South LA

“Put some soul on the wall”: How Tehrell Porter’s murals of fallen legends have painted a legacy of their own

Porter’s artwork pays tribute to famous figures like Kobe and Gianna Bryant and Nipsey Hussle among others while creating community hubs around South Los Angeles.

Seventeen years ago, Tehrell Porter, at the age of 13, began his art career airbrushing t-shirts for his classmates. Today, Porter showcases his work on much larger canvases, painting murals of late icons around Los Angeles that have become widely-recognized in the community and even garnered attention on the national level.

“I’m a fan of greatness,” said Porter. “I want to be in a position where I can affect a community in such a way through something that I love, you know. Who wouldn’t?”

Porter documents his murals on his viral Instagram account, @tehrell_porter_designs, which has over 9K followers. He is most commonly known for his Los Angeles murals commemorating late Black legacies, such as basketball players Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant, as well as rapper Nipsey Hussle. On today’s five-year anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s last NBA game and 60-point performance, Porter’s new work continues to honor the athlete’s legacy and many others.

After spending the better part of his life in Indiana and Hawaii, Porter said he decided to move to Los Angeles in October of 2020 to share his art with a new community. Currently, Porter is in Los Angeles working on a three-block Kobe mural before returning to his home state. He aims to honor Los Angeles legends through his artwork and uses his passion to unify the communities in which he paints.

“I’m so glad to be here, to share that and to just basically spread all of these great people and their legacies,” Porter said. “It’s less about me, and it’s more about them now. I’m still working on my legacy, and I feel like hopefully somebody will do the same for me one day.”

Mike Asner, a lifelong Lakers and Kobe Bryant fan, runs an Instagram account and website dedicated to showcasing images of Kobe and Gianna Bryant murals, as well as their locations. He believes Porter’s work serves as a tribute to the two players so fans can gather and grieve collectively.

“What Tehrell is doing epitomizes Mamba Mentality,” Asner said. “He’s doing work that obviously is important for people like us to heal, to come together in some tangible location to pay respect.”

Vanessa Bryant, wife of Kobe Bryant, recognized Porter’s work in a March 9 Instagram post captioned, “My baby. ❤️👑☀️#Gigi #Mambacita ⭐️🌟 Thank you @tehrell_porter_designs I love seeing Kobe in Gigi’s hair too. #MyBabies.”

Asner said that not only is Porter’s work important to community members, but it is also a tribute to the Bryant family as a whole.

“A mural dedicated to the Bryant family has been recognized and appreciated by the family, and I think that’s very gratifying for him as well as for the family,” said Asner.

Porter mainly paints in the South Los Angeles area, where he has gained an audience through other artists, homeless residents and customers of a local food truck. Before he was familiarized with the community, people graffitied over his artwork. But instead of meeting these actions with anger, Porter taught them how to paint and allowed them to paint on the walls downwind of his murals until he needed to paint over them.

After forming a bond with locals and gaining an audience from onlookers and social media, Porter began to project movies for those watching him paint and bought his homeless fans Jack-in-the-Box while they kept him company. Soon, he began to see “a big change in the community.”

“I would be out there painting at nine in the morning until three in the morning,” Porter said. “People started seeing me in the community a lot, and they would just stop by.”

Since then, Porter’s circle has continued to expand, forming collaborative bonds with other locals. Red’s Monkey Catering and DJ Cali Slimm accompany Porter every week, Tuesday through Friday, when the group holds a community painting session with music, tacos and art.

Izeena Ellis, the owner of Red’s Monkey Catering, said that their business was meant to “bring good food, good drinks, good music and good vibes to good people.”

Ellis said teaming up with Porter has added good art and an important message to that mission.

“We wanted to bring more attention to what Tehrell was doing, to open the community’s eyes and pay attention to this Black artist doing Black artwork and bringing beauty to our community when he’s not even from here,” Ellis said. “There’s just a beautiful thing in the murals for him to be able to capture the light and just that Mamba Mentality within his paintings. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

Aside from Kobe’s basketball success, Asner discovered through his research that most artists admire the legend for his work ethic and personality and often create art to emulate those characteristics.

“The core take away from me is that it’s not about basketball, and that’s what’s most fascinating to me,” said Asner. “It’s really more about the work ethic and mentality as a mentor, a girl dad, what he was doing as an advocate for women has been more of the story here.”

After talking to some artists who create these murals, Asner said Kobe had a significant impact on them even if they don’t follow basketball. Asner said some artists commend Kobe as a “muse” and an " idol,” for “the way he approached life every day, trying to be a better version of himself.”

Following his work preserving Kobe’s legacy, Porter plans to continue highlighting Los Angeles icons with the help of his community. Porter opens his walls to anyone interested in joining the community art sessions every Tuesday to Friday from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. on South Broadway Street.

“Come by and make some history. Put some soul on the wall,” he said. “I’m going to have to paint over it, but at least I have the soul of the community around to make memories and help protect the wall too.”