Under the (Neighbor)hood: Kyle Steed's Mural
It’s perfectly understandable that, while sipping a cocktail, taking a bite of a burger, or simply concentrating on what your friend is saying, that you might not be contemplating the art that surrounds Prim and Proper. No, not what’s hanging on the walls, but the actual mural that adorns the bar itself. Go on, push your stool back if you have to.
For this mural — which somehow sits quietly in the background, but manages to pull you into its world as soon as you actually start to follow its linework (a human hand there, a geometric pattern there) — we commissioned our good friend Kyle Steed, a local artist whose murals have become hugely popular in many of Dallas’ bars and restaurants. To delve into Kyle’s process, we went for a drink with the man himself at Earl’s Kitchen + Bar, just across the street from Neighborhood Goods in Plano, where, fittingly, we sat opposite another rather stunning mural from Kyle’s portfolio behind their own bar.
You might not know this, but Mr. Steed started out as a web designer (in fact, it’s from these days that we originally crossed paths). “I did web design for five or six years,” Kyle recalls, “but about in the middle of that journey, I realized I was hindering my creativity by starting on the computer. I felt like I could never see myself in my work. I’d always kept journals, and I started sketching my ideas out with pen and paper.” That might not necessarily sound revolutionary in itself, but there was a point around 2010 or 2011 when Kyle realized that the sketch could actually be the website itself. “And that allowed me to bring my own personality into that world,” he explains.
It wasn’t obvious to him at the time, but that moment was the beginning of Kyle’s path towards life as an artist. With that website showcasing his style, he began doing less design and more illustration — and, impressively, transitioned from full-time employment to life as a freelancer at the same time. “The very first mural was a trade of services for a restaurant in our neighborhood over in Oak Cliff,” he says. “I wanted a reservation for my wife’s birthday.” (Sounds like they got the better end of the deal there, Kyle.) “If I’d known what I know now, I don’t think I would’ve done it. It was intimidating.” However, the success of that project led to the same restaurant group calling him up a year later for a new commission, this time on a more official basis. “And that’s where the snowball effect kicked in,” Kyle explains. “Over the last two years I’ve had the great fortune of seeing a dream realized, being able to work full-time with my hands in a very tactile and messy way.”
And so that leads us to his mural for Prim and Proper. “It’s funny how things evolve,” Kyle says. “Our initial concept for this was full-color, to match the color and tone of Neighborhood Goods’ branding. Then I said, ‘if you’re open to it, what if we just did a single color — just linework?’ I think the bar area needn’t be so loud. The people — the energy coming from those people — that’s enough.” Kyle explains that he resisted the urge to fill every negative space, and believes that there’s so much more to say by not adding. “Exercising restraint with this project is what makes it interesting,” he says.
On the subject of restraint, we debate the fine line between creative briefs that are too rigid and those that are too loose. “Some of my hardest projects are when people just said: ‘do what you want’,” he says. “Without any barriers, I’m having to decide what’s too far. They might not even know where that line is, but I might push past it, and then they’re not going to be happy.”
This notion of restraint finds its way into other parts of Kyle’s life and work, too. For instance, he no longer projects his sketches onto the spaces he’s painting. “I feel like there’s a general movement in my life away from technology,” he says. “I don’t own a laptop anymore. I have my iMac at home, and I have my phone. I’ve gone back and forth with having an iPad, because there’s so much I can do on that. But there’s something beautiful about the disconnect. And also the building of the trust: the confidence I’ve gained in myself to trust that the steadiness of my hand is going to be there. There’s so much value in the continual practice of picking up a brush, or a pen, or your tool of choice. Just so long as you commit to do a little bit everyday.”
Like much of Kyle’s art, there’s a real sense of motion in the finished piece — “something that makes your eye move through it” — with the lines bleeding across all panels and into the floor space. Incredibly, the process was pretty straightforward. “I had the renderings of the space from the architects,” he explains, “so I just printed them out and sat there in a coffee shop, sketching over them.” However, Kyle recalls a “freakout moment” he had shortly before our grand opening, while he still had the majority of the work on the mural to do: “When I walked in, there was so much activity. You could feel the anxiety and the hurry of everyone wanting to finish in time for opening. I absorbed all that anxiety and it was like hitting a brick wall.” After an attempt to paint for about 30 minutes, he then had to come back on a Sunday night to work alone. “Coming back later on, after hours, felt like climbing into a hot bath. I was able to put my earbuds in and get into my flow without anyone — or anything — distracting me.” Incredibly, in total, Kyle’s Neighborhood Goods mural took just six hours to paint.
“Something I’m really about is causing a pause — making people take a moment to notice something,” he explains. “But what really causes us to take in the things around us?” Whether it strikes you as you walk into the store, or if it’s something you quietly become aware of while relaxing at the bar, there’s no doubt that Kyle’s mural — and, indeed, Prim and Proper itself — makes for a perfect pause.