Artist Thomas Murillo combines street art and photography

It's probably not too surprising that the son of well-known Wichita artist and muralist Steve Murillo would have an interest in art.

Nor is it surprising that, like his father, Thomas Murillo has a portfolio of large-scale works that have won multiple awards.

That is, however, where the similarities seem to end.

Thomas Murillo's work is on the edgy side and is firmly planted in the realm of street art, hence the title of his new exhibition at Newman University, "Just Don't Get Arrested."

Less than one year out of high school, Murillo is already an accomplished artist. He's won multiple awards, locally and beyond, and his solo exhibition at Newman's Steckline Gallery opens tonight as part of the Final Friday Gallery Crawl.

At such a young age, Murillo is diving into Wichita's art scene with visually arresting work that is bold and thought-provoking.

"I was always interested in art and was always around it growing up with my dad," he said. "In 10th grade I decided to enroll in the art program at Northeast Magnet, which was so great for me, and I really became focused about the direction of my work."

His newest work is intertwined with his interest in photography as well as street art, he said. He became a fan of artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey years ago. The first is a world-renowned graffiti artist known by a pseudonym; his identity has never been confirmed, which adds to his popularity and mystique. Fairey is a graffiti artist who has been arrested multiple times for his street art but has won national acclaim with his famous image of Barack Obama on the HOPE poster.

Murillo has combined his love for street art and photography to form a style that is uniquely his own. Using his own photos of people, he enlarges the images on paper and creates a stencil. He then places the stencils on a large piece of masonite and spray-paints them. Even though the pieces are not literally on the street, they are considered street art because of the spray-paint medium and the technique he uses.

"I really want people to realize that street art is not just vandalism and gang writing," he said. "It is a very creative form of public expression."

Murillo says his work explores an array of social and political issues. His large-scale painting titled "Fouling the Nest" refers to the pollution and toxins carelessly thrown into the environment. A second work, "Cerebral Outburst," explores the ability of one's mind to absorb knowledge.

"This whole series of silhouettes has come to be a study of the human experience," he said. "They are all people, and there is a narrative within each piece."