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    Photo by Elizabeth Hackler.

Local artist Val Brains has embarked on an ongoing project near the Texas Architects headquarters at 500 Chicon.  With a construction walkway as her canvas, she has transformed the sidewalk into a piece of public art and a source of neighborhood conversation.

Brains, who generally paints at the graffiti park, is an author illustrator used to working in a much smaller format. But her work at the park was getting covered over quickly, so she found a new canvas.

“I like the idea of having something in my own neighborhood — my friends can see me at work,” she says. The east side’s ubiquitous construction walkways provided the perfect place to display her art. The wood is rough ply, but smooth enough to paint, describes Brains, and the jut-outs are a fun thing to try to resolve with non-linear shapes. It’s as close as she has gotten to public oil painting, but with cheaper materials. She has even invested in custom traffic cones for safety at the site.

Brains’ love of non-representational work has inspired the project, which consists of a series of abstract shapes. Each section of the walkway is covered in a different abstract pattern, rendered in two or three colors. Since there is a forced interaction with the walkway, she hopes that she is teaching people to appreciate things without being able to define them. Eventually, she would love to do more interiors and big walls to continue to convince people that non-representational art can be exciting. For now, the best way to accomplish this is to have people stumble upon the art in a public setting.

What has been striking to Brains is the way the work has turned into an unspoken conversation with other neighborhood artists. When she started the project, graffiti on the walkway was sparse and small. Now, there are larger pieces when she returns each morning, but never on top of her piece. In fact, the mural has endured far longer than anyone expected, growing over a period of months. Brains views the project as too convenient and fun to stop.

Before undertaking the project, Brains asked the site’s construction foreman for permission to paint. Now, she’s a familiar figure to the crew — after all, they use the walkway more than anyone else. “They’ve been super fun and nice,” she says. “They also think I’m totally nuts.”

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