A Day in Dallas Culture

Taking the temperature of the city

Life's purpose: to enjoy

10:15 a.m. Mural man in Deep Ellum

Standing in the morning shade atop a paint-flecked ladder, Frank Campagna sprays a mural of Texas music legend Ronnie Dawson outside a Deep Ellum loft. You may not have heard of the 50-year-old, but if you've been to the Smirnoff concert shed, the Black Forest Theater or the streets of the nightclub district east of downtown, you've seen his work.

He loves the idea of making pictures that stay behind after he's gone: "the impact a visual artist can have without being present." In the early 1990s, he spearheaded the Good Latimer tunnel project that brought together 200 artists to beautify the connector road. "I encouraged graffiti artists to consider getting paid," he says.

The Dawson portrait is part of a series on local musicians he started outside his gallery, Kettle Art. The series has since spread as other owners have commissioned him to spray-paint murals on their buildings.

"I chose not to get a job around 1977," he says. "In college, I sold my homework instead of turning it in. It was a light-bulb moment."

Among his accomplishments: painting party backdrops for the Rolling Stones and Guns N' Roses. He's traded art with Andy Warhol, operated a punk-rock club in Deep Ellum years before its late-'80s heyday and ate lunch with Timothy Leary at the Art Bar.

"I asked him the meaning of life, and he said, 'To enjoy.' I was kind of disappointed at the time. Over time, it's made more sense."

Manuel Mendoza

Photo - Guy Reynolds / DMN
photo by Guy Reynolds for the Dallas Morning News

Frank Campagna loves the idea of making
pictures that stay behind after he's gone.

Ronnie Dawson mural shot at night. Photographer - Unknown

Finished mural of local Rockabilly legend, Ronnie Dawson, shot at night. Photographer - Unknown