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Larry Bird wants tattoos removed from street artist's mural of him

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 8/21/2019 David Lindquist and Dana Hunsinger Benbow
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INDIANAPOLIS - A splashy painting of Larry Bird with tattoos on his face, arms and neck is generating fresh controversy for an already controversial artist.

After Bird spotted a mural of himself on a Fountain Square building, painted by graffiti and street artist Jules Muck, he wasn't exactly thrilled.

It was him, a massive him in a powder blue Indiana State uniform, tattooed up with bunnies mating on his right forearm, a spiderweb on his left shoulder and a red cardinal on his cheek. 

Bird didn't like the tattoos, said his attorney, Gary Sallee.

"Larry's position is he has elevated himself from where he began to where he is now through a lot of hard work. He has developed a brand that is marketable and he needs to protect that brand," Sallee told IndyStar. "The mural, as originally painted, was a departure from that brand."

a person wearing a hat and sunglasses: A Larry Bird mural in Fountain Square is causing some controversy. © Tyler Kraft/IndyStar A Larry Bird mural in Fountain Square is causing some controversy.

Bird didn't ask that the mural be removed entirely, Sallee said.  "He has not been heavy- handed at all." 

And because of Bird's willingness to compromise, Sallee said, he believes an agreement was reached between Bird and Muck Tuesday.

He expects that the mural will remain on the building — but with all tattoos removed except the word "Indiana" spelled out on Bird's left forearm.

"All of his friends and 98% of his players are tattooed. He doesn't have any problem with tattoos," Sallee said. "He just doesn’t want to be seen as a tattooed guy." 

Sallee said Muck has been easy to work with and has great respect for Larry.

"She thought the tattooed Larry had value to Larry and his fans," he said. "She understood why Larry didn’t think that."

It's not the first time Muck has stirred controversy in the city. A mural of rabbits mating — a scene similar to the bunnies on Bird's forearm — didn’t last a week on the exterior of a Woodruff Place restaurant last year. 

Still, Muck has spent more than two weeks in Indianapolis this summer adding murals to restaurants, record stores and residential spaces.

'We'll see'

Muck told IndyStar that she was simply "commissioned to paint a wall."

"The wall was actually one of my favorites," she said, "because it was a great location and completely unspecified."

The wall is part of a multifamily home on Prospect Street. Muck said she chose to paint Bird because people had been texting her: "You know who’s from there? Larry Bird. You need to paint Larry Bird."

Then, someone sent her a photo of Bird in his first Sports Illustrated cover photo shoot. It was from 1977. Bird was leaning over with a finger to his mouth as if he were shushing someone. The headline read: "College Basketball's Secret Weapon."

"That’s what motivated me," said Muck. "It was kind of kitsch and retro."

Muck said she was merely painting a picture of an Indiana basketball legend.

"It would be very scary if I wasn’t allowed to paint people, because I paint people constantly," she said. "There have been times when I’ve done exact duplicates of photographs where I reached out to photographers and they’re cool with it. Usually, it’s just a photographer I have to ask, because it’s using an exact replica of their image."

Muck said she often adds things to her murals to avoid a total copy. 

"They said the tattoos are the problem," she said. "I can’t just do an exact replica of a photograph. Plus, I don’t want to."

Muck confirmed she and Bird's representatives — including  lawyers — have been talking and trying to come to an agreement.

"We'll see," Muck said. "It’s going to be a matter of how much we have to do to change it."

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Larry Bird wants tattoos removed from street artist's mural of him

Related slideshow: Larry Bird mural (imagn)

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