Fighting graffiti with murals


In a wide alley of the Powderhorn Park neighborhood, artist Richard Barlow is almost finished painting a mural. It’s not your typical brightly colored neighborhood pride statement. This mural is silver and white, and depicts the negative – and positive – of a photograph of trees on water. Barlow says he’s been fascinated with how early photographers sought to be “painterly” in their images. Now Barlow’s creating paintings inspired by those photographs.

This is Barlow’s first attempt at a mural, and he’s learned about some of the unique challenges painting outside can present (such as ants and other insects getting caught in your paint while it’s still wet, or the risk of going snowblind working on a white wall all day).

Richard Barlow’s particular type of art wasn’t as easy to convert to a mural as he had originally imagined. Due to the particular types of chemicals in the paints he used, he had to apply the silver to the wall first, and then add the white afterward. He ended up projecting his original onto the building at night, to guide him in his painting.


Photograph by Jenny Jenkins

Ted Spears is the owner of Acme Awning, the building whose back wall is serving as Barlow’s canvas.

“If I could afford to do it, I’d do it to the whole building,” says Spears. Spears says he’s had a huge problem with graffiti for a long time now, and he’s hopeful the mural will deter would-be taggers.

The mural was the idea of Jenny Jenkins, Spears’ back alley neighbor, and, conveniently, Richard Barlow’s girlfriend. She didn’t like seeing graffiti out her back window, and thought a mural might help the neighborhood. She managed to cobble together some funding with the local neighborhood association and a Minneapolis graffiti abatement grant.

Kari Neathery, executive director of the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, says her neighborhood has installed a few of these murals over the past couple of years with great success. Sometimes the projects involve working with neighborhood kids, so that they take ownership of the mural and are less likely to deface it.

Ted Spears says what he likes about Barlow’s work is it’s not attempting to make a social statement – something he doesn’t feel would be appropriate for his business. He says it’s just good art, and he’s pleased.