Sophomore expresses individuality through mural

Sophia Maxim, Layout Design/ Graphics

Sophia Maxim
Sophomore Sam Barclay spray paints his mural in the courtyard wearing a gas mask covered in sharpie doodles. His duffel bag full of spray paint cans sits behind him.

A teenage boy stands outside Grady late at night, shivering while covering a wall in neon pigment with his near-empty spray can. 

For the past three weeks, sophomore Sam Barclay has been working tirelessly on a mural in the Grady courtyard. 

Barclay was offered the opportunity after Mr. Brandhorst, a Visual Art teacher, noticed his work and offered him a section of the courtyard wall to display his artistic skill. 

“He was persistent, he came to me a few times saying, ‘I wanna do the wall, I wanna do the wall,’ and I’ve seen his illustrations in class and I thought, ‘Well, that’d be fun,’” said Brandhorst. “It’s a great opportunity for an artist like him to have access to a wall. It keeps his momentum going. He’s got a very divergent kind of creativity. I find that it can be fatal to somebody with an imagination like that to shut it down or not give opportunities for it.”

Barclay describes his art style as abstract and seeks freedom in creative expression.

“I enjoy art because it’s really free and has no bounds to what I can make,” Barclay said.

Barclay has implemented his graphic and surreal cartoon style into the mural, drawing inspiration from his recent pieces.

“Some of my previous designs have people with really big mouths, and [Mr. Brandhorst] really liked that. I drew a Nike swoosh with a guy’s head implanted down on it. Stabbed, gory, everything, and he loved it.”

Brandhorst has been motivating him throughout the process and challenging him to exercise his creativity to its fullest extent. 

“He came to me with his proposal sketch. He was talking about doing a knight, and I said, ‘That’s fine as long as you really freak it out,’” Brandhorst said. “So he came back with this knight, and it wasn’t freaky enough. I said, ‘I know what you’re capable of. You need to find that line that’s almost unacceptable.’ I had to push him a couple of times like, ‘Go further, go further. You want people to not quite get it right off the bat.’”

Barclay also manifests his energetic and bold spirit through gymnastics. He has been doing flips since he was a young child. 

“People think I’m gonna break a bone eventually or just die out here, but it’s not gonna happen,” Barclay said. “I’m not scared. I just do ‘em on concrete.”

The teenaged artist often stands out because of his eccentric and unpredictable personality. At homecoming this fall, he spent the evening doing flips in the center of the dancefloor. 

“I’m now the star of homecoming apparently,” Barclay said. “People keep calling me ‘Flip Kid’ at school.”

Barclay has ambitious goals for the future, hoping to pursue a career that allows him to apply his artistic or athletic skills.

“I hope I can either do animation or just make mad bank off of artwork. I wanna work for Pixar or Marvel, some Disney-owned company.” Barclay said. “If that doesn’t work out, I can just be a stunt-double.”

Although Brandhorst admires his passion and enthusiasm, he believes Barclay may struggle with persistence in major projects like the mural.

“That’ll be his big challenge. I think he wants to do it fast and big and powerful and then be done,” Brandhorst said. “I think people with imaginations like that, they get bored easily, and so when it becomes work, the fun kind of leaves the room. He’ll have to sort of learn to embrace the work.”

Brandhorst believes Barclay’s artistic power lies in his originality and non-conformist style but recognizes that these qualities come with challenges.

“The fact that he can make drawings like that, just straight out of his head, is really annoying to a trained artist. The hard part with him is going to be to get him to obey rules too,” Brandhorst said. “There’s a lot of freedom in divergence. The beauty of my job is that I’m surrounded by a bunch of divergent people.”

At Grady, artistic expression is encouraged. Brandhorst appreciates teaching at a school where he can provide students like Sam with opportunities to communicate and create authentically.

“There are schools where we would never be allowed to do murals outside, and I would never be allowed to present the things I do or speak the way I do,” Brandhorst said. “I feel incredibly fortunate that I’m teaching here in Midtown with this group with these opportunities and people like Sam who are ready to expand into that freedom. Otherwise, why bother?”


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