Today I found out that a mainstream film production company featured one of my murals in their new big film, Tomato Red, filmed in Merritt, BC. It made me think back to when I painted the mural in Merritt, a small country town in southern BC.
The thing about small towns, is that it is a place where everyone sees you, but does not, at the same time. Big dreams and small opportunities . You are young, eager, and yearning for everything. I am home in small towns, as I came from a small town too. A small coal mining town, in the mountains of the rugged and vast Elk Valley. People there are strong and the art you make, is made at kitchen tables, and the music that surrounded you, was played by men with coal stained fingers. My hometown defined my youth, and I carry its name with me. Born with eyes that saw colours on bare walls, and as so many young people, a need to run and feel life beyond those streets and beyond those limits.
For the next 30 years I painted my colors on walls…I travelled and I stood on scaffolding in many alleys and parking lots and community spaces. I felt scorching heat and bitter coldness that froze my fingers to the wall. I travelled to Cuba, Missouri and consulted on creating the Route 66 mural city. A funny coincidence, as the author of Tomato Red writes about the very area I visited with my paint brushes. Small town USA. And to discover the mural and the town the film company chose to use, featured one of my murals. Murals in small town USA tied to small town Canada. Tied by a small town girl with big dreams who connected two communities together with art. Tied by the highways that connect us, the stories the connect us and the art and history that equalizes us all.
And when I painted the Tim McGraw Mural in Merritt, I didn’t know that it would be in a movie one day. Who thinks that? the murals are to help youth find their way, help communities create social change and tourism, and make communities remove the limits that youth feel. But Hollywood? Ireland? That makes me pause. But why not? Is this not what I ran toward. My art being seen by the world. The story of those youth tucked in every brick. Art comes from your soul and your ancestors souls. It flows from stories and cultures long before today. It comes from the hands of the miners, and the women who toiled to make their existence memorable by the everyday items they crafted to leave behind.
The contrasts that I saw in mind were striking. A big idea, on a big wall, and now on a big movie screen, etc…Having a mural featured in a global film industry movie is a major pause in your life.
It puts a larger than life mural, in a larger than life medium, that makes the giant mural feel small, and large at the same time. The mural is larger than the screen in life. yet the screen makes it real. A measuring stick of arrival, and the gratefulness for the communities that support projects, that allow Artists to paint on their streets and let you land in their life stories for a little while.
Merritt BC, is one of those small towns. Vibrant in heart and ideas and true living. The people are rich in values and culture.The land is wild, and time is entwined with the past, as it is in the future. In the middle are the youth. The small town First Nations youth, that have dreams, and whispers from the elders that lend vision and care of the land and the water. Painting county music stars and spending the days in the sun talking similar heritage cultures, food and most of all art. The art and the people and the sun. The sun on our faces painting worlds brighter.
Small town is small town. Growing up in a small town is wonderful and it is constricting, all at the same time. From the dust to the dry emptiness of doing nothing of importance that the world seem to notice: I am a small town girl.
I grew up with coal dirt in my knees and art in my blood. Life was not glamourous but it was real. Your neighbors knew your every move and the best you could hope for was a marriage to a good man and a house, a truck, and two kids.
I wanted to paint my life over the dust, and I did. With every dip in the liquid crayon box I would imagine my life yellow, or magenta pink. I would dab the dripping colours over everything I perceived to be lackluster or coal dust covered. I yearned for turquois in my breathing and sun yellow in my thoughts. I painted my life colourful. Walls were my canvas and the people I met along the way my muses. The stories of their faces absorbed into each cinderblocks hot surface.
What do you want when you come from a small town? Success? To be noticed? To not be noticed? To not be forgettable? Not just be another black and white photo in the archives of an immigrant community that created a place in time? So tied to the heart of the community, but hidden in dark drawers and basements. Large walls begged for the stories to be layed at their feet. To take what is invisible and put in on the big screen walls that pepper every dust filled achingly quiet street in every fishbowl town in North America. See me! See us! See the ones that live in the life between the systems and the cities. Alive, wielding a brush as a mighty sword, I will pave my way with bright coloured dreams that will sing from drooping telephone lines and peeling alley walls.
Murals resonate with small towns… it is the big screen in a rural way. You are the hero in your own story. You are not invisible. Teaching youth to be visible is what art and painting of murals is. It elevates and it encourages. It lets the new surround the old with light and music. It is art, and it is real and it lets everyone be a hero in their own story.