Doing what she loves, Painter-muralist Jules Muck doesn’t give up

Jules Muck in her Venice studio. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

by Bondo Wyszpolski

I’d have to answer “prolific” if someone said describe Jules Muck. Sitting across from her in her Venice painting studio I have to know: How do you produce so much art? There must be five of you.

She laughs. “Well, it’s all I do, compulsively really. But I’ve been doing it for 30 years, every day, so it adds up.”

Muck is primarily known and prized for her murals, and I passed a few of them on buildings as I approached her part of town. There were more the closer I got.

“I probably have the most in Venice,” she replies, “although there are a lot in San Pedro as well.”

Jules Muck’s mural on the side of Babouch on Gaffey in San Pedro. Photo courtesy of the artist

Where in San Pedro?

“Quite a few commercial buildings along Gaffey, and also where you come off the 110 onto Gaffey, I have that bridge, and I’ve done the poppies. And then I did a lot of the electrical boxes around town.”

When she’s in San Pedro, Muck works out of a large RV garage that was converted into a studio. However, as she points out, “this studio in Venice is a little more commercially viable.

“One of the reasons I was living down in the South Bay was that during the pandemic there was no traffic, and it was easy for me to get around because the highways were open. So I kind of enjoyed staying out of the way there on the Peninsula and in San Pedro. As things started to get busier it became more difficult for me to go to a lot of my clientele, so that’s why I’m back here.”

You mentioned some murals in Hermosa Beach?

“In Hermosa,” Muck says, “I did a lot of work on those build-outs, when they opened up the patios.” That commission came about in 2020 when dining in an enclosed space was considered hazardous to our health. “They were supposed to be temporary,” she adds, “but it turned out to be more long-lasting. I believe a lot of them are still there. And then also I did a lot of work for the BeachLife Festival.” (They’re in Riviera Village, as well, along Catalina Ave.)

Mural in San Pedro by Jules Muck. Photo courtesy of the artist

If the South Bay again beckons, she’ll no doubt return, but these days we’re likely to find her in Venice.

“The majority of the time,” Muck says. “Well, I travel a lot. I always say ‘The walls won’t come to me,’ so I’m constantly on the road. I have to go in a couple of weeks to Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, possibly New York, so I have a lot of mural work that is out of state. I’ve done work out of the country, too, and so I’m willing to go pretty much anywhere. I love to do what I do and I like to go meet people; and it’s always exciting.”

Locally you travel by car, but if it’s out of state?

“I still drive most of the time. If it’s an emergency or rush I’ll fly; I’ll have my paint shipped. But it’s impossible to bring the spray paint on the plane. That’s a lot of the reason why I drive. But if I have to be somewhere quickly for a short amount of time I’ll try to ship the paint and join the paint there, and rent a car.”

My impression is that you start early and work late.

“If I’m really into something,” Muck replies, “I work into the night. When I’m on the road I work crazy hours, because I don’t have anything else to do and I’m not in my own home. Sometimes I’ll do multiple murals in a day and then just sleep at a hotel or an Airbnb, then get up in the morning and drive 10 hours to the next location and paint, then sleep. So it’s crazy when I’m on the road.” She pauses. “I think, as I’m getting older, I’d like to do a more structured kind of [setup], a little bit more planned, because I’ve done it so haphazard. It’s always worked out, but it is very exhausting and tense when I’m doing the work that way.”

Jules Muck’s art where the 110 meets Gaffey in San Pedro. Photo courtesy of the artist

That kind of lifestyle can take its toll, but at the same time, Muck says, “there’s something about being out on the road that is exciting — and so you get that adrenaline rush and get through it.”

How long does it usually take to complete a mural?

“It really depends on the size and the complication of the design,” Muck says. “It could be anywhere from a few hours to a few days to a few weeks. But for the most part I believe that at this point in my career I’m much faster than I was at the beginning, just from the time that I’ve put in, and the confidence.”

When you do the outdoor murals, are they done improvisationally, or do you map out exactly what you’re going to paint?

“It’s always different. Some people require me to do a digital composite, where I use a computer and [produce] a nice image for them, a lot of times with businesses. It’s important for them to know what they’re getting and what they’re paying for, especially if it’s some corporation where they need to check in with a bunch of people. But then there’s some people that are just like, ‘Oh, can you put some flowers over here and, oh, what about a rainbow?’

“It’s always a collaboration, though. Public work is a collaboration with the environment and the people in the vicinity. It’s never just for me.”

 

Painting the town

I read you drove out from back East and that your car ran out of gas here, and that’s why you remained. Yeah, Muck says. But what if you’d run out of gas in the desert?

“Well, that’s happened to me before, too,” Muck says. “But I fell in love with Venice, and that’s why I stayed.”

If Venice is where she’s put down some roots, where did Jules Muck begin?

“I actually started painting in Greece,” she replies, “really spray painting in Greece, and in England. My mother’s British; I was born in England. And my father’s Greek, so I spent a lot of my childhood in Greece. I was already kind of dabbling there, but in New York graffiti was really compelling me into the mix. It was hot in the ‘90s; it was a big deal.

“So I would say I made headway in New York. I was approached by an artist whom I admired, Lady Pink, Sandra Fabara, and she kind of took me on for four years.” 

It was during this period Muck went from being an amateur to a seasoned pro. “I wasn’t even thinking of it as a career before then,” she adds. “It was just a hobby.”

When did you actually move out to California?

“I came out several times and failed miserably, and ran back with my tail between my legs. But the time that it stuck was in 2008.”

There are certain motifs, humping bunnies is one, that Muck seems to return to on occasion, and people with green faces is apparently another.

“I did the green faces for a long time,” she says. “That was something that I did on the street. In New York there was so much graffiti that it would all kind of blend together, and you didn’t notice things. But not many people were using greens. So from the late ‘90s I started doing those green faces. I also was one of the first people to be doing this photorealistic kind of graffiti on the street. I was painting my friends, painting portraits of girls I knew who were artists. I go back to the green every now and then, but I don’t do it much anymore because I honestly have so many colors now. Back then I just didn’t have the financial means to do a variety of colors.”

Looking around her studio, I think she’s more than made up for that. There’s color everywhere.

“I paint a lot of floral these days,” Muck says; “I paint a lot of butterflies. In the studio, obviously, they’re oil paintings for the most part. I do a lot of portraits of people I admire.”

But in general, when it comes to subject matter, the paintings are all over the map. How does she come up with her ideas?

“I guess things just pop out for me from my environment,” she says, “and the conversations that I have or something that I’ve heard or seen. Like most people, I’m constantly sponging around, [looking at] what’s going on. That’s why a lot of my stuff is very current — and then I have it in my head and it [becomes] a different visual and a collage, and it comes out on the canvas. I don’t really put much thought into it. It’s weird to say that, but it just pops into my head and I don’t ask questions, I just make it up.”

Even when she’s commissioned to do a painting for someone she’s allowed, Muck says, to put her own spin on it. Recently Muck has been working with ceramics and is soon headed to Colorado so she can perfect her stonecarving. She also knows that, with rare exceptions, murals are temporary, and so she’s now interested in creating some work with built-in longevity.

 

What makes you happy?

The journey has been a long one, and it’s not been easy. What else do we need to know about you?

“Well, from the New York scene to here it’s been up and down, all the time,” Muck says. “But, generally, the last 10 years have been propelling upwards in a really amazing way. I definitely did the whole starving artist thing when I was younger, and now — just look, I’ve got this beautiful studio, I have these wonderful collectors, I have great help; but it wasn’t always like this. I had no idea that it would ever become like this, so I try to go out of my way to let young people and young artists know that it’s a possibility — but also there is no way to come to this point without doing it just because you love it, because there is no reward for so long.

“It’s a struggle if you are actually trying to do more than paint,” Muck continues. “But I was just trying to paint, I was so happy to paint. I mean, I went to jail for painting — so it was obvious I was doing it for the painting. I was told this once, when I went to Cooper Union — the art school in New York — to hear about their degree. They said, If you’re here to get rich and famous, just go, just leave. And I get it, because it’s not going to be rewarding for a long time, if ever. So it has to be about the process. You have to do it because you have no other choice and it’s the only thing that makes you happy.

“And I think that’s what everyone should be doing with their life: What’s the thing that makes you happy? And eventually, through some way, it will take care of you; but it takes what it takes, and it took me a long time. I’ve had every side job you can think of — I’ve delivered pizza, Chinese food, blood, I’ve worked as a bartender, a Sunday school teacher, a phone psychic. I did as much as I possibly could on the side because the thing that I loved was to paint, and I’m finally, finally I’m solvent.”

Muck is aware of how fortunate she is to have achieved this artistic freedom when most aspiring artists have to labor all day at something less meaningful in order to pay the bills so they can afford those few hours to paint, draw, make music, or write.

“It’s very rare that people can just do whatever they want all day. Even people who have achieved their dream [still can’t avoid obligations]. Who wants to answer emails and do the drudge work? But it’s important.”

On most Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Muck opens her studio. “We open it up, we invite people to see the art; we put some of the paintings outside. This also forces me to take a break on weekends. I’m not a fan of the exhibition gallery show,” she adds. “It’s just a lot of anxiety. I’d rather meet people, meet and greet, in my own studio.” It’s also an ideal way to get a good sense of a working artist who’s living her dream because she never stopped believing in it.

For inquires please call or text Whirlie, Jules’s Studio Manager at (310) 428-4757.

website julesmuck.com.

Instagram @muckrock

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