Dragging her paintbrush across the blank wall, hands covered in paint, Madelyn Grays recalled creating something out of nothing. It took her ten days and 100 hours in April of 2019 to create her own mural, showcasing her talent, on the wall of LSA Burger on West Hickory in Denton.
Madelyn, a painter living in Denton, was selected to paint a mural on the wall of LSA Burger for their annual mural project earlier in the year. Her mural at LSA Burger, which depicts different parfaits, falls under Madelyn’s series inspired by Spanish cuisine. After experiencing an artist block for almost two years, Madelyn took a trip to Spain with her husband, where she was able to find the inspiration to begin a new series.
“Two years is the longest time I have ever been in an artist block,” Madelyn said. “I had everything mapped out and I just needed to paint, but even that is hard because it’s an artist block and you just have no desire. My husband and I went to Spain two years ago which was actually during the time of my artist block. I didn’t have any new ideas or anything, so I just drove to food.”
Madelyn graduated from UNT with a degree in painting and drawing in 2014. She has been creating art ever since she could remember. Madelyn said her mom saw she had an interest in art and pushed her to pursue it when she was younger. She said she is continuously pushed to pursue her passion by her family to this day. Madelyn’s husband of three years, Mar’Shauwn Grays, encouraged her to apply for the mural project.
“I try and read the Denton Record-Chronicle on at least once a week,” Mar’Shauwn said. “I happened to be reading it when LSA put out an ad stating that they need artist for their annual mural project. It makes me proud to see her go after her dreams and find success. I’m glad that the rest of the community can come out appreciate her work whenever they want.”
Madelyn bases all her paintings off of images she takes herself. When seeing something that motivates her to paint, she captures the image and then recreates it on a canvas. When doing this, she said, there are challenges that arise. Madelyn said the composition of some images taken are unable to be composed into a painting. Because of this, she had to create part of her mural off the top of her head without the original image.
When creating the mural for LSA Burger, Madelyn used latex house paint on the wall. She traditionally uses oil paints for most of her work. Although Madelyn uses different materials to create a piece, she says oil is her go to and is the one she knows the most about, though she still learns new things about oils every day. The wall space at LSA Burger was a large area to cover and required using a different kind of paint, which she said made creating the mural a challenge.
“The process was hard,” Madelyn said. “I did color studies and test before to kind of prepare me for it, but when you mix it on the wall it’s a little bit different. First, I just wanted to fix everything first and then put it on the wall, but latex dries really fast. To get the job done quicker, mixing it on the wall and figuring out how to move the paint to get it to the realist stuff that I do with my oil paintings, would help me out a bit. Learning how to do all of that in two days, essentially was a bit difficult.”
There were multiple artists featured in the annual mural in the LSA Mural Project. The general manager for LSA Burger, Kristin Enciso, said every artist is from Denton, helping create a hometown feel within their restaurant. During the weekend that the murals are painted, the artists are able to interact with restaurant staff and customers. The staff is educated on the meaning behind each part of the mural so the artist’s stories can be told throughout the year.
“[Grays’] mural is so realistic, it’s so vivid and it’s super poppy,” Enciso said. “It is so detailed. The story behind it really brought culture into LSA. During the weekend [of painting], we don’t shut down, so we’re serving burgers while people are painting, so you get an art show. It’s really a neat thing and you don’t see that everywhere.”
Denton artist Dan Black was also featured in the LSA Mural Project this year. He worked alongside Grays during the mural weekend and said he was impressed by her attention to detail.
“I was especially impressed with her determination to do her very best on the mural in spite of it being her first one ever,” Black said. “Her design required a lot of detail, which required that she work much longer hours than some of the other artists. But she was determined to work as long as it took to make it what she wanted it to be. That sort of determination and work ethic was really inspiring to me.”
Madelyn paints more than just food. One of the images from her most recent series “Still a Negro” was recently featured in an online BuzzFeed article. Being a full-time artist, Madelyn said she was grateful for the exposure her series and the rest of her art was given through the article.
“I was just painting a picture,” Madelyn said. “It was kind of surreal. I’m doing my art full-time so having exposure like that and being looked at as ‘Oh, you should check out this contemporary artist that’s in the art industry right now’ is kind of baffling and that kind of gives me hope for the future and helps me keep going. The ‘Still a Negro’ series is hard but I think it is one of my favorites. I feel the series causes you to think a lot more, in a sense and I feel like it could change someone’s perception of black people just in general.”
Madelyn said “Still a Negro” is based on the topic of black people being a target in society no matter how they look. Being a black woman in the art community, she finds herself being viewed differently than other artists. However, she expressed how she is thankful to have connections within the art community that have helped propel her to where she is now.
“There are not a lot of black artists in the art industry,” Madelyn said. “I feel like I can represent art well and I need for other people to see that it is possible. Also, there are not a lot of women artists in the industry as well, so just representing those two things are very important to me.”
Madelyn said that she has been lucky in her journey as an artist, but that not all people of color are as fortunate.
“There are certain disadvantages [to being a black artist] but I have been blessed with knowing the right people and being able for them to help propel me forward,” Madelyn said. “But I know some black artists do not have those same opportunities, so they’re having to work twice as hard to get to the same place that a white person is at.”
Passionate about painting and the things she creates, Madelyn has been working for years to become a better artist and to make a living by doing what she loves. Although there are discouraging moments to her, like when people make comments about being “a starving artist,” she said she reminds herself to continue her passion for what she enjoys.
“I have definitely been on a wild journey,” Madelyn said. “A few years ago, I had told this lady what I majored in and she told me that I basically wasted my time and I would make no money from that. That was just fueling my fire. If anyone tells me I can’t do it, it just keeps me going. There are so many ways you can make money with your passion. It’s important to me to keep doing it to show people.”
Featured Image: Madelyn Grays, 27, stands in front of her hand-painted mural at LSA Burger Co. Grays completed the painting in 100 hours throughout a span of 10 days. Image by: Hope Alvarez