Atlanta-based fine artist Suzy Schultz never expected to paint a mural so tall that she would need a cherry-picker to complete it. But this award-winning, self-taught artist and portraitist recently was selected by Atlanta’s largest public art exhibition, “Art on the Atlanta Beltline,” to paint a 25-foot mural on the side of a tunnel along the Beltline’s walking trails.

Schultz, who attends City Church Eastside in Atlanta, had attempted other outdoor murals but this was the largest to date. “I brought my studio out into the streets — and initially I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she said. The Beltline project provided some funds for the mural, but Schultz also raised $4,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to defray the costs of power washing the tunnel wall, priming it, and painting it.

A New Method of Working 

“I seek figures and faces that seem to be familiar with the tensions of life. That bear some battle scars. And yet, have
victory, even if a crippled or limping one.”

The month-long project brought with it both the logistical challenge of painting several stories high and the difficulty of achieving the right scale and proportion in the oversized image. Because she could not frequently step back to observe her progress and make adjustments, Schultz developed a new method of working — constructing a grid from her original photo of the subject and then taking a picture of each day’s work to compare it to the reference photo.

Schultz’s mural depicts her African-American neighbor singing intently with his eyes closed and is based on a photograph Schultz took in her studio: “He filled the studio with gospel songs, with a voice that was strong and emotional,” Shultz said. “I was determined to bring the beauty of those songs, and the healing energy he brought into my studio, to this mural.”

An Unlikely Path 

Though Schultz’s mother was an artist, she did not initially pursue a creative path. Instead after college she taught high school math for four years before traveling to Poland for a 15-month program with Campus Crusade for Christ.

It was there that she confronted something unexpected. “I noticed that because people didn’t have much there, they made things for each other as gifts. I saw culture as more a part of everyday life — and not an occasional event to attend.”

When she returned from Poland she switched tracks and began working for MTW’s marketing department as a day job, and began exploring painting on the side. Her skills grew, and in 1995 she began to pursue painting as a full-time career.

Though she never received formal training, she has studied under other artists and has won several art awards while also being featured in magazines like American Art Collector and Watercolor Magic. To prepare for the Beltline project, she began to study the work of other mural street artists: “They were doing fine art and painterly stuff — finish and texture and layering on unexpected places like a wall. I really connected with that.”

“Second Innocence” as Inspiration 

But what really inspires Schultz is subjects that reveal a “second innocence.” She describes the first innocence as the time before we are exposed to the struggles of life. But a second innocence emerges through adversity and is revealed through our scars. Schultz strives to honor these beautiful, sacred subjects in her work. “I sand, layer, and scar, wanting to reproduce a piece that has a patina of age. I seek figures and faces that seem to be familiar with the tensions of life. That bear some battle scars. And yet, have victory, even if a crippled or limping one.”

There is a redemptive theme here, she says, mirroring Scripture that says we are made like Christ through our suffering.

Those who bear witness to this, like the subject of her Beltline mural, have a beautiful grace to them, says Schultz. “I want to bring it onto the street so that people feel it, even if only for a moment.”

To view the completed mural and a short video about its creation, click here.