ROANOKE — Richmond street artist Mickael Broth spent a fair portion of his Friday under the Williamson Road overpass beside the Taubman Museum of Art, putting the finishing touches on a new mural.
Even unfinished, his painting was turning heads. “It’s amazing,” said Roanoke resident Donald Doman, 46. “Wow!”
Doman was part of a trio that stopped to pose with Broth in front of the mural. Nadia Merchant, 18, was so inspired by Broth’s artwork that she read a poem she wrote, “Letter to Myself,” to the artist, scrolling the text across her phone screen.
“He took his time to put his art out there to express how he felt,” she said.
A street artist himself, Doman took note of a telling detail. The east end of Broth’s mural is dominated by a larger-than-life glamorous and sly witch who regards the viewer. Doman asked Broth about the witch’s orange fingernails, which prompted Broth to show his own fingernails, painted fluorescent orange. “It’s war paint,” Broth said.
Broth told Doman that he has in some previous paintings made it a point to work in figures sporting orange nail polish as a kind of personal motif.
The figure of the witch, an archetype historically persecuted and feared, in a way represents how street artists have been perceived, Broth said.
Broth’s creation in Roanoke, called “Everyone Wants to Leave Their Mark,” is the newest temporary outdoor mural commissioned by the Taubman to cover the wall across from Morning Brew Coffee Co. café. Its huge, eye-grabbing images make direct and oblique references to the 35-year-old artist’s life and career.
One portion of the mural was “curated” by his 2½-month-old son, Maverick Rosedale, with Broth reproducing drawings of such places as the Eiffel Tower done in his son’s style. Maverick even painted a part of the wall.
The mural includes a portrait of Maverick with his back to the viewer, rendered 12 feet high.
The portrait of Maverick echoes a self-portrait elsewhere in the mural, in which Broth depicts himself as a teenager, painting graffiti on the side of a boxcar, his pants drooping to a risky plumber’s crack-displaying altitude.
Originally from Northern Virginia, Broth started painting graffiti at age 15. When he moved to Richmond in 2001, he set out to cover every surface he could with his illicit art, a pastime that in 2004 earned him a 10-month jail sentence. At the time, he was a student at Virginia Commonwealth University. He was able to re-enroll after he got out.
The advice his mother gave him while he was incarcerated — “Draw till you drop” — helped him change direction. He described dedicating himself to drawing, having only ballpoint pens and legal pads as art supplies.
In the years since, Broth has painted more than 200 murals across North America and Europe, all of them on commission. Many can be found throughout Richmond. He paints using the handle “The Night Owl.”
He also exhibits in galleries — his fine art paintings are usually abstract, a way of taking a break from all the representational images he paints outdoors.
His fine art won him a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Professional Fellowship in 2008 and also brought him to the attention of the Taubman, as he was one of the artists selected for “Homeward Bound,” a juried show the museum held in 2017.
Broth has written a book about his experience behind bars, “Gated Community,” and has another coming out later this year, “Murals of Richmond.”
His Roanoke mural is scheduled to stay up through July 2020.