While Breckenridge claims the title of Mural Capitol of Texas, Wichita Falls is giving the city a run for its money with artist Ralph Stearns leading the charge.
Stearns has at least nine murals across Downtown Wichita Falls, with many others in offices, schools and beyond. For the last 40 years, Stearns says he’s been a student of art.
He moved to Wichita Falls in the 4th grade and graduated from Petrolia High School. He enlisted for two years in the U.S. Marine Corps and moved back to Wichita Falls to attend Midwestern State University upon being discharged.
He obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts and started work as a commercial artist with Lamar Advertising. He continues to learn new techniques and styles all the time.
His first mural downtown came in 2005. Stearns painted a giant parrot and life-size man peering at one another. Stearns said that started the ball rolling with other mural projects Downtown.
When it comes to painting, Stearns likes to experiment with different techniques.
“I don’t really have a particular style,” he says. “I range from photorealism to abstract and impressionism.”
After years creating large-scale works of art including hamburgers and cars, he says creating murals appeals to him on many levels. Other downtown mural projects Stearns has completed include King Kong, the Hotter’N Hell building and work on the Branding Iron. He loves that his art is able to reach a broad audience.
“A lot of times you paint a piece of work and it sits in your house and no one gets to see it,” he says. “This is public art. Your audience is always there.”
One mural generating a lot of attention is a pair of eyes with splashes of bright paint surrounding them. The painting is on the exterior of a building owned by local businessman and fellow artist Smith Walker. Walker wanted something splashy on a blank exterior wall of his new art gallery, located at 1106 8th Street.
“Ralph has done probably a dozen murals for me. He’s the best,” Walker says. “The building is really one of the entrances to Downtown. I wanted something that was kind of sexy and seductive, fun and exciting. We wanted people to come over that hill and get a ‘Welcome to Downtown’ feel.”
Walker says his initial goal was to attract people to the building, which houses shops and galleries. Stearns says one of the tenants gave him the idea for “Cleopatra’s eyes.” Now eyes are drawn on the building, and to it.
“I researched eyes, and started looking at all these other artists works. Especially splash art,” he says. “They put watercolor down and use a straw to blow it around and it splatters. There’s a lot of people doing splash art. It’s just beautiful.”
His next collaboration with Walker has just been unveiled: a giant light switch.
Artist Ralph Stearns standing next to his light switch mural downtown.
Stearns say, “What does it mean? It brings up questions. It’s kind of an edgy. It’s a huge light switch. You ask, what does it mean and you’re baffled about it. What does it mean to you?”
And while Stearns says he has other projects going, he hopes to continue creating street art. A goal Walker is happy to support.
“As an artist, I want art everywhere. I would love to see more murals on buildings. In the alleys. That’s my vision for downtown,” Walker says.
Stearns adds, “It just brings pleasure and beauty and intrigue to the citizens of Wichita Falls and visitors. A beautiful work of art can really enrich your life.”
Contact Ralph Stearns (940)730-3555