East Austin George Floyd mural nears completion; artist shares personal journey

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A few more faces and final touches have been added to the George Floyd mural in East Austin, depicting the unrest that’s developed as a result of his death and other’s.

“I think that’s a beautiful thing. It’s exactly what needs to happen. It’s kind of like heating up iron before it’s reshaped. It’s perfectly understandable and I think it’s perfectly necessary for people to be upset and uncomfortable,” artist Chris Rogers said.

At the beginning of June, the wall looked more like a blank slate. But the incomplete work already moved those passing by. Her reaction in the video below:

A conversation piece

Rogers started painting early in the morning Monday, June 22 to avoid the heat from the sun. He neared finishing the Native Hostel mural as daylight filled his canvas.

On top, the words “We can’t breathe” surround a glowing purple heart. But that’s just the beginning of additions made.

Just below, Floyd’s face is no longer alone, surrounded by other Black victims of police brutality or racial violence (from left to right):

  • Breonna Taylor
  • Tamir Rice
  • Mike Ramos
  • George Floyd
  • Trayvon Martin
  • Ahmaud Arbery
  • Eric Garner

Like paint drying, he hopes people’s wounds can heal. For him, the medicine is honesty.

“To really change is to be aware of the reality. Be aware of the truth. And through that, we’ll move through it and grow through it.”

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Rogers’ reality is alcohol addiction and abuse. The artist has been on the path of recovery for over six and a half years. He made his first steps when he found a space where others listened to him.

“There was a space filled with people that don’t normally mix that weren’t judging me, weren’t pointing fingers at me, weren’t telling me to check my privilege, ‘what took you so long?’ They said, ‘Welcome.’ And they said I was the most important person in the room. And even more than wanting to get sober and needing to get sober, what really inspired me to keep coming back and move forward was that these people were being so brutally honest it was amazing.”

For Rogers, his life is an analogy of the message behind his mural.

“We’re talking about scarlet letters being turned into purple hearts and that’s what I wanted. That’s what allowed me and emboldened me to start being honest with myself and I don’t see racism or sexism or any other -ism that vexes the planet nowadays any different than drugs and alcohol. It’s a disease that runs consistent through every one of us, whoever you are.”

An openness of oneself, he says, that’ll lead to conversations with others — being welcoming to listen to each other about issues at hand, some of which can be upsetting and difficult, like racism.

“I say, ‘welcome’ because we have a problem. Not just Black people. And I feel we have the medicine and it’s gonna come from us talking and listening and learning from one another. And that was my main objective for this entire mural is to create a space where people could come, where they felt comfortable to talk about things and issues that they normally wouldn’t talk about so they could draw the parallels, they could draw the conclusions that we are just human.”

Over the weeks Rogers worked on his painting, many stopped to talk with the artist. One interaction stands out in his mind.

I guess it was about a week ago, there was this 51-year-old white woman, dressed to the nines, conservative. She came over here to Native Hostel to have a drink with her husband and she came and sat down next to me at the curb… and she opened up the conversation by communicating to me that she felt bad because up until a few weeks ago she truly believed that Colin Kaepernick was protesting the flag and the troops. Did my eyebrows go up or did I lash out at her or make her feel uncomfortable in any way? No, I just listened. I just listened and she opened up and she let me speak and she listened, and by the end of the conversation I could tell she was smiling and I asked her, I was like, ‘how are you feeling right now?’ She said, ‘I feel pretty good,’ and I was like, ‘Can you imagine if just a fraction of people around the world had conversations just like this on a regular basis?’ The tidal wave of change that would happen for the better.

In the end, Rogers believes it comes down to each of us, individually, to affect change.

“We need old legislation to be amended and enforced. We need new legislation to be written and enforced. But if I’m waiting on the government to pass a law for me to get to know somebody that doesn’t look like me or treat somebody that doesn’t look like me, the same way I want to be treated, or more importantly, teach the kids what’s right and wrong, then not only am I setting myself up for more of the same, I’m missing a golden opportunity to make some real, substantial, lasting change.”

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