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Meet the artist behind the colorful murals popping up around Columbia

Tripp Derrick Barnes painted this mural of James Brown in the Pelican’s Snoballs parking lot on Rosewood Drive.
Tripp Derrick Barnes painted this mural of James Brown in the Pelican’s Snoballs parking lot on Rosewood Drive. dsellers@thestate.com

If you’ve driven on Rosewood Drive in the past month, you’ve probably noticed the colorful James Brown mural next to Pelican’s Snoballs. The vibrant background and black stenciling of the smiling Godfather of Soul is the work of Columbia native Tripp Derrick Barnes, who wrapped up his hometown mural tour last week.

The James Brown piece was the first of five murals Barnes painted in Columbia. He also recently completed a mural in Charleston honoring Sen. Clementa Pinckney and the eight other Emanuel AME Church parishioners who were shot and killed last June.

“This mural tour came out of nowhere,” said Barnes, a full-time artist who lives in New York City. Barnes was originally going to be in town just for three days to finish the James Brown mural and go to his cousin’s wedding. But three days turned into a month and a half once buzz began building for his work.

“It was fate,” he said. “I thought it was my time to give back and make an imprint on my state.”

Barnes painted a mural of Jim Morrison at Jake’s on Devine, then two black and white murals of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. inside The Cotton Gin in Five Points. After that, he covered the Sandel Elementary School library with a kaleidoscopic abstract mural.

He didn’t charge for his work, but he asked the school and businesses to cover his cost of materials.

Barnes, 28, started drawing and painting eight years ago. He attended Savannah College of Art and Design for film and sound design but discovered a hidden talent when he was required to take a life drawing class.

He has since done personal portraits for celebrities such as Matthew McConaughey, Susan Sarandon, Drew Brees and Andy Cohen. He often posts his work on Instagram to more than 30,000 followers.

Barnes usually works with his collaborative art partner Steven Swancoat. For his South Carolina murals, his team was artists Christine Lufty, Jay Talbot, Stephen Elliot Webb and Beau Difiore.

The most meaningful work Barnes has done was the Pinckney tribute on the wall of the Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston, he said.

In addition to Pinckney, the mural features a quote from the senator and nine doves.

“I thought I could use my colorful backgrounds to create something that symbolizes love, and that no colors should matter, whether it’s black, white or purple,” Barnes said. “It was one of the biggest highlights of my career so far.”

Before Barnes returned to New York last week, he stopped to sign one of his murals at Row Gallery on Millwood Avenue.

Gallery owner Christi Arnette said the image of Frida Kahlo painting Salvador Dali’s face has brought attention and customers to her store.

“Everybody loves it. It’s been so great for us,” she said. “If I can get (Tripp) back, I want him to do the other side” of the building.

Barnes said he was simply happy to bring some color to an otherwise not-so-colorful street.

“Every city needs a place where people can admire art. That’s what I’m hoping to do with these murals, to give love and color to a city and state that I think needs some.”

Columbia murals by Tripp Davis Barnes

James Brown: Pelican’s Snoballs parking lot, 1900 Rosewood Drive.

Jim Morrison: Jake’s on Devine, 2112 Devine St.

Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.: Cotton Gin in Five Points, 632 Harden St.

Frida Khalo painting Salvador Dali: Row Gallery, 2917 Millwood Avenue

Abstract piece: Sandel Elementary School library, 2700 Seminole Road.