My friend Brenda called me up last month and asked if I would take over a project for her that she didn’t have time to finish due to a new job. The project was painting a mural on a utility box outside the Wright School on Roxboro St. The Wright School is a short term, residential treatment center for children with emotional or behavioral struggles. Brenda had already worked with the students and together they had created the design for the box, she needed me to come in and do the painting. I was happy to take the project, some of my other plans had fallen through so it was good to have some income for the month.
I’ve worked with Brenda on several other mural projects, most notably the Durham Civil Rights History Mural, but also on some utility boxes around town. She is the founder of the Durham Mural Crew -a city funded project that employs teens in the summer to design and paint utility boxes around town. If you have seen the painted boxes, you know that Brenda and her crew have really set a high standard for this work. They are beautiful and reflective of the surrounding community.
I do not consider myself a muralist at all but I have learned a ton from Brenda over the years about mural making so I was excited to work on this box and get out into the world for a bit. I spent the month of February in the studio working on a commission, so this project was a completely different experience. Roxboro street is an extremely busy commercial street and the Wright school is a peaceful, wooded enclave that is tucked back away from the road. The utility box however, is right next to the street, so the work environment is a bit noisy and fume heavy. I keep an eye on the road most of the time in case I need to duck for cover from any car wrecks. They happen, a lot. Sometimes folks walk by- most people are really excited by the project, although one lady not so much. She hasn’t been back since though. I have had three job offers- one from a guy who owns a car shop down the street and wants a mural on the wall of the shop, one from a lady who wants a portrait of her daughter on her wall at home and one from the church coffee shop next door. They want a sign with a coffee cup so that folks can see where the coffee shop is. I might do that one- it’s small and I can get to it with a ladder. I told the other two that I wasn’t really a muralist and I was just filling in. I don’t want to get into scaffolding or lifts or portraits (oh no). But it has been really fun. People love to see artists work, especially if its colorful and graphic. I love talking with folks who come by and I like to feel that I am adding something to the community.
The main reason for the school wanting to do this project was that the utility box was installed last year in front of their existing school sign. Families coming to the school were missing the turn into the school, which is a tough situation to correct for on Roxboro St. So one side of the utility box is now a huge Wright School sign in vibrating, complementary purples and yellows that can be seen from a block away. Success!
I am so pleased to have the flexibility to take on the variety of work that I have done over the past two years. I really enjoy having the opportunity to create art in a variety of settings for a variety of purposes, while still honing my own personal style of image making. It is a useful exercise to see how my individual art style can extend from small paper collages to large painted utility boxes. One of the challenges I have set for myself is to become flexible with my art style, so that it is recognizable no matter the medium. Next month I will be back in the studio making smaller work. It will be interesting to see how this month of mural making might impact what I do when I go back to the studio.
Meanwhile, if you drive down Roxboro St, check out the utility box in front of the Wright School. You can’t miss it!