Off the Wall

By Susan Bean Aycock

Artist Cade Kegerreis excels at large-scale murals and more

If artists really are embodied in their work, Cade Kegerreis is all over town — in living color and larger-than-life size. That’s because the 27-year-old full-time artist has found a niche painting murals that are sprouting all over Waco as prolifically as rain lilies after a Texas storm.

It’s not just a wall here and there. Kegerreis’ work seems to be everywhere.

Kegerreis, who was called “one of Texas’ youngest full-time artists” when he was just 23, makes his living with his art. What might be most extraordinary about Kegerreis (pronounced keg’-ur-uss) is that he’s not tied down to just one or two styles or art forms. He paints in multiple media and his style ranges from abstract to photographically accurate.

“I don’t have one style,” Kegerreis said. “Most artists are very style-structured, but sometimes I feel like I’m five or 10 artists all at once.”

But for the moment, Kegerreis finds himself mostly working on multiple high-visibility murals, simultaneously. His most recent works are now in their final stages.

Kegerreis and fellow Baylor graduate Bradley Settles, who teaches art at China Spring High School, are finishing up seven full mural walls for the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Featured — among others — are sports legends Tom Landry, Emmitt Smith, Vince Young, LaDainian Tomlinson, Nolan Ryan and Mia Hamm, as well as fellow Waco natives Michael Johnson and Derrick Johnson.

“The goal is complete realism for all of the portrayals of the larger-than-life inductees, where photographs have to come to life through paint,” said Kegerreis. “It’s a big project that I’ve been working on in some part for almost three years. Spatially, it’s not exactly hit-and-miss, but hit-and-figure-it-out to make sure one mural doesn’t outshine any other.”

Also in progress is a ceiling mural for the Hotel Herringbone, soon to open in downtown Waco in the shipping container complex that was previously home to The Containery. On a recent cold but sunny afternoon, Kegerreis was putting last touches on two canvas panels, each 10-by-30 feet, that will merge seamlessly into a ceiling mural for one of the hotel’s main public spaces. Personally, he said, he’s grateful he got to paint them vertically, rather than on his back as Michelangelo did for the Sistine Chapel. Photos of individual sections of the mural will hang in adjoining rooms of the hotel.

Cade’s father, master woodworker Marvin Kegerreis — Chip and Joanna’s go-to cabinet guy, who constructed the cabinetry for Magnolia Headquarters — is crafting the Hotel Herringbone cabinetry that abuts the mural. Father and son had to negotiate the junction of their respective areas of expertise, cabinetry and art.

“It’s been challenging but probably easier than with just another woodworker,” he said. As it turned out, the younger Kegerreis had to shave a foot off each side of his abstract artwork to make it work, but the older Kegerreis had to do some shaving on the cabinets as well.

A seventh-generation Wacoan on his mother’s side, Kegerreis was raised by two artistic parents: his woodworker father and mother, Ashley Burgess Weist, one of five sisters who were all naturally artistic and creative. Some of his earliest art-related memories are of setting up a splatter-art stand (after the lemonade stand didn’t pan out) with his sister and making Lego stop-motion videos.

“I didn’t realize how much my parents encouraged my art until way later,” he said. “They almost prevented me from using technology at home until I was at least 10 years old. So I had to entertain myself with creative outlets.”

He began formal art study at Rapoport Academy’s Meyer High School, where art teacher John Storm served as his mentor and “rock.” Sometimes Kegerreis took his lunch to the studio where Storm ate during the same lunch period.

“We always had adult conversations,” said Kegerreis. “He had gone to Baylor art school and that was my first spark to think of getting an art degree myself. I had never met an artist before Mr. Storm.”

As a high school senior, Kegerreis received a mentoring scholarship from the Brazos Education Foundation and was paired with internationally renowned but locally based artist Kermit Oliver.

“We’d just sit and talk two to three hours at a time and people began to know me as one of his mentees,” he said. “My own philosophy is that I don’t want to tell you what to get out of my art. I just want you to speak the truth about what you get from it, and I think Kermit Oliver paints with that intention as well. Every person takes their own experience and knowledge to add and subtract from a piece, and describing it takes that away.”

Sometime later, Kegerreis painted “Ode to Oliver” as an homage to his mentor, to give him public recognition in the community where Oliver lives. Elements of the mural include animals and flowers from images of Oliver’s works, bordered by an Hermès scarf, recognizing Oliver as the only American ever to design scarves for the exclusive French fashion house. “Ode to Oliver” graces an outside wall of Elm Lofts at 101 Elm St.
Kegerreis earned a bachelor’s degree in studio arts from Baylor University in 2017, and immediately after graduating set up shop as a freelance painter, drawer, videographer and photographer.

“I truly said yes to everything and did anything artistically to make money for the first three to four years — even filming a funeral,” he said. “My grandpa thought that getting an art degree was dumb, and I wanted to prove him wrong. That’s not why I’ve kept working, but when I’m tired, that thought gives me a third wind.”

Mural painting entered the mix with a summer apprenticeship through Creative Waco’s ARTPrenticeship project in its first year, 2018. Modeled on Cincinnati’s award-winning ArtWorks program, it pairs young creatives with local professional artists to enrich the community with art in collaboration with business owners, sponsors and community leaders.

“I was hired as an assistant artist, and local artist Will Suarez was the lead artist,” said Kegerreis. “Since I and the other artists had never painted a mural before, we were really under Will’s guidance, and that was the start of my mural painting and also a great friendship.”

That mural featured a flight of origami cranes on Putter’s Mini Golf Arcade and Sports Bar, then a vacant building, off University Parks Drive.

After a few years of freelancing in Waco, Kegerreis set off for Fort Worth to work in his uncle’s art gallery, Galleywinter. It was a golden opportunity: his mom’s brother is Pat Green, Waco native and country recording artist with three Grammy nominations, but also a sculpture artist in his own right. Kegerreis worked in his uncle’s gallery for a year-and-a-half, gaining art-world experience while couch-surfing between friends.

But then Covid hit and the gallery closed.

“I came back to Waco because I needed to figure out a different career,” said Kegerreis. “Art can be the first thing to go when there’s no income, but that first year in Waco, my business did better than it had in the previous two years combined. My first big job locally was murals on 15 different walls at Train Waco, the CrossFit gym. After a year or so, things just snowballed.

Kegerreis painted the “Ode to Oliver” mural, which led to subsequent jobs that quickly avalanched into a string of commercial successes. He painted a commissioned mural of iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo with popsicles and flowers exploding out of her head for Helados La Azteca on 15th St. at Colcord Ave., then another Frida at Azteca’s second location on Valley Mills and will soon start on a third mural at their newest location in Temple. A giant octopus adorns a wall of the popular eatery Milo’s at 1020 Franklin Ave., a tribute to Chef Corey’s favorite animal. It’s an anamorphic mural, meaning that it’s designed to be viewed from a particular perspective (the entrance of the hallway to the bathrooms at eye level in this case) and most don’t notice, but the tentacles subtly spell out “Milo”.

“The biggest and hardest job is to get into the mind of a client,” Kegerreis said. “Every job the first five years or so was a learning process in some way. It’s not realistic to expect an artist to figure out a design and execute it within two weeks, so it’s my job to educate clients about the process so they can adjust their expectations. The big question is: why do they want this particular piece of art and what do they hope to get out of it?”

Murals are currently Kegerreis’ artistic bread and butter.

“I don’t mind being called a muralist,” he said. “My work is not in front of just a few people in their homes but impacts hundreds of people every week.”

But it’s not just an impressive variety of murals that define Cade Kegerreis’ art. A dozen or so of his paintings hang at The Grape Wine Bar & Bistro on Valley Mills Drive, and he has a spot at Cultivate 712 Gallery on Austin Ave. selling his paintings and prints.

He’s also painted three basketball court floors (and starting on another next month) and three ground court murals, all in Austin city parks. The artwork was funded through a partnership of the San Antonio Spurs’ Give program with the Austin Parks Foundation to launch Play ATX, a multi-year program to renovate parks and basketball courts throughout Austin.

His first job as a videographer was for a group of four boys who had hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers before “influencer” was even a term, for which he shot footage during a 20-city tour of 15 U.S. cities plus Paris, London, Amsterdam, Toronto and Montreal.

One of his most recent works unexpectedly gained a lot of visibility. When Chip and Joanna Gaines, co-owners of Magnolia, opened Hotel 1928, they commissioned Kegerreis for a portrait of Chip.

“Chip’s portrait was an exciting opportunity,” said Kegerreis.

On your way to the elevator up to Bertie’s on the Rooftop restaurant, you pass right by a smiling Chip Gaines with scenic Cameron Park in the background. Though the original idea was to portray Gaines with a pitchfork — a nod to Grant Wood’s classic “American Gothic” — the final version features him with one of the Fixer Upper family’s goats (they sent a photo of their favorite to work from), with the request to make the portrait look authentically old. It is signed by the artist, but the signature is a little lost in the grass.

“I only had three-and-a-half weeks to paint it in oil, which was a challenge because the colors had to dry,” said Kegerreis. “I’m glad they made it a fun portrait — it was also really fun to paint.”

Kegerreis is well aware that he’s been blessed with amazingly good luck, but he’s also put in the time and laser-focused effort to make luck just part of the mix.

“I believe I’ve had success so far because of my talent and drive,” he said, “but I’m also fortunate to have had a support system of family and friends that didn’t allow me to fail. I’ve rarely had to ask for money, but the safety net was always there. I never wanted a nine-to-five job.”

Kegerreis’ career is his artwork and he founded his company, Devolved (abbreviated as DVLVD, “with no vowels,” said Kegerreis), in 2020. On the website, it’s described as a fine arts company specializing in murals and public art. “Devolved” was the title of his first solo art show, one of two he’s exhibited at Cultivate 712 gallery.

“That show was about seeing the world and the human condition as a united whole, as diversity evolved instead of everything taking place on different continents,” said Kegerreis. “There was one piece about the evolution of civilizations and how they spread, one about animals, one about religion and the oneness of all faiths. The definition of ‘devolved’ means to pass on to others, to split or share power with those below.”

As he knows his artistic skills and range will continue to grow, he anticipates his company evolving over time.

“My goal over the next five years would be that DVLVD grows into a nonprofit that does murals around the country to underprivileged communities or forgotten parts of town,” said Kegerreis. “It would offer participation to the kids in the community to work on the murals to show them how important art is. My ideal dream would be to have a team of dads — like mine who’s not quite ready to retire but is starting to think about it — to teach the kids all kinds of other life skills. A kind of dad-mobile with art.”

As to what’s next for Kegerreis, he’s looking forward to growing, both commercially and in his own personal artistic development.

“Art is me,” said Kegerreis, who paints every single day, sometimes up to 16 hours at a stretch. “I don’t know how to get away from it; it’s what I live and breathe. I dream about what I’m going to paint and how I’m going to approach a project. Knowing your place in the world and your passion is a gift that some people never realize until they’re old, or maybe even ever at all. There are other options to work than going to a desk.”

For his next commercial venture, he’ll soon begin working with a team of local artists on multiple mural walls for the new 200-room AC Marriott downtown. He’ll experiment more with different media and styles and keep working on technical execution — though maybe not quite so seriously.

“I’m trying to have more fun with my technique,” he said. “When I first got out of college, I was caught in the ‘perfect’ trap with structure.

Education in school was skill-based, but in real life, I’ve had to learn from what was wrong, or what I’d do differently.”

Kegerreis would like to find a way to combine his living and working spaces, mostly so that he can spend more time creating. His studio in Franklin Business Park has a bathroom, futon and microwave, allowing him to work for long stretches. But even a short commute home cuts into precious studio time.

“If I could figure out a shower and a mini-kitchen I’d probably live here, but actually that’s not allowed in my lease agreement,” he said. “I just go until I can’t, and then I go home.”

He’ll also be working on the administrative side of his business as an artist.

“The business part of my work is still a challenge, but I’ve found ways to dedicate blocks of time to the process of working on contracts, proposals and invoices,” he said. “Those aren’t things I really like doing, but without them, I can’t have a creative process that also makes me a living.” And he’d like his business to grow enough to hire out the paperwork while he concentrates on pure painting.

There are also a few things Kegerreis won’t be doing in his artwork.

“I never want my art to look like it could have been done by a computer,” he said. “I do use technology and AI, but mostly for design proposals.” And while keeping completion deadlines in mind, he won’t be rushing through the creative process and will be applying the sometimes tough life lessons he’s learned in seven years of full-time work as an artist.

Though he’s open to more solo shows as opportunity arises, it won’t be as a signed gallery artist.

“In the past, artists were taught that they needed to find a gallery and do shows there,” he said. “But social media has changed that. If you’re able to sell your work yourself, why would you give 40% of your profits away?”

Now that he’s making a living doing what he loves, how does Kegerreis decompress? That would be watching documentaries and learning — about anything and everything.

“I don’t necessarily have fun the way that other people do, because I just want to be creating and learning,” he said. “Sure, I do things with my family, but on holidays if dinner takes too long, I’ll sneak off to my art studio. My thoughts come out in color and shape.”

Kegerreis confesses to being a bit of a perfectionist whose toughest critic is himself.

“I think my best artistic attribute is the quality of my work,” he said. “That’s for me, more than even pleasing a client. Because that’s me up on that wall. It’s harder to please myself than a client, although you have to have empathy for what the client wants to do in commercial work and appease their requests and budget. That process is difficult; sometimes people have an idea but it’s not very defined. I listen and ask questions, but then at some point I’m just sitting with myself and a blank canvas or wall.”

30 years down the road, he’d like to still be creating — though maybe from someplace with more palm trees and beachfront than Waco.

“I’d love to be a traveling muralist,” he said. “Over the past couple of years, it seems that I’ve been more entrepreneur than artist, but just creating forever would be amazing. Someday, I hope to have artwork on every continent, even if it has to be dropped off in Antarctica. I want to leave art that will last not just my lifetime, but for future generations.”