When visual artist and muralist Julia Reyes was a child, she was known to pull a sketchbook from a pocket or a bag and immediately start jotting down visual ideas, seizing a sudden burst of inspiration, or experimenting with different concepts.
“I was always very observational,” Reyes said. “I was always trying to understand my surroundings and then translated what I saw into different things and just trying to figure out different ways of getting to know my environment.”
That powerful curiosity led the Biloxi native to steadily document her environment in an artistic diary or a creative journal, absorbing and recording the ever-changing world as she saw it.
I even got an award,” Reyes said laughing. She added that she was given a small commendation in high school from a beloved teacher, which was “The Wonder Award.”
“I feel like there’s a sort of truth in wonderment, and I guess I’ve always been that way,” she explained, adding it gave her motivation to travel the world and gather more artistic influences that arise when she paints. And she carries those young, adolescent memories with her when clients contract her to create large-scale murals or other artworks.
“I have always felt that it’s important to keep your childhood spirit alive and to be sure to have an old soul but a young spirit,” Reyes said.
Those philosophies have served her well and chances are you’ve even seen at least one or two of her public art creations.
Reyes wholeheartedly believes more Mississippi cities and towns should incorporate public art.
“Public art involves people directly into the space,” she said. “It’s kind of like music in a way and you immediately can’t help but interact with it because it’s literally a part of the space and the environment you’re standing in. Anyone can enjoy public art and sometimes you don’t even know it’s affecting you and you’re just in it. You don’t have to pay anything to experience it and you just walk by it and it makes sense. I think it transforms the space too. It makes everything just more creative, vibrant, and colorful.”
She’s currently busy painting a mural at the new TrainTastic Interactive Model Railroad Museum in Gulfport that’s nearing completion and set to open on Saturday, June 17. Reyes is painting a train design with balloons, confetti, and a large sun as the train’s face that will be featured in one of the party rooms.
If you take a look at Reyes’ work, you will quickly find out that a lot of her creations illustrate outdoor scenarios.
She just finished a couple of extensive murals on the Lazy River at the Gulf Islands Waterpark with crashing waves, bright sunshine, playful dolphins, and exotic mermaids. There are also colorful fish, immense alligators, and mischievous seagulls.
“I really like the environments that promote fun and playfulness and get people outdoors,” she said.
Another of Reyes’ recent creations is a mural at the MacGown Art Retreat and Studio in Starkville. Mississippi artist Joe MacGown has designed an enriching artist retreat and invites other Magnolia State artists to contribute their visions and help create an art sanctuary on his property.
“It was way different than the murals people on the Coast want,” Reyes, a Mississippi State graduate, said. “And I haven’t been back there in a long time, so it was nice to spend some time in Starkville and it was an opportunity to leave a little mark on the town that helped shape me as an artist.”
When asked, Reyes was hesitant to declare a favorite project. She feels each creation has elements that remain close to her heart, and she always tries to create fun and lasting memories to take with her, including painting on the hood of a BMW, a Biloxi crosswalk, and a shirt design for the Biloxi Shuckers. She also recently painted the bridge of a boat and created a Dolly Parton mural in a Nashville restaurant.
“The Dolly Parton mural was fun,” she said. “I probably would have passed out if she had been there watching me paint.”
Reyes did get to see the finished Dolly Parton Mural in a social setting when she and a few friends visited Nashville for a bachelorette party. The mural is featured at the White Limozeen in the Graduate Nashville. The artwork dedicated to the award-winning country artist, philanthropist, and actress is just off to the left when exiting the elevator on the rooftop floor.
“My cousin was getting married and when everyone found out, they were all like we have to go see it,” she said, laughing.
Reyes offered this advice to all the young, aspiring artists.
“Find your community and find the thing that is you’re sort of niche and just keep pushing,” she said. “It doesn’t always reveal itself in the beginning, but I think that if you just keep working toward something eventually it becomes clearer in time. Sometimes, the door that you thought was your goal isn’t always where you end up. And you would not have gotten there if you weren’t open to the direction that is sometimes better for you. I think being open and not so rigid in the way you think your life should look is so vast. There are so many different facets of where else you can go so just be open to trying new things and exploring.”
All photos are courtesy of Julia Reyes.