A colorful mural peeks out through a sea of cars and shoppers moving in and out of businesses in Powers Ferry Square at Roswell Road and Powers Ferry Road. The wall between Pigtails & Crewcuts and Sabot has been transformed by bright teardrop shapes, contrasting with the dull grey sky above. Sitting on a metal bench in front of the mural is Buckhead Murals co-owner Lenia Castro, the sleeves of her black leather jacket smudged with paint.
Lenia and her husband Ernesto Torres moved to Atlanta from Cuba in 2013. Ernesto grew up painting alongside his brother Alexi Torres in what Lenia describes as a “family tradition.” A few years after Lenia graduated from college with a major in Film, TV, and Radio Communications the pair decided to move to Atlanta to be closer to Alexi who was living in Buckhead at the time. Alexi founded Buckhead Murals with an emphasis mainly on residential projects but wanted to prioritize his oil on canvas works. Lenia and Ernesto stepped up and took over the company, refocusing on commercial clients and schools.
Developments in modern technology in the last half century have made it possible to generate signs and decorations digitally before printing them in large scale, which in turn caused a sharp decline in the popularity of the traditions of sign painting. More recently, however, American culture has become reinvested in manual work prompting a renewed appreciation for authentic hand-painted signs and murals.
Businesses and buildings of all sorts need signs, both to advertise the companies and organizations within and to convey essential information such as directions, hours of operation, and safety precautions. Hand-painted versions of these seemingly mundane signs offer an artistic touch and can last longer than stickers and other commonly used materials.
By maintaining good relationships with their community and their willingness to travel for work Buckhead Murals stays busy year-round. Lenia usually conceptualizes the art and sketches the outline before Ernesto steps in to add paint. Lenia explained that the team has to be accountable for the quality of their work and comfortable with criticism from clients as their job is to convey the client’s vision, not their own. “You are their hands,” she said.
No wall is too big
“Murals give you the idea that nothing is too big,” Lenia continued. Buckhead Murals thrives on challenging projects that require unique solutions, giving them an advantage and reputation in the community as a team that can handle complicated projects, such as their recent work for Delta. Large scale figurative works above escalators, murals that rise a whopping 10 stories, working with unusual materials such as cloth awnings, and being up high on scaffolding and lifts are all challenges that the team regularly undertake.
Installing murals is often done in the public eye and as such draws interest from many passers-by who may have never seen a mural in process before. “Art opens more doors than it closes,” said Lenia. “People say hello, and always I take the time to explain it to them, you know, not just put on headphones and be antisocial. Because that’s part of the fun – that people can understand what we are doing.”
From Cuba to Buckhead
“It was total immersion for me, for us,” said Lenia, noting that the challenges of running a business were compounded by their language barrier. “Even when we didn’t know how to speak English or the basics all the clients tried to understand us and find work for us,” Lenia continued. “We are so grateful to Atlanta.”
The couple were welcomed by the community and the business has thrived thanks to the team’s tireless work, vision, and artistic talent. Though the business often requires for them to travel to various cities throughout the country the couple consider Atlanta their home. “Always you miss home,” Lenia added, “and the weather!” Painting murals frequently requires being outside for many hours at a time, something that’s not feasible for much of the year in places like New York City.
These days Buckhead Murals works can be spotted in neighborhoods and businesses all around the city and even out in smaller towns such as Buena Vista. Keep your eyes peeled for hand-painted signs at the next sporting event, restaurant, or retail shop you visit and you might be surprised just how prevalent this resurrected art form has become.