Drew Merritt has been a busy man since returning to Dallas to complete work on a new mural for the Virgin Hotel, in a little over four weeks before moving on to another project — a parking garage at The Realm and Castle Hills in Lewisville.
The mural at the Virgin covers one side of the massive hotel, scheduled to open in December of this year. Titled "Amor Vincit Omnia," Latin for “Love conquers all,” the mural features the image of a woman in a copper standard diving dress, and can be seen from Market Center Boulevard.
The job took only about four weeks to complete, but it took well over a year to plan.
“We did a big, elaborate photo shoot for this thing with Virgin,” Merritt says, sitting on a paint bucket in the parking garage where he's working. “We'd brainstorm and work together on concepts for probably around a year and a half before I got it finalized.
“The idea is like an explorer with the diving helmets and the antique kind of copper ... We were trying to figure out how to get that feel of like sort of floating through space or floating.”
Wanting to distinguish this particular work from a cosmonaut mural that he'd collaborated on in Moscow last year, Merritt chose a unique color palette to make the image pop for the hotel and commuters.
“I've never really seen anybody do copper or a patina spray paint for the oxidation that happens with it,” Merritt explains. “It's an image that can be open for interpretation, but I think it almost looks like an image in a sci-fi book from the '20s.”
Viewers will also find paper airplanes floating alongside the diving woman, and with a keen eye, might notice that these planes have been made with sheet music.
“We just thought it was like aesthetically pleasing,” Merritt says of the details. “It gives it that floating sense but then adds in another layer of meaning.”
While the addition of flying paper airplanes next to a woman in a diving suit calls into question the space the woman is floating in, the sheet music also gives the mural a Virgin-specific meaning.
“I wanted to use sheet music for artists that were assigned to Virgin,” Merritt says. “One of my favorite albums of all time is The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. So we used the sheet music for ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ and ‘Tonight, Tonight’ as the sheet music.”
Merritt’s work is drawn from many sources of inspiration, one of which is from the city itself. Whenever he is doing a mural featuring a model, he always prefers to use the image of a local.
“It just makes more sense for somebody in that area to be up there somewhere in their home,” Merritt explains. "It’s this local person that you'll see walking around. It's not an ad, it's not a celebrity or an actor or actress. It’s an everyday person that's being immortalized … well, for as long as it stays up.”
In the case of "Amor Vincit Omnia," Merritt chose as his model Lesli Marshall, the owner of Articulation Art, who curated all of the artwork for the hotel and worked closely with Merritt in landing him the job with Virgin.
“We had been working on the project for a while,” Marshall says of being cast as the model, “but one time we met up and we were talking about it and Drew said, ‘I figured out who it needs to be, it needs to be you!’”
“I feel like her heart and soul, like, really went into this project,” Merritt adds of Marshall. “Through our friendship and working together for the last couple of years getting everything planned out, I've seen her put her heart and soul into it. It made sense for her to be up there.”
It’s hard to press any artist too hard on what their work means for the people who will be looking at it. For Merritt, the personal meaning of any work is found in the process of creation.
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“I think the cool thing about paintings and songs is that the intended meaning for something that is personal goes back to concept,” Merritt says. “I just want to flex on a skill level or technical level and play something like very simple or really intricate.”
For viewers, though, Merritt really just wants to brighten up your day.
“I like my murals to be hopefully something positive,” he says. “I hope somebody will take away something that gives them a little bit of happiness, seeing just a little bit of color going to work or having a rough day.”