An artist with aphasia spent thousands of hours creating an eye-popping 3D optical illusion mural — and his daughter is trying to make him TikTok-famous
71-year-old artist David Hollowell is converting a barn into a 3D optical illusion mural.
Adrienne Hollowell, his daughter, shares footage on TikTok — where millions have tuned in.
David fell off a roof in 2021 and now lives with aphasia, meaning he's re-learning how to speak.
Seventy-one-year-old David Hollowell looks thoughtfully at a 3D-looking painting of a 7-foot psychedelic Lorax-esque mushroom cap before he brushes on a dab of electric yellow paint. His 33-year-old daughter, Adrienne, who runs a TikTok account dedicated to his ambitious art project, records the moment.
David, an artist and former art professor of 31 years at the University of California-Davis, has been called "one of the most accomplished painters of his generation" by Hark Awik, an NYC gallery that previously exhibited his work. But of late, he's been sticking closer to home. Since 2018, he's been turning the family's high-ceilinged barn into an immersive mural.
David fell off a roof in 2021 and has been re-learning to speak since
In May 2021, David fell off a roof while installing solar panels and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. In the years since, he's struggled with aphasia, which has impeded his ability to speak or write. (Aphasia, which occurs because of a brain injury, affects about 2 million people in the US, per the National Aphasia Association). On TikTok, his daughter shares both his artwork and his personal journey with the language disorder with over 196,600 followers.
Most often, Adrienne posts TikToks of the space — albeit "near impossible" to convey, as she told Insider with a laugh. Her phone camera pans slowly across the room's walls, trying to communicate both the scale and intricacy of monumental pointillism.
David's style, commonly compared to dutch artist M.C. Escher, is a series of visual hat tricks. The room, titled the "Enchanted Hanging Garden of Unearthly Delights" is dually inventive and mischievous. In one panel, a stony face sticks a tongue out so convincingly that Adrienne must constantly reiterate to followers that, yes, the entire work is in 2D. In another, a giant, floating furry orb purses human lips. David has covered the 20 x 24-foot room, and its 30-foot ceilings by spending five-to-six hours in there daily. More recently, his family has heard him practicing speech therapy as he paints.
@david.hollowell day 365 of trying to make my dad famous 🖌🎨 #art #mural #illusion #2d #3d #surreal #crazy #plants #nature #weird #painter #artist #professor #ucdavis #california #norcal #famous #viral #trending #fyp #foryou #foryoupage ♬ ART - Jack Madden
For Adrienne, TikTok allows her to share her admiration and love for her father with millions — and his journey with aphasia
"I wanted the world to know my dad and how special this is for me and my family," she explained. "But I also had this craving to show the world what this man is capable of."
"Day 365 of trying to make my dad famous," she captioned a December 12 video. "A glimpse into my dad's mind," she captioned a December 24 TikTok.
@david.hollowell I love him so much 🥰 #dad #artist #magic #mural #illusion #3D #nft #viral #follow #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #draw #create #paint #famous #love #life #xyzbca ♬ Somewhere Only We Know - Gustixa
Occasionally, Adrienne also gives followers updates on his healing ("slow, but steady," she told Insider) and their daily speech therapy work. She's also asked viewers to share any new aphasia treatments they know of. Less frequently, she'll share a bit about their personal relationship — like an open letter to her father about his recovery.
"No one is working harder at this," David's wife of 46 years, Terry Hollowell, told Insider of his recovery. (Insider interviewed David, Terry, and Adrienne; Due to David's aphasia, his wife and daughter provided verbal commentary).
@david.hollowell dear dad ❤️ #art #life #paint #draw #mural #masterpiece #amazing #father #dad #family #TBI #aphasia #fyp #foryou #viral ♬ Possibility - Lykke Li
On TikTok, commenters leave admiring comments and words of encouragement. Former students have shared fond memories of learning from the artist.
For Adrienne, who's worked in marketing and graphic design, TikTok is an opportunity to share her overwhelming admiration and pride for her father's work with others. (She told Insider she loves reading the comparisons between her dad and other artistic heavyweights like Michelangelo). She also hopes to create more awareness of aphasia and has asked viewers to share any information on treatments.
The injury has created complicated feelings in the Hollowells — including gratitude for life and sadness at its new challenges for David.
"People will say to me: 'Oh, but he's alive,' and yes, of course, I am joyous that my father didn't die from his accident. But, good lord, do I miss his words? I miss his stories. I miss his humor. I miss our little existential conversations in the morning — and it is devastating."
@david.hollowell Dad started his mural in 2018 and it has come a long way. Maybe someday someone will do a documentary on this magical human being 🎨 #dad #art #mural #magic #love #life #aphasia #draw #illusion #artistsoftiktok #fyp #foryou #trending #timelapse #paint #disability #wow #follow #davidhollowell ♬ Agape - Nicholas Britell
"A lot of the comments on TikTok are like, 'I lost my dad last year. Don't forget to hug your dad every day.' And so I do not take that for granted anymore…maybe I did before the fall," Adrienne said.
For Adrienne, TikTok is a digital tribute to her father, and an opportunity to educate on aphasia or crowdsource new therapy leads. For David, it seems most relevant for the joy it can bring his daughter — as well as whatever they can learn from others with Aphasia.
"When I showed my dad that he had gone viral on TikTok," Adrienne said, "He just like, 'what's TikTok?'"
"He doesn't really care about a lot of social media," she added. "For me, it's just so fun and exciting."
For a personal project, external admiration can be nice — but it's not the point
A viewer might be inclined to believe that David's art project has taken on a new or exalted meaning in the years since his accident severely curtailed his communication — but Terry insisted otherwise.
"I don't think his art practice has changed one bit from before the fall," she told Insider. "His artistic view has not changed at all."
Adrienne may have told TikTok she's trying to make her dad famous, but it's obvious that admirers — or lack of — are irrelevant to David. Originally, he turned down requests from videographers who requested to film his mural — "He didn't want to be interrupted at work. It's his space, it's his thing; we're just getting to witness it," Adrienne explained. But his collaboration with his daughter on TikTok is different.
As of now, the account's most popular video has about 7.2 million views. Hundreds of thousands of people have experienced David's work through his daughter's phone. But, the result of thousands of hours of work only has only one intended viewing spot.
"It's made to be viewed in one spot in the middle of the room by one person," Terry told Insider. "He made it for someone who's 6'2 — which is what he is."
"There's that old saying, 'publish or perish,'" she added, with a laugh. "He's not doing this for anybody but himself — he's not doing it for the university. I think that's an amazing freedom."
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