Life on the Edge

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A Scaffold of Friendship

Story by Gloria Gale

It happens slowly for many, gaining insight and gumption to unravel what makes someone tick.

So it is for a squad of five artistic pals who can, with some reflection, tell you how art provided the inspiration to make their careers become reality.

Usually it’s women who can easily gather in a clutch and ruminate on everything from chiffon to the latest diet. But men…not so much.

The exception is five artists; Whitney Kerr III, Chase Hunter, Elliott McAnany, David Bonilla, and, Michael Tujillo all eager to share why they are collectively in motion to talk about what is inspiring to them. At the moment, it’s murals and all about this band of boys fostering their new media and mural company, Early Bird Media.

What sets these painters apart is their introspection and willingness to take a risk.  

These friends, all muralists, are on a path that fits them perfectly. All agree positivity is directly related to their productivity – they stay happy when they stay busy! 

Willing to risk the conventional for the unconventional

Whitney doesn’t mince words, but for him integrity is at the root. He pursues his art with a purpose that hasn’t faltered. 

“Yes, I went to art school in Memphis, studied painting and now I’m totally immersed in the business of art.”  

But his backstory was inspired by his art teachers, graffiti, and exploring abandoned rural spaces. “Those core memories sparked the inspiration for my first series of art based around dilapidation.”

All for one and one for all

And that focus is echoed by the others. Their partnership is their commonality and enthusiasm about not just what art they’re making together but their friendship.

Chase Hunter met Whitney in art school. “He reached out to me when he needed help painting a mural. I’m confident in my ability but it takes time to hone this skill. So, he showed me the particulars.” 

While Chase always had an affinity to draw, he understood the dedication it would take to master a 50’ wide piece of art on a building multiple stories high.  

Growing up in a small, rural town in Arkansas, he would walk alongside a dirt road in the middle of basically nowhere. While deep in thought, he’d often felt disassociated. “Until I met these friends, I was essentially trying to find my purpose. My biggest inspiration is knowing I’ll never plateau, I’ll always grow as an artist. I want to contribute good noise and good uncertainty into the world. Positively impacting the world around me keeps me positive.” 

David Bonilla, hailing from Los Angeles has found himself – and happily so. “I finally landed in Kansas City after living in Iowa and, Colorado.” He makes no bones about admitting he has been on a spiritual journey.

“I’ve been painting since I was 4 years old. As the newest guy in the group, I am still learning all about painting murals. I find it challenging since I am pretty skilled at painting anime (a style of Japanese animation). I’m excited to explore how good I can become as an artist. I want to just go for the good impressing myself and my fellow artists.”

Elliott McAnany, a lifelong Kansas City resident, comes into the fold by way of the streets; literally. “I was primarily in construction,” he says.

Though his partners refute his claims when he says he can’t paint, he wouldn’t be on board if he couldn’t. Elliott has his father to thank for his segue into art. “My dad was an artist so I pretty much was immersed in art for as long as I can remember.” 

“I’d have to say Life magazines are one source of inspiration. I have stacks of them I like to reflect on what’s changed and what’s the same. These magazines have been an inspiration and education.” Elliott admits, “Art is a lonely venture. But the key to my positivity is without family and friends, I couldn’t be on this path.” 

Finally, Mike Trujillo another LA born artist now calling Kansas City home, is skilled in sign painting. Mike studied at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College in sign painting and graphic design.  His 10 years in painting murals has definitely helped train the group in all aspects of being a professional muralist. 

Mike attributes his high school art teacher, as a big influence. “I learned technique from him then built my skills on the culture and history of graffiti that surrounded me.” 

To keep positive, Mike looks toward a bright future ahead. “I think of myself as an old man and imagine myself looking back at all I have accomplished. Support from friends and family keeps my head up.”

Seeding Fly-Over Territory With Art 

The group finds their cohesion and skills are well-suited to the demands of new clients. 

Similarly, the logistics of crafting their art lie not just in Kansas City, but in rural America. The small towns are very important to their future. 

“We find some of our best work lies in what we call Mural Deserts or bringing art to where art isn’t. Small towns are really good places to paint for us. There’s not a lot of art like there is in larger metro areas so when we paint an eye-catching mural on something like a grain elevator that’s massive, it definitely draws attention. As one woman we met while painting said, “It’s like Christmas morning every day. I drive by and see something new!” shares Whitney.

The camaraderie that this group demonstrates has provided a sense of accomplishment aided by their own inspiration. “I like to think of Kansas City as The City of Opportunity. This city and surrounding areas are a good fit for us,” smiles Chase.

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