Winter 1999

Art Business

Murillo researches materials and
photographs to find the right historical
images for his murals, then makes those
images into slides. He projects the slides
on an overhead and draws the images in
the dark. He used this technique while
drawing the Chisholm Trail State Bank
mural. While reflecting on the advantages
of "modern techniques," he said he was
surprised to learn that some artists,
including famed British painter David
Hockney, contend that European painters
from the 1500s used common techniques
with lenses and other optical devices in
creating their works.

Most artists don't like to mix pleasure with business, but local artist Steve Murillo '70/73 doesn't have much choice.

The satisfaction he gets from creating art has to be mixed with business, because as the owner of an Old Town art studio, he's a one-person operation.

Whether he's creating a project for the City of Wichita, for one client or for a group of business people, Murillo sees parallels between the struggles of contemporary artists and those of classical painters. Well-known works, he points out, were often commissioned by clients ranging from the state to the Pope. "I don't think Michaelangelo climbed up on the Sistine Chapel scaffolds and did that initially for art's sake alone," he says.

Some days more headaches are created than art. In one Old Town historic landmark project, he had to consider the advice, opinions and recommendations of six committees with multiple agendas and perspectives.

There are myriad places in and around Wichita that display Murillo's work. He has also done private works, such as decorating a chapel room in the home of Teri Messner, WSU's campus minister. The variety of available work is good news for him and for other WSU-educated artists who want to support themselves with their art.

In addition to painting, Murillo teaches at WSU. He says his goal is to see his students progress beyond his level. He also wants them to be able to make a living practicing their craft. Few artists today, he says, can earn a living solely from studio arts.

Exterior facades and interior walls often serve as his canvases. Some of these large works have become Wichita landmarks, such as the 30-by-130-foot mural of people strolling in a turn-of-the-century scene painted on the north wall of the River City Brewery and the five-frame Color Craft mural that chronicles the stages of tulips in bloom. Other works are more subtle, incorporated into the decors of restaurants including five Larkspur paintings expanding above the bar. Other sites featuring his works are the Olive Tree, Panera Bread Bakery-Café and the lobby of the Hotel at Oldtown.

Developer Jack DeBoer says he's always been impressed with Murillo's work, adding that he chose him for the Hotel at Oldtown project because he liked the artist's layered technique, which allows several periods of history to be captured on one canvas.

Murillo also works in Kansas City, Mo., where he's completed murals at several eating establishments, including Japengo, a four-star restaurant on the Plaza. "I was impressed with his talent, and he was willing to adapt his style to fit what we wanted, a grand Renaissance feel with Asian influences," Japengo owner Forbes Cross says.

With Japengo's domed-ceiling, Murillo began with a dark turquoise milieu, adding Renaissance figures and images overlaid with a haven of birds aglow, soaring from a round center skylight and winging their way throughout the panorama. "My work is figurative, often erotic, truly romantic, expressing a celebration of life in classical appropriations and various cultural references," Murillo explains.

He began his mural projects under a matching funds grant managed by the Kansas Arts Commission from local boards of education and the National Educators Association. As an artist-in-school resident for three years, he completed more than 30 murals.

A proven muralist, he is in demand. Local benefactor Harry Litwin suggests that Wichita would benefit aesthetically by featuring his talents in big art adorning the city. Although commercial work gives the artist satisfaction and helps pay the bills, he prefers doing large easel paintings.

"I would like people to see me as a fine artist who does commercial work," he says, "rather than a commercial artist who does fine artwork."

Recent Works

• An interior mural for Del Frisco's, a restaurant near Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, N.Y., is scheduled to be completed in December.

• Two 5-by-18 foot murals inside the remodeled Union Station in Kansas City, Mo., depict common folk and affluent passengers boarding, disembarking and riding trains, circa 1914. One standout is the image of President Woodrow Wilson, who dedicated the station in 1914, calling it "the gateway to the west."

• A 76-foot-long mural completed this fall for Park City's Chisholm Trail State Bank captures fascinating changes in the landscape, from the prehistoric era to the present.


Art Business

Murillo researches materials and photographs to find the right historical images for his murals, then makes those images into slides. He projects the slides on an overhead and draws the images in the dark. He used this technique while drawing the Ch...