40 years, the University Co-Op and the artists say the murals desperately need repair or they could be lost. 

Kerry Awn painted the wall with fellow artists Tom Bauman and Rick Turner. He says he doesn't appreciate the art-on-art crime, but it's art and, more importantly, it's public.

"People ask me, 'You must be really pissed off your mural got vandalized?' but I'm really not because it's public art. It's out there and that's what people do," says Awn, one of the Austintatious Artists. "But I would like to fix it. In a weird way, it's kind of our job. We go in there every couple of years and fix it."

But this time, Awn says he can't afford to fix it on his own, and that it's up to the Co-Op to restore the murals as close as they can to their original condition. The most recent tag came on the south wall of the building on Tuesday some time after midnight, says Brian Jewell of the Co-Op. He says that in the past few months both murals have been irreparably damaged.

"To me, as a lay person looking at it, I think it's next to impossible," says Jewell. "When people talk about Austin those are some of the things they talk about. And they're probably lost. Even if we can do it, It will be tough to recreate." 

The graffiti on the north wall mural, ironically, reads "This ain't yo wall!"
The graffiti on the north wall mural, ironically, reads "This ain't yo wall!"
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon for KUT

Jewell says the Co-Op doesn't have the money to pay for a restoration. And starting over with a blank slate, as they did in 2003, would cost upwards of $30,000, he says. Unlike the recently-vandalized Daniel Johnston "Hi How Are You" mural, it's not something the city's graffiti program can take care of. It requires more than a simple fix.

APD Det. Karl Haverland investigates burglary and graffiti in the West Campus area. 

While he tries to investigate reports like at the Co-Op, there's not much hope in catching a suspect. He's the only detective assigned to graffiti cases -- up against hundreds of writers in his coverage area, which stretches from just north of Cesar Chavez Street to Anderson Lane. 

"It's gotten to the point where people don't even report it anymore," Haverland says. "And without witnesses, you can't file charges. Plus, a lot of these people are using names that we can't track, they're names that are used nationwide. It's a hard crime to solve."

Both Jewell and Awn say the walls suffered at the can of many a graffiti writer, but over the past few months recent tagging has gotten more and more tagging. 

"Once they go in there and start tagging, the other taggers think it's okay," Awn says. "If you don't nip it in the bud early, they take over. They've been good all these years about tagging those. The real taggers won't mess with murals, they know. It's just these young idiots that aren't even real taggers."

Check out our full slideshow of West Campus graffiti below: