Memorial to a Fallen Stranger: Austin Artist “Truth” on Draylen Mason
In March of 2018, Austin residents were stunned by a string of package bombings around the city, which killed two black men and injured a handful of other people of color. Even a year later, the incident the bomber’s motives are still unconfirmed by law enforcement; though it seemed racially motivated, his attacks also included a mostly white neighborhood. With no conclusive answers, the community came together to mourn those who died. One of them was 17-year-old Draylen Mason.
Draylen was a impactful and bright young man, a notable presence in the community. He had several academic achievements, a passion for playing the stand-up bass, and a black belt by age 10. He was a devoted Christian and volunteered abroad to help others. As a senior in high school he had already been accepted to several colleges to which he applied. He was the type of kid to support his peers in school.
Yet these aspects are only a surface level understanding of who Draylen really was; for those who knew him personally, the loss was much more than a list of his accomplishments. His senseless, untimely death was deeply felt in the community.
One consolation came in the form of a modest, beautiful mural. To tell this story, E4 Creative Mentors Yvonne Rios and Nile Stewart reached out to Austin artist Mike Johnston, locally known as Truth.
Despite not knowing Draylen personally, Truth was moved by the loss of the young promising artist, and decided to use his craft to pay him homage.
After learning more about Draylen’s life and doing visual research of available images, he set out to create a mural in Draylen’s neighborhood. Truth is known for his signature pop art style and for repurposing unconventional surfaces, namely electrical boxes around town. One early Wednesday morning in mid-April, he put up the wheatpaste work on an electrical box near the corner of Pleasant Valley and Webberville Road. A wave of responses rolled in soon after.
Truth confidently says in our interview it was one of the most impactful works he’s ever done. He received heartfelt praise from East Austin residents, including Draylen’s cousin and mother. He was even commissioned by his school to recreate the work.
But perhaps most important to him, the experience was a way to connect with someone he never had the opportunity to meet. To pay homage to a fellow artist and creative, and find a way to converse with a person who would otherwise forever be a stranger.
Behind the Scenes in E4’s Creative Production Process
Local artist Mike Johnston aka Truth provided the bulk of the content for this story. Audio interview conducted by E4 Creative Mentors Yvonne Rios and Nile Stewart. Audio editing was done by Austin Blankenship and E4 Producer Victoria Valadez.
The Creative Mentor team collectively conducted research to learn about East Austin landmarks, and seeked credible local figures to share their knowledge of the area. Production logistics were overseen by AV Producer Mikayla Dumas, and Interactive Producer Grant Loveless.