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New mural adds color to midtown Phoenix

No one used to notice the large, grey parking structure at the corner of First Avenue and Thomas Road. But those days are over.

Like much of midtown Phoenix, it’s is still surrounded by busy roads and big, monochromatic buildings. But now it’s been covered in a giant mural.  That’s been James Bullough and Addison Karl’s canvas for the last few weeks. They’ve created a 60-foot-tall old woman and a young man, spray painted in the oranges, blues and reds of a Southwestern sunset. Though both American, the painters live and work in Berlin, where this kind of art is everywhere. Here, it sticks out.

Bullough says he keeps hearing the same two words from people who pass by: Thank you.

“That’s really cool,” he said, “and I mean that tells me that they are understanding that having all this color thrown on a wall here is something special.”

Bullough’s painting partner, Karl, knows it’s special. Born and raised in Phoenix, he’s now adding to its small but growing number of murals. Plus, the subjects he’s painting are his friend and his own grandmother.

“This piece really, really makes me proud,” he said, “and it’s nice to have this in the city I grew up in, in my home.”

Karl hopes his work helps shift the attitude of the city. He’d love to see the edgy, artistic vibe of downtown’s Roosevelt Row move north.

And the co-owner of the building, Bob Karber, is all for it. At first, Karber says, the mural’s bright colors made him nervous. But how he feels it adds to the atmosphere of Midtown. It shows the building welcomes creative tenants.  

As Karber put it, “We wanted to announce to the outside world ‘Here we are, and this is what we’re doing, and we are indeed something different than all of these other buildings in the market.’”

Chris Nieto, the mural’s younger model, gets it completely -- both as a lover of art and a business owner. Last year, he commissioned Karl to add a mural to one of his buildings downtown. The space, which houses Giant Coffee, now features a vibrant, pink-and-purple image of a woman screaming.

Nieto hopes art pieces like that one – as well as the one he stars in – will illuminate a process he’s been watching for years.

“I think that Phoenix is growing up, and we’re starting to see more things like this,” he said, before pausing, smiling and clarifying. “Nothing this big. It’s huge. It’s huge.” 

And what better way to get people’s attention?