Los Angeles team

Oct. 30, 2022

For a Texas mural artist, a window in an unexpected spot opened up new options

Artist Tommy Lee worked on a mural in Amarillo, Texas.
Artist Tommy Lee worked on a mural in Amarillo, Texas. (Andrew Hall)

AMARILLO, Texas — Tommy Lee was staring at an 18-by-12-foot expanse of wall in downtown Amarillo, pondering the unexpected window smack in the middle of it. The artist was set to start painting a mural the following week but this wasn’t the space they’d have picked if given the choice. That window wasn’t part of the plan.

Even though Lee recently had their first big art show, the planning for this particular work of art had been a little nerve-wracking. The city’s HOODOO Mural Festival, a public art and music festival, was set for the first of October, and it was going to be Lee’s mural debut. “I’m still new to the [art] community and people don’t really know my name yet,” they said.

Lee is a lifelong resident of Amarillo, and the efforts to fill blank spaces with art matter a lot to them, especially in the context of Texas’ conservative and often exclusionary politics. “It’s kind of scary being an openly gay, nonbinary person who’s an artist, who’s expressive, who’s nontraditional, you know?” Lee said. “Just trying to be myself in a place like this, it has been scary.”

Lee’s plan is to leave Amarillo to finish their degree, but also to one day return.

“[S]eeing expression from other print artists and other just creatives in general, it helps me feel like I have a community here. And honestly, it’s what’s helping me stay in Amarillo,” they said. “I know there is that much potential here, and I would love to be part of the community that really pioneers the growth of Amarillo.”

But first, there was a new mural design to dream up — one that turned an unexpected canvas, window and all, into an opportunity.

A mural painted by Tommy Lee.
A mural painted by Tommy Lee. (Tommy Lee)

Join the discussion: Comment on this story.

Up next

  • Reporters: Julian Benbow, Diti Kohli, Hanna Krueger, Emma Platoff, Annalisa Quinn, Jenna Russell, Mark Shanahan, Lissandra Villa Huerta
  • Photographers: Erin Clark, Pat Greenhouse, Jessica Rinaldi, and Craig F. Walker
  • Editor: Francis Storrs
  • Managing editor: Stacey Myers
  • Photo editors: William Greene and Leanne Burden Seidel
  • Video editor: Anush Elbakyan
  • Digital editor: Christina Prignano
  • Design: Ryan Huddle
  • Development: John Hancock
  • Copy editors: Carrie Simonelli, Michael Bailey, Marie Piard, and Ashlee Korlach
  • Homepage strategy: Leah Becerra
  • Audience engagement: Lauren Booker, Heather Ciras, Sadie Layher, Maddie Mortell, and Devin Smith
  • Newsletter: LaDonna LaGuerre
  • Quality assurance: Nalini Dokula
  • Additional research: Chelsea Henderson and Jeremiah Manion