WHEELING - West Liberty University student and artist Sam Starkey did more than simply paint colorful shapes inside the Pocket Park wall; he sent a message to a city and its citizens in a time of blight.
After winning the "best of show" award at the 2011 West Virginia Media Arts and Design Festival hosted by West Liberty, Susan Hogan representing the Wheeling Arts and Culture Commission and the small park at 1120 Main St. took notice of Starkey's work. His style, which molds with the cartoonish appearance of Pocket Park, earned him the invitation to paint the inside walls.
"My first time meeting these walls was interesting; they were covered with dust," he said. "It took a wire brush and a lot of rags to get these walls paintable."
West Liberty University student and artist Sam Starkey displays his graffiti mural inside the Pocket Park wall on Main Street, Wheeling.
The result of his work is a massive mural of abstract shapes, animals and concrete objects, all packaged with eclectic, bright colors.
He saw this opportunity as a privilege as his work joins the rank with such local favorites as Robert Villamagna and Susan Tracy Maness.
He was also drawn to the Pocket Park because of his enjoyment and appreciation of the same attraction types in cities such as Brooklyn referring to them as "free museums."
"Doing this mural for Susan really helped me grow as a creative individual and allowed me to experiment and gave me some self-confidence I really needed," Starkey said. "Because I (have) some projects coming up that I am super excited about that I really need to be on the ball."
He noted one of his upcoming projects will be to paint Tilly's Diner in both Moundsville and Bridgeport locations. He said he believes the work will help the diner in that it will attract attention of passersby looking for a bite to eat.
Starkey not only saw a big opportunity to better his work, but also a chance to improve the community in even a small way.
"Now you tell me what you would rather see: A wall with gunk and crust falling off of it; or shapes, colors and creativity," he said. "I believe it really draws people in and you never know when something simple like a funky, colorful piece of art can put a smile on someone's face and make (him or her) think, and appreciate humankind."
Starkey said he believes the Wheeling community and city leaders can take note from artistic initiative.
"I'm hoping some sort of city beautification effort can be attempted instead (of) crappy graffiti or letting old stuff sit and rot," he said. "Let's paint the city; give the people that come into Wheeling a little something for them to remember and enjoy; let's open our minds together."
The young artist also said he knows his work will not be there forever. It is painted on the north side River City Dance Works building, planned for demolition near the end of this year.
"When you put a work in the street that takes hours and you know it's not going to be there forever, (it) allows one to really appreciate their environment and give it a new light," he said.
Starkey had been a Marshall County resident for about six years and he said taking in the Ohio Valley environment inspired his particular style of graffiti work. He got his start artistically painting garages and walls for acquaintances and all the while exploring the valley's culture and observing his surroundings.