Wendy Martin and her husband, Todd, bought their row house at 2702 Grove Ave. 14 years ago. Its eastern wall is brick and windowless and faces an empty corner lot, which also belongs to them.
We really should do something with that wall, they thought through the years. A household of art lovers in a city full of murals — it was only a matter of time. So they posted a sign at the recent RVA Street Art Festival: "Want to paint a mural? We've got a great wall." An arrow led to a picture of their towering blank brick wall with the words, "Your Mural Here."
Among those who responded were Matt Lively, he of refined lines, Beecycles and fluffy sheep, and André Shank, painter of blunt visages and colorful, geometric shapes.
Lively has been a working artist for 20 years. Shank, a full-time contractor, is one year into his art career and had been angling to work with Lively. It was Lively who suggested they create the Martins' mural together.
"I wanted to see what would happen when you smashed two different styles of art together," Lively says.
"I was stoked," Shank says. "I'm jealous of musicians and how they come up with art as a group. With visual artists you don't have that same opportunity necessarily."
The Martins loved the idea. "We already were familiar with and liked Matt's work," Wendy says. "André was new to us, but his talent was undeniable. … We just said, "Go for it."
It took the duo a total of about 20 hours of work as individuals and a team. "He would do something and I would respond. I would do something, he would respond," Lively says. "It was pretty polite."
The recently finished mural depicts a giant raven atop a precarious stack of sheep against a background of clouds and color blocks. "It's surprising and not like any other mural around," Lively says.
The Martins think this might be the first mural of its kind on a private residence. The response has been fantastic, Wendy says: "People literally stop in their tracks to look at it."
The collaboration continues. Art 180 wants to auction off a Lively-Shank mural for its annual Art Karma benefit in December, Lively says. And just a couple of weeks ago, after they finished the Martins' mural, Shank told Lively he was going to replace the Olmec-style face — a Shank signature — with the raven. The face "just felt really weak to me," Shank says. He posted pictures online after he was done.
Hmmm, Lively thought upon seeing pictures. "I'm going to sneak over there and put some sheep on top of that bird," he says. "I still might."