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Artist Calina Johnson paints small Texas towns back to life


As philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

Muralists like Calina Mishay Johnson have chosen to take this quote quite literally. The growth of social media and art appreciation within society have led to a new craze for art murals, which can be found on buildings all across the country. People will travel long and far to snap a few shots in front of one of these artistic destinations, and as a result, businesses are beginning to use them as powerful advertising tools to draw more customers to their locations. Johnson, a Texas-born and raised muralist, is one of the many artists who have expanded their canvases to include vast walls and buildings, though she still draws inspiration from human emotion and stories.

Both in her smaller, more personal canvas commissions and her larger murals, Johnson makes it her top priority to utilize her paintings to relay messages to her audience.

“I want to be known as the people’s artist,” Johnson explains. “I want to relate to the people and deliver their messages for them.”

When pursuing an assignment, Johnson stresses the importance of the planning process as a crucial step in providing her client a painting that they can personally relate to. She focuses on listening to her clients and learning their stories, and then pushing them to think outside the box a bit when it comes to their ideas for the painting. “I really think the biggest thing that has helped me find jobs in mural painting is my willingness to take other people’s ideas into consideration,” Johnson adds. In so doing, Johnson has been able to master a skill that some of the greatest artists possess—the ability to not only relay her own emotions in her work, but also the emotions of others.

Anyone who lives in, or has visited, Abilene, Texas, will be familiar with some of Johnson’s greatest pieces, including the #PrayForRosie wall, dedicated to a 4-year-old girl who is currently battling cancer. There you will also find the interactive selfie angel wings and the Big Love in a Small Town wall. Johnson’s art also sprinkles the walls of other small towns in North Texas, and her future plans include making her mark on some South Texas towns as well.

However, these are not the only places that you can find beautiful CAL, her nom de plume, paintings. Many are familiar with singer Aaron Watson and his new, number one album, Vaquero. Sure enough, the wall that the country singer is standing in front of in Coleman, Texas, the one on the album’s cover, features a CAL painting.

Johnson also creates canvases painted as smaller versions of her murals. “The murals are the billboard,” says Johnson. “They’re what gets my name out there.” In addition to the mural replicas, Johnson continues to pursue what originally brought her into the industry in the first place, making original and unique pieces to serve as interior décor for her clients.

Whether it’s a canvas hanging on a wall or the wall itself, Johnson’s artwork is full of meaning. Her passion is obvious and contagious and is reflected in the cities that are lucky enough to be adorned with her work. By working with emotions the way that she does, Johnson has already successfully given voice to so many people’s stories.

“I like to focus on layers and emotions because they show how life isn’t perfect,” says Johnson. “You just have to keep going over the parts you don’t like until you get something that you do.”

One building at a time, Calina Johnson is making the world her canvas.

Emma Burleigh is a part-time freelance writer living in College Station, Texas.

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