Self-taught artist completes salon mural in three days

Photo by Alexandra Zernik.
Photo by Alexandra Zernik.

The figure’s long, flowing hair is the focal point of a mural completed in just three days in late January for Shockoe Salon at the corner of 22nd and E. Main St in downtown Richmond.

Christian Kyle Harrell, known to most as “Humble,” worked up to 15 hours a day to complete the work on the side of the two-story building housing the salon.

After he graduated from VCU with a religious studies degree, Harrell said he spent most of two summers in Cabell Library practicing and teaching himself art after a friend sparked his interest.

Since then Harrell has learned printmaking, fashion design, painting and how to run his own business, The Humble Collective. Harrell has completed a number of murals, such as the dragon on the side of Fat Dragon Chinese restaurant, and commissioned pieces, in addition to drawing every day and amassing a following.

Harrell said the process of completing this particular mural was intense. After starting the first night with a sketch, he completed 60 to 70 percent of the mural the next day.

Harrell said he only had one day to complete most of the mural because he only had access to a scissor lift, a work platform that can be raised or lowered, for one day. He only ate once that day, he said, working for about 14 to 15 hours.

Sterling Harrelson, the owner of the salon and the building, commissioned the piece after meeting with Harrell and seeing his passion for the project.

“It was important for me to wait for the right artist that could share my vision,” Harrelson said. “(Harrell’s) passion and enthusiasm for this project was busting out of him. It wasn’t until I witnessed this that I knew I would commission him.”

Part of Harrell’s creative process is spending time with his clients and learning who they are as individuals.

“Confidence, beauty, grace, that’s where that image came from,” Harrell said. “The hair is flowing. It’s moving. There are elements of randomness to it, which is him. He’s a wildcard in a lot of ways. He’ll say things that I don’t expect. So I threw in little pieces that you don’t expect.”

Harrell said the pair clicked instantly and a lot of the inspiration for the piece came from Harrelson himself.

“(Harrell and I) agreed that the focal point should be hair in motion,” Harrelson said. “I explained to him the origin of ‘shockoe,’ which is the Powhatan word for the sound water makes when going over rocks; so essentially Native American for rapids.”

From the beginning, Harrell said, the piece received support and excitement from the community. In addition to the many intrigued passers-by, one local accompanied the artist throughout his process. He helped Harrell fill in areas, held his ladder and kept him company despite his lack of artistic experience. A resident of the surrounding area also watched Harrell work diligently and left him a note expressing her admiration for his creative talents.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more after 16 hours of working,” Harrell said. “She had a really deep respect for what I was doing.”

After its completion, both Harrell and Harrelson noticed growth in the salon’s business. Harrell received an enormous positive response to this most recent project.

“He kept us all updated on his Instagram story. After long hours and many cups of coffee, he produced something to be proud of,” said Elissa Rumford, Harrell’s coworker. “Something that Richmond will enjoy for years to come.”

Alexandra Zernik Contributing Writer 

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