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Painting America

image Christopher Barnett, owner of Murals by Christopher, in front of his Waco P.F. Chang’s mural.

AUSTIN - Even though Christopher Barnett comes from a small town in England (“12 houses and a pub,” he joked), he’s doing a lot to make America beautiful with his art skills, which is fascinating in and of itself, seeing how he has no art training.

 

 

 

 

    “I’ve never taken art classes,” he said. “Just 25 years of experience.”
     Barnett used to design for Burberry. Only one problem: he didn’t like it.
    “I wanted to be a designer but it didn’t take long that I figured it wasn’t for me,” he said.
    Ironically, he worked for the Texas Embassy Cantina in Trafalgar Square. His wife-to-be, who went to Texas State, San Marcos, and who was in London on an exchange work program, came in to order food. The rest, as they say, is history.
    This brought Barnett to the Lone Star State. Even though he had never planned on ever coming to America, he was smitten by it.
    “I absolutely love it,” he said. “I couldn’t believe some of the things I thought were myths were real.” Barnett could not believe his eyes when he saw his first yellow school bus. “I thought, ‘You actually have those?’ I thought those were things you only saw in movies!”
    Because he was not allowed to work until he got his green card, Barnett passed the time painting spaces such as children’s bedrooms and kitchens for friends and contacts. Once he did get his green card, Barnett founded Murals by Christopher in 2007. By this time, word of mouth had gotten him established.
    “Sometimes I’m so busy, I don’t know what to do with myself,” he said.
    While he gladly still does the kitchen or bedroom, Barnett has found a niche in the commercial world.
    “The big commercial stuff is really amazing,” he said, referencing projects like the huge outdoor Folgers Coffee mural in New Orleans that took six weeks to do, during which he fought all sorts of weather along the way.
    Someone from the P.F. Chang’s chain saw this and hired Barnett to jazz up their restaurants with murals all over the country, with 29 to date and more on the books.
    “There’s something about a brush stroke that you can’t reproduce,” Barnett said, in discussing the beauty of original art versus a print of art.
    As Barnett has worked in California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and other states, the transplanted Brit has seen much of America.
    “This is an awesome country,” he said. “Americans are genuine, honest, welcoming people, on the whole.”
    Oddly, Barnett never had to switch from English driving to America driving. He learned to drive in the U.S. when he was 37 years old. The challenge was when he went back to England and had to drive their way. Let’s put it this way: his kids won’t soon forget it.
    Barnett also does private, commissioned artwork, which is good because he can’t see himself doing huge commercial pieces forever.
    “I know, 10-15 years from now, I’m not going to be up for doing murals, physically,” he said. He did the Folgers mural on a window washer-type scaffold and was not allowed to be by himself for safety reasons.
    He never uses spray paint, always paint and a brush.
    “I’ve learned to be able to use the textures I’m working with,” he said, be it brick, cinder block, corrugated metal, or drywall.
    The frustrated designer from the small English town of Upshire has found a home and true calling in America. While he is okay with American football, Barnett considers it “a sport that was designed to put commercials into.” Be that as it may, he says firmly about America, “If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t still be here.”
    Glad he is - this place is much prettier because of his murals.
    Murals by Christopher runs its operations out of San Marcos. -dsz


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Dan Zulli dan@constructionnews.net