Ebonique Little, Contributing Writer
A colorful, 60-foot-wide mural now lives on the side of a Marshall Street industrial building. Lined with flowers, it portrays three Black men in comic book style art in shades of yellow, blue and red. A bird is positioned at the top of the painting, watching over the men in a nighttime sky.
Painted by artist and VCU alumnus Chris Visions, the Hope Mural honors Elijah McClain, Marcus-David Peters and Brandon Robertson — individuals who experienced police brutality. The mural, which took a week to make, was the artist’s first exterior mural.
“It’s nice to give spaces on the wall to people’s stories that deserve to be told,” Visions said on a Zoom call.
Peters and Robertson were both VCU alumni who lived in Richmond and suffered mental health crises at the time of their deaths. Peters was a 24-year-old biology teacher who was killed in 2018 by a Richmond Police officer on Interstate 95.
Robertson was a 36-year-old graphic designer who died by suicide in 2019. According to Visions, Robertson experienced police intimidation before his death.
McClain, an unarmed 23-year-old from Colorado, died in 2019 of a heart attack after being placed in a chokehold by police officers and receiving a sedative administered by paramedics. He was targeted as a suspicious person while walking home.
Visions said he included him in the mural because he saw himself in McClain, as they have similar mannerisms and emotional expressions. Visions was especially inspired by Robertson, who was a close friend of his.
“Brandon was a very sweet person,” Visions said. “He wore his heart on his sleeve pretty heavy. He always made himself available for other people.”
Visions and Robertson met after graduating from VCU. The two bonded over art and enjoyed meeting at local coffee shops to draw.
“And that would take us to places like Lamplighter,” Visions said. “We would go do sketching there. We would also go to Brewer’s and a couple other like, coffee locations just to mix it up through town.”
The artist attributes Robertson’s positivity as the influence for the mural’s name.
“He would write ‘hope’ on his hand every day with a Sharpie, and knowing that it would wash off,” Visions said, “he still thought that the ritual of reminding himself about that word and writing on his hand was important.”
Along with the title, Visions said he focused on powerful imagery. The clouds in the background of the mural symbolize a “heavenly feeling” of peace, as well as the tear gas that Richmond Police Department deployed on protesters in recent months.
This theme of social unrest is common in Visions’ comic and cartoon work. He said Marvel Comics’ “The A-Team” influences his artistry as it explores political commentary.
Visions also cited American painter Norman Rockwell as an inspiration for his work. His oil paintings portraying everyday life in the civil rights era allowed Visions to draw a meaningful conclusion about art.
“It just made me realize that this is important,” Visions said. “This is not just photographs, like somebody took time to render this into a masterpiece.”
Richmond muralist Emily Herr recommended Visions as the artist to create the mural. The building’s owner was searching for an artist to create a mural in support of the Black Lives Matter protests, and Herr said Visions was the first person to come to mind.
“One of the things that I am always trying to do is get my friends, who are amazing artists, to do a mural,” Herr said. “I think it’s this fantastic media that gets you all of this visibility and brings you to a different scale, literally.”
The Hope Mural was the first time the friends had collaborated, but Herr said their dynamic was seamless. Visions was responsible for creating the image, while Herr worked on the technical side of the project — projecting the image on the building as a template.
While they worked on the project, the artists shared stories about Robertson and played music he enjoyed while they worked. Herr said making the mural was therapeutic, but a painful reminder of their loss.
“Painting this mural suddenly really brought his death into reality in a way that it hadn’t really before,” Herr said.
After the project was complete, the pair made an impromptu decision to host a gathering at sunset where attendees brought flowers and played music to honor the men.
Attendee Mara Beatnick said the mural gave her a space to process her emotions and appreciate the dimensions of Black people. Beatnick believes Visions’ work will communicate a larger message of hope, loss and mental health awareness.
“It’s just a really special reminder of the people that we’re here fighting for,” Beatnick said. “And hopefully one day we’ll have a better existence for everybody.”
The Hope Mural is on display at 2907 W. Marshall St.