Turning beige to beautiful: Ugly wall is artist’s canvas at Raymie Johnson Estates

Gazette photos by Avery Cropp
Teary O’Hara’s mural, created on a wall of Raymie Johnson estates took O’Hara three months to complete. O’Hara gained his inspiration for the mural from the gardens he’s seen during his travels throughout Europe.

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — Teary O’Hara has turned “an ugly old beige wall” into a masterpiece at Raymie Johnson Estates.

“I thought for awhile every time I stepped out of the elevator, ‘God this big ugly wall needs something on it,’ ” said O’ Hara, a Raymie Johnson Estates resident. “I talked to the people who own the building and I asked them if there was something that they could do with it. I volunteered to paint the mural.”

Raymie Johnson Estates caters to seniors and/or individuals with disabilities, and O’Hara decided the best way to brighten up the place was to bring some beauty to the beige.

“It was good for me,” he said. “I’m not someone who takes kindly to sitting around and doing nothing.”

O’Hara has done murals for 30 years. He developed his talent at his old design firm in San Francisco that specialized in stencil and custom paint finishes. He’s traveled extensively in Europe studying art, and visited 23 countries and helped a friend with a chateau in France before running the James Mulvey Inn in Stillwater for some time.

The finished mural at Raymie Johnson Estates is inspired from the European gardens O’Hara visited throughout his travels.  One of the residents called the work “our own private terrace.”

“The 3-D effects are just so creative. It was great to just give him the go ahead and watch it as he went with it, and see it get bigger and better and prettier,” said Robyn Marlow, Raymie Johnson Estates manager.

The process O’Hara used in creating the mural was the reverse of many other artists. O’Hara began with the foreground instead of the background. He painted the architecture first to create a frame for the picture then using a small artist’s brush he continued to add in the details. The only thing that was rolled was the blue sky.

“I really winged it and added what I needed when I needed it,” he said of his mural. “I just kind of let it lead me where it wanted to go.”

The whole mural took O’Hara three months. Due to a medical condition he was only able to work on the mural for two to three hours a day but he thinks it was worth it and he enjoyed seeing the process unfold.

“The residents liked to see it develop too,” he said. “There was a lot of teasing, one person suggested I put flying pigs in the sky, another suggested Wile E. Coyote, but it was kind of fun for everyone to watch the progression of the piece.”

O’Hara has done some other pieces in the Stillwater area. One is in Ultimo Belleza. The other two have since been painted over.

“In my line of work you just have to get used to that,” O’Hara said.

Going forward O’Hara hopes to write a book and possibly begin painting on canvas again.