The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 11, 2011

Graffiti artists spray paint message of hope on Joplin building

By Alexandra Nicolas

JOPLIN, Mo. — The spray paint on the Mong Su Dom Tai Karate studio has nothing to do with search and rescue or visits from insurance companies.

A graffiti mural, which includes the ravaged Joplin skyline, a bandaged heart and words like “hope” and “faith,” now covers the north facing wall of the damaged building at 20th and Main streets.

A.J. Alejandro described himself as a “former graffiti artist” who now does mural work with spray paint. For him, the medium was a natural choice, and fitting considering the already spray-paint covered city. He and a fellow graffiti artist, Jim Bilgere, wanted a way to spread a positive message in the middle of the tornado-devastated area.

“Everybody is doing something,” he said. “It’s a talent we have and we can use it.”  

They got the permission of the building owner, and began the mural with no plan. They said they were going to work until they ran out of paint, hoping to cover the entire wall with a combination of stenciled and freehand images and words.

“These images (of destruction), they get in your head,” Alejandro said. “We wanted to brighten things up.”

Alejandro was involved with search-and-rescue efforts in the immediate aftermath of the storm and visited the studio to use the bathroom, where he met the building’s owners.

Owner Cheryl Jennings-Forcum said she thinks the mural being impromptu and informal gives it greater meaning than if she’d arranged for a formal designed piece to be put on the wall.

If there’s paint left, Alejandro and Bilgere said they may search for other locations to decorate, including homes set for demolition.

While the mural can be seen by anyone driving south on Main Street, it isn’t permanent. The studio, even as Alejandro and Bilgere painted, was undergoing renovation to repair tornado damage. When all the other repairs are complete, the wall bearing the mural will be repainted.

Alejandro said the temporary state of the painting doesn’t matter to him and that the message of hope will get out, if only for a short time.