Alum makes artistic comeback to new library

Lindsay Ruhl

Global artist and alum Alex Brewer, better known as HENSE, found a unique way to leave his mark on the school he was forced to leave as a student for tagging. He designed the mural in the school’s new library.

Brewer’s passion for art and design started at an early age. In high school, he was known for expressing himself through his art.

“As a youngster, I was never very academic,” Brewer said. “My parents had an architecture design background, so I was really exposed to art and creativity early on. I always knew that I wanted to go into some kind of creative field. I had my first solo show in a gallery around 2008, and that’s when I started to think more about my public work and how I could expand on what I’ve learned through doing graffiti.”

Former assistant principal Naomi Grishman recognized Brewer’s potential to pursue art as a career.

“Alex was always a gifted artist, and I really think that he is the perfect alum to inspire students to follow their passion in life because that’s what he did,” Grishman said. “I’m so excited that he’s able to leave his signature on Midtown High for future generations of students and staff members. It’s a perfect tribute to the leadership of Midtown High that this type of mural would be in such a prominent place in the school.”

Brewer finished his senior year of high school in Virginia after leaving Grady due to a conflict over school graffiti.

“Naomi talked to me in 2003 about getting Alex to do a mural at school,” art teacher John Brandhorst said. “She thought it would be so hilarious if we could get him back because he is so global now. He could tag the school that he had to leave for tagging. It’s just a beautiful poetic irony. I never let that go.”

A few years after Grishman’s proposal, Brandhorst knew the new building, which opened this fall, was the perfect location for a HENSE mural.

“Naomi retired, and the years went by,” Brandhorst said. “Then, this renovation came up, and they said that there was going to be a giant media center in the new building. There was a big white wall in the new media center, and they started talking about putting a mural there. I said that we should get Alex Brewer to do it. I knew he would love it.”

Buckhead Murals already had the job to paint the mural, but it didn’t have a design. Brandhorst reached out to Brewer, saying there was a huge blank wall waiting to be brought to life.

“I agreed because I thought it would be an interesting project,” Brewer said. “I had to think about it before I accepted it because I never had someone else execute one of my designs. John had assured me that this team was very well-qualified, and paid attention to detail. Once I felt confident that my design would be rendered the way that I would like, I agreed.”

Brewer then used Photoshop to start the design process of the 12 different mural proposals. He generated multiple designs by layering his separate drawings. 

“A lot of that final mural is a collage of my paintings, like studio work,” Brewer said. “I ended up coming up with a lot of different concepts and sent them over so they would be able to go through them and select which one they really liked. It was cool to be able to see it completed and not have to actually do any of the execution. That was exciting.”

Brewer impressed the administration with his bold choices for his designs.

“Alex has done this worldwide, so he knows exactly how to estimate the amount of paint, what colors and how to do it,” Brandhorst said. “We finally voted on one of the designs, and it turned out wonderfully that that one was his favorite, too. It has the most jump to it, the most chaos. And I think that was the whole point of it, to do something in the mode of his murals because they are so dynamic and so abstract.”

Brewer has expanded his art beyond Atlanta, taking it across the globe to Australia, South America, Taiwan, France, Germany and Italy.

“I did one project in 2019 in Toulouse, France, which was a super fun experience,” Brewer said. “I really liked the final work that was produced. A lot of the international projects are standouts to me because of the context and the entire package.”

The mural in the new media center adds vibrancy that brings the space to life. 

“I think the mural adds a sense of excitement and energy to the library,” librarian Brian Montero said. “I am happy to be here. I liked the old library, don’t get me wrong, but I think now that I see what this building is like, I am very excited about what we can do with this space.”

Students have also recognized the significance of the mural.

“I really like the mural,” senior Mia McCown said. “I think it adds depth. It’s not just black and white with red walls. The variance in color and the contrast is really cool.”

As the first classes of newly named Midtown, which replaced the Grady name this year, come and go, the mural will remain timeless.

“It is a wonderful love letter from a former student to current and future students that will last for decades,” Brandhorst said. “I think the mural will never look old; it will never look dated. I hope there will be other situations while I’m still here that I can be involved in and that kind of professional collaboration is normal.”