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Florida artist puts talents on public display with murals around town

Staff Writer
Walton Sun

Shy Morris has long dreamed of 24/7 art gallery with no admission price. In fact, it wouldn’t even have a front door.

And after she was furloughed from her job at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, she kept her brushes handy and put the opening strokes on her ambition.

“I’ve always wanted to paint murals all through New Smyrna and have something like a drive-through art exhibition,” says Shy, which is short for Shyriaka. “Because I think art in public spaces is definitely therapeutic and it’s needed. Not everybody feels comfortable going into traditional gallery settings. If it’s out in public, people can view it.

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“I think art in public spaces is definitely a plus, because you never know how it can brighten up a person’s day if they walk by and maybe see this 12-foot sunflower.”

Morris, who’s a community artist (largely working with schools) at the Atlantic Center, started her post-furlough mural creations with sunflowers on an exterior wall of a private home.

“This lady is 81, and after we went into quarantine I was talking to her,” Morris says. “Her window opened to a brick wall. She wanted something beautiful on her brick wall. So, sunflowers. When it was done, I posted a picture of it on Facebook. It takes off, with everybody saying, ‘that’s nice, that’s nice.’ ”

Next came a mural on the east wall outside Nejma’s Boutique on Flagler Avenue, where a TV crew from Orlando affiliate Fox 35 showed up for a news story on Morris’ new work.

“I did a sketch for Nejma’s and they said, ‘you’re hired,’ ” she says. “I did the outline, posted that on Facebook and started to get a little bit of traction. Then Fox 35 contacted me and I posted a picture of the cameraman taking a picture of a sunflower. After that, it was just nuts.”

Morris, a 44-year-old New Smyrna Beach native, has done six murals since mid-March and has several in the pipeline, with current wet weather hindering progress. She’s also putting together plans to run for a city commission seat this year.

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Depending on size and scope of work, Morris says she’ll charge from the low $100s to maybe $1,000 or beyond.

“I try to be reasonable, because I know murals can cost a ridiculous amount,” she says. “I’m all about being sustained but still providing beauty for this community.”

Currently on hold, awaiting dry weather, is a painted replica of the logo at local diner Ruthy’s Kozy Kitchen.

“Logos are challenging because you have the original to judge it by,” she says.

Looking at the early stages of the Ruthy’s mural, high up on the east-facing wall, the restaurant’s namesake and her daughter suggested the commissioned work would serve two purposes.

One logistical.

“We wanted people to be able to see us from U.S. 1,” says Amanda Fike, Ruthann’s daughter and restaurant manager.

The other reason was pure aesthetics.

“It looks good so far and it’s gonna be great,” says Ruthann. “I saw her work on Facebook and loved it, and we knew that’s what we wanted.”

Moving from a standard artist’s easel to a massive wall isn’t for everyone. There are certain challenges you don’t get inside a comfortable studio.

“When painting, you have to get it to scale,” Morris says. “But being up on a scaffold, you can’t really just step back and make sure all of your proportions are right. You have to get up and get down. Go back, look at it, crawl back up on the scaffold …”

But, she says, it’s always worth the effort.

“It brings me joy just to see people walk by and see me up on the scaffold,” she says. “They just sit there and watch me for hours and hours and ask me questions. It’s very engaging. Most people have never seen a professional artist working on something. And this is a good time for people to get out and see new things and meet new people.”

This story originally published to news-journalonline.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.