by Katharine Gillen
When kids are on long car rides, they often have their eyes glued to their newest Netflix obsession or are catching some z’s. Owen Murray, however, was different. When he was younger, he would entertain himself on those road trips by looking at the graffiti on buildings he passed. He would wonder how someone could get their art on a wall so high without anyone catching them.
Now, Murray, a senior at WHS, is a graffiti artist himself. Around 5th grade, he started practicing graffiti letters, but later on he was influenced by Banksy, a British street artist who bases his work on social and political commentary. Now Murray’s work also includes murals and more abstract pieces with meaning behind them.
Yes—graffiti is illegal. So instead, Murray has gravitated toward street art. The difference? “Street art is thought of as legal graffiti-style murals on walls, while graffiti is typically seen as letters that are illegally tagging buildings,” Murray explained. (“Tagging” is graffiti lingo for the artist signing their personalized signature.)
“I think street art is taking on a really positive role in the world,” he said. “It’s brightening up neighborhoods and giving graffiti artists a legal way to express themselves. Obviously, graffiti is illegal, and some of it is straight vandalism rather than art. I can admit that. But graffiti is positive in that it is a way for people to express themselves. I personally would rather graffiti on a building rather than a blank wall.”
Murray has graffitied walls and garages (with permission!), decorated phone cases and Converse sneakers for kids, and traveled into the city with his dad to sell his canvas art on the streets. Lately, he has even been commissioned by WHS students to create college-related art for their dorm rooms.
After senior Hallie Rosenburgh committed to Penn State, her friend, senior Emily Shields, knew Murray could make Hallie the perfect birthday gift: a graffitied canvas of her school logo to hang on her dorm wall. “I wanted to surprise her with something special before we left for college, and I have always admired Owen’s artwork, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to use his talent to give her something that will remind her of home,” Shields said. “I love the uniqueness and creativity in each of his pieces. Everything he creates is truly one of a kind.”
But Murray doesn’t forget to create art for himself, too: “I think being an artist just showed me the importance of the arts and being able to express yourself. Art is huge in my life, not only because I love to do it, but because it’s a way to de-stress and to not think,” he said.
Murray’s advice for aspiring artists: “Just find your own style of art and rock with it…. It may be different, but different is good.”