Art Broken: A Mural Defaced, Then Cleaned Up, in the Old North End | Off Message

Art Broken: A Mural Defaced, Then Cleaned Up, in the Old North End


Tony Shull's mural on Nunyun's. - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Tony Shull's mural on Nunyun's.

For about 40 years, Burlington artist Tony Shull has painted murals  — colorful and humorous pieces that light up his city's streetscape. One adorns the north side of the Nunyuns Bakery & Café building in the Old North End, at the corner of North Champlain and North streets.

Affixed to the clapboard exterior, Shull’s lively and intriguing 2017 mural — rendered in purple, blues and greens — depicts people, a spaceship, an eye in the sky, a rock n’ roll band, a dog in a wagon and a man in a fish.

Friday evening, Shull’s mural was vandalized by a person who used the same medium Shull uses to make art: paint.

In gold, a tagger wrote SP DISARM across the painting. A corner of the mural was tagged AC/DC LIVE WIRE.

Shull, who is in his mid-70s, won’t see the damage. He’s in hospice care at home, according to several friends. On Monday night, his friend Megan Humphrey spoke to Shull on the telephone. In an email to Seven Days, she wrote: “He just said he was too sick to go see it and to see how it could be fixed.”

Burlington photographer Carolyn Bates said that “tagging” isn’t the correct term to describe the graffiti on Shull’s work; she called it “malicious destruction.” It coincides with a COVID-19-era graffiti epidemic in Burlington, according to police and other city officials.

Neighbors registered disapproval on a Facebook page. “Not cool,” one woman wrote. … “Yeah we wanna disarm, but destroying someone else’s art ain’t the way to go about it.” She added: “This original base art is genius. Hope the crap comes off!”

The good news: Much of it already has. By Tuesday afternoon, Bates and Nunyuns co-owner Paul Bonelli had used a graffiti-removal spray to take off much of the gold paint — which will delight Shull's fans.

“Tony’s a guerrilla artist,” Humphrey said. “His idea of doing artwork all over Burlington was just to share his drawings. He was very laissez-faire about sharing his art, everywhere.”

“Tony, over the years, saw a blank wall and he couldn’t stand it,” Bates said. “He found the owners, got permission, and painted the wall.”

Bates is working on a book about the 150 murals in Burlington. The project led her to work on another volume dedicated to Shull’s art. She estimates that Shull painted about 15 of the city’s murals. He also painted on canvas; some 50 Shull works are at Four Corners of the Earth sandwich shop on Pine Street, according to Bates.

“He’s got such an incredible, unique sense of humor,” she said. “He creates his own world. He loves having heads tipped over and people coming out of them.”

Humphrey recalled befriending Shull almost 40 years ago when they were neighbors. One day she walked into her yard to see a sculpture of a spacecraft that Shull had made from recycled material. The piece included a Martian holding a sign that read, “Hello, Earth girl, I think you’re beautiful.” She thought it was funny, and they became friends.

If you're interested in Shull's work, an exhibit opens on April 18 at Sequoia Salon in Burlington. Phone ahead at 540-8333 to reserve a time for viewing.

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