Terry McNerney: redefining “street art” on a major scale

If you live in Fort Collins, chances are you’ll never say, “oh look at that dirty old brick wall” or “how ugly those electrical transformer boxes are.” The reason for this is Terry McNerney keeping our city pretty. The veteran muralist is the personality behind the beautiful street art that makes Fort Collins so unique.
scenemagazine_Terry Portrait 3 - smallIllustrator McNerney originally had no experience painting when he was asked to do a mural on the side of Dimmers Brew Pub (now out of business.) McNerney fell in love with large-scale mural painting and became a self-taught muralist. The exposure gave him the reputation of being “The Mural Guy,” and he found himself being commissioned instantly to do other high-visibility works of art. Some of his earliest works included the children’s play area at the Foothills Mall, Lucile’s Creole Cafe, and Rock ’N’ Robin’s.
McNerney began his career as an art student at the University of Northern Colorado, but switched his focus to History, earning a degree from CSU. His interests in history are his main inspiration for his works, many of which feature historical characters. After his first experiences in muralism, McNerney started getting commissioned for smaller-scale interiors. Parents would hire him to do their children’s rooms, and restaurants began to see his talent as a great asset for dining ambience. He worked on the Fort Collins and Loveland Rainforest Cafes, as well as many smaller building interiors.
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scenemagazine_Stevie Ray VaughnHis best-known work is most likely, “Jazz Alley” was a project started by The Bohemian Foundation. The 1,500 square foot mural is located in the alley between Mitchell and the Fort Collins Food Co-Op. The mural took McNerney nearly two years to work on, but the results are well worth it. Featuring a number of personalities, the mural brings people together as a kind of destination-spot for viewers to “see who they can see” within the mural. Kids enjoy spotting familiar stars, and adults love to see how many faces they can name.
McNerney finds that his public art is a fantastic way to bring the community together. He finds his work is a public process during which he gets to meet a wide variety of people. The reward of having so many stories and connections is what draws McNerney to these big projects. McNerney also worked on the first Bohemian Foundation painted public piano, and has spearheaded the “piano art” fad for FoCo.
“I was really the test dummy for this process,” states McNerny. “Now we have more art in public places and the artists are getting good exposure.”
The process of muralism is intense. The elements and time are against the artist, and the best lesson McNerney can offer is “paint fast.” The murals can really only be painted in the summer, and when the sun beats down and the Colorado-summer afternoon drizzle comes, there is not much to do except brave the elements and hope the piece turns out. Coat after coat and sketch after sketch, it’s a serious undertaking that scares away a lot of artists. Luckily for us, McNerney loves doing it and will continue to contribute to the public art sphere.
One of his most recent projects is the “One Love” mural on highway 34 and Wilson in Loveland. The smoke shop mural is 1,200 square feet and represents what McNerney calls “free mindflow painting.” The group of individuals associated with the mural were all of likeminded belief, and McNerney is especially proud of his experiences working on this piece.

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“Every mural has a story,” says McNerney. “It has great value to the community. It’s better to have some art than nothing.”
More of McNerney’s work can be seen at The Armory, including the first public piano and smaller scale character artwork. Visit his website at www.mcmurals.com for more.
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