Frank Campagna takes a drag on his cigarette as he paces behind the counter of the Kettle Art Gallery in Deep Ellum. The walls of the gallery are bare between shows, which almost seems ironic, considering painting walls is kind of Campagna’s thing.
If you live in Dallas, you know this Little Forest Hills neighbor. Or at least you know his work. Since the early 1980s, he has painted and repainted the walls of Deep Ellum with hundreds of murals.
“I was an artist, and I had a friend who told me, ‘Frank, to hell with trying to get your stuff in a gallery. Just throw your stuff up on a wall and people will see it,’” Campagna says.
So that’s exactly what he did.
Today if you see a mural in Deep Ellum — or anywhere in Dallas, for that matter — there’s a good chance Campagna painted it. He’s painted almost 1,000.
He also operated a small art studio in the ’80s on Main Street called Studio D, where he hosted bands on the weekends.
“After like three weeks of booking bands, I had the Dead Kennedys calling me and the Butthole Surfers showing up on a regular basis,” Campagna says. “I’d hire an off-duty cop, and we’d have 300-500 people in the space. Nothing was happening down here at the time, so we could get away with it.”
He stuck it out in Deep Ellum during the early 2000s, when the nightlife all but disappeared. He opened the Kettle Art Gallery in 2005 to help “bring the neighborhood back” to the vibrant nightlife it had seen in the ’90s.
“It’s bouncing back strong,” Campagna says about Deep Ellum today.
And opening the Kettle was important to him because he wanted “to let artists know that there’s a place for them,” he explains — especially the up-and-comers.
“They’re not lost dogs,” he says. “They can find friends and fellowship here.”
Learn more about Frank Campagna and his Kettle Art Gallery at kettleart.com.
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