By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Color was being breathed into a space once filled by a vacant building. Whimsical creatures were colonizing the rough brick walls. As the color and creatures spread, Led Zeppelin music played from a bucket truck. On nearby tables, rows of spray paint cans were arranged like choices of ice cream or candy.
Princeton native and artist Patch Whisky, 34, took a moment away from painting two huge murals to talk about the images he was helping to paint on Mercer Street in Princeton.
“I went to school in Princeton: Princeton Junior High, High School. I went to Mercer Elementary; it’s been there a while.” He laughed. “I think they built that just about the time the Titanic crashed.”
Whisky was among the artists contacted by the Princeton Renaissance Project when the mural project started. Now murals and old-fashioned signs are spreading across weathered bricks up and down Mercer Street.
“Yea, they called me up. They know what I do for a living now so they figured they’d call me first and foremost because I’m a local from Princeton, West Virginia,” he said, taking time to sit down and talk. Paint stained his work clothes and fingers. The murals growing on either side of the vacant space were two stories high, but Whisky didn’t have to worry about climbing ladders or scaffolds. The nearby truck extended his reach.
“I got a bucket lift — that’s my new upgrade for Patch Whisky Industries,” he said.
Whisky became interested in art because of his father, Moon Mullins.
“I guess because my dad was an artist when I was a kid growing up. That was the one thing me and him connected with. As I got older, I started pursuing more art classes and my high school art instructor Rita Montrose started steering me into art college,” he recalled. “I went from there and just started painting every day for the last 12 years.”
Whisky attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and earned a bachelor’s degree. Now he spends his days creating new artwork.
“I’m a full-time artist and that’s all I have time for,” he said, looking at the Mercer Street murals. “I’ll finish this and then I’ll be going off to the next wall in another place, another town.”
Whisky’s work has grown larger ever since he painted a mural near the Bluefield Area Arts Center along Bland Street.
“My canvases are getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “The canvases that I want to work on won’t fit in my studio. I guess that’s the beauty of painting on the sides of buildings now; I don’t have to take the work home with me. I don’t have to figure out a place to store it or sell it.”
Curious, colorful creatures inhabit the murals.
“It’s definitely inspired by all of those cartoons I grew up with for sure,” he said. “I don’t know exactly. It’s kind of an animation, pop surrealistic, abstract expressionist maybe. Just cartoons. I call my guys the rainbow monsters, I’ve got winkles. It’s just a cast of characters that keep evolving throughout my career.”
Whisky started painting smaller things like pebbles and rocks, and eventually used skateboards, snowboards and skis.
“I guess my canvases are getting bigger now; right now, they’re the sides of buildings. I don’t know what’s next,” he said.
A Patch Whisky mural or painting normally doesn’t come with a plan. “I’m just kind of shooting at the hip. I’ve got a little bit of an idea. All of my stuff’s very character driven. I do know there are going to be some kind of crazy characters involved, and it will have some kind of emotion whether it’s wacky or happy. There’s always an emotional quality to my work.”
Princeton is not the only city where the murals have been appearing. Whisky said he recently painted seven murals in Detroit, Mich. working with another artist; the murals were completed in three weeks. Whisky usually gives himself a week to do a mural, but sometimes he can paint one in four days; meanwhile, he is still doing smaller works.
“I’m still doing canvas, and I’m doing some shows up in Brooklyn, New York right now. I just got some stuff back from Philadelphia, and I’ve got some stuff in San Francisco and Oakland. I’m still doing canvas, and I’m getting represented by a few galleries up in New York City right now. New York City’s really got my attention in this point of the game,” he stated.
The murals by Whisky and other artists are part of the Princeton Renaissance Project striving to revitalize downtown Mercer Street. One goal is to make the downtown more visually appealing and encourage galleries and other businesses to move to the district.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Whisky said. “I’ve going to all these other communities throughout the country right now, and we’re kind of revitalizing neighborhoods all across America. And where I’ve seen it, it works. It works every time. We’re bringing light to darkness right now, and I think that’s what this town needs. It’s definitely getting people’s attention. It’s definitely a positive thing that’s going on right now. It’s going to work out for everybody.”
Whisky looked around the vacant space and imagined its future. One idea was to add greenery so it could serve as a small park.
“We go to places that are kind of abandoned and vacant to paint. Artists kind of establish themselves. Between these walls there will be a little park and there will be kids running around here in the next six months. It’s certainly going to be a positive thing for the community; plus they won’t have to go out of town to see some awesome artwork from some artists around here,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting. On any given day, there’s up to 10 artists painting on the streets here on Mercer Street.”
Whisky created the name he goes by years ago when he designed an alter ego for himself.
“He was a wrestler dude I made up on a video game when I was a kid. I have taken him as my own now. He was just this guy I made up in a video game, and now he’s a real person that paints.” Whisky laughed. “He retired from wrestling about 20 years ago.”
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org