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Street fighters

Tulsa artists on the state of street art, the rules of engagement, and the line between good and evil

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Daniel Gulick // Photo by Casey Hanson

50-yard art

Daniel Gulick is a classically trained painter and professional muralist, owner of Colour Art Gallery and creator of the annual “Nude” art show. He travels across the country with his paint brush, which even earned him a role in television.

I’ve been doing murals in this town for a long time—15 years, maybe longer. It’s all legal. I’m not doing anything not legal, or not paid. I just wrapped up a mural at Burn Co. BBQ. I’m working for a television show called “Texas Flip and Move.” I’m the art liaison, so I’m in town maybe four days to gallery more art. As soon as I got back in town, I drove straight to Burn Co. and finished that mural, the whole inside.

When you have a big production like a mural, there’s respect [that goes] with that. So a young kid who bombs isn’t going to come along to one of my pieces because it takes years to learn how to do that. And they’re aspiring to do that as well.

Their dream—why would you not want to get paid to play? That’s what I do—I get paid to play. These kids, they start off doing whatever they can, but eventually it will grow as their skills evolve.

I think when these kids start off they don’t have intentions of making money—they fall into it just doing what they feel. They’re just doing it as an outlet. I didn’t think I was going to make money. I was 16 when I did my first paid mural at this paintball shop. It was incredible to have that feeling—like somebody trusted you. And I think when these kids, when it happens for the first time, it’s almost like an epiphany. Someone trusts you with their wall. Your art becomes the face of their business.

I’ve got murals that are still up in town here that are six, seven years old. There have been some that have been buffed, which means just taking them down. But that’s just because the businesses change and the business owner doesn’t want whatever it was there.

The term “graffiti” scares people. One owner approaching your neighbors and saying, ‘Hey, I want to do this graffiti wall.’ If it’s older clientele you’re going to freak them out. Even though graffiti is such a broad term. You can have some nice gorgeous stuff. But how do you monitor it?

There are graffiti productions that are beautiful, that are just amazing. There’s a legal wall on 11th and Highway 169, Mad Dog Liquor. Anybody can go out there and paint whatever they want. That’s graffiti, and those are nice productions.

I do big, elaborate murals. I’m starting one in the Brady Arts District, at The Ward Building on Archer Street. It’s going to be my biggest mural ever, 150 by 25 feet. I’ve finally got the concept I think we’re going to go with—an Oklahoma-themed mural.

I’ve noticed a lot of new people painting. There’s a fine line between what I do and what they do. Graffiti is letters, writing your name or something in the form. These kids study other writers’ letters and their movements.

There are different styles—there’s wild style, block lettering, bubble lettering. Murals are the fine-art side of it. I respect all kinds of art; I just don’t do certain things.

When you think of Picasso, what do you think of? You think of art, paintings. So when you think of the Brady Arts District, it makes sense to do public art there. The city has public art in its city budget—they have to put it out. An arts district should have murals, public art—it should be wild, it should be crazy. Claes Oldenburg [creates public art sculptures that are] giant-sized, everyday items. There will be a key or a shuttlecock, a big spoon with a cherry. That’s the stuff that makes sense to me.