Local underground artist Anthony Rooney has big plans for the north wall of soon-to-be SURFER the Bar in Jacksonville Beach where Freebird once was.
I went over to his house to gain some insight into this dark horse’s secret skills.
Before I go any further, I have some beans to spill. The truth is, I know a s**t ton about Anthony — he’s my oldest brother.
His wife Claire answered the door and brought me into her studio for Devoe Design, where she creates her psychedelic functional fine art. I don’t want to say I’m jealous of their artist-on-artist love, but I guess I’ll just say it. I’m jelly. I followed her through their eclectic living room, which is stocked with a canvas wall, hanging chairs, past paintings and current works. I started to feel this strange, yet familiar, thing called an imagination waking up.
I walked out back with Anthony, and we sat down among the hanging epiphytes, slowly propagating succulents, a surfboard graveyard and his pup Eli, who was desperately begging for a ball to chase.
“I’ve never been interviewed before,” he said.
I was trying to come up with some witty response to ease his nerves, but all I could say was, “Me either.”
He started college with a major in engineering and a minor in fine arts with hopes of pursuing his interest in sculpture. He soon realized it was much more fun to paint than to do calculus.
Eventually, Anthony Rooney graduated from UNF with a Bachelor’s degree in fine arts, and to our once dubious parents’ dismay, he actually landed a full-time job painting. He made it clear that he’s not naturally talented, and that it’s taken a lot of hard work to get to where he is now.
Which is 30, I think. Maybe he’s 29. He looks like a young, skinny Bob Ross with his white-guy afro, a paint palette and a brush.
“You gonna be painting any happy waves?”
He laughed and pulled out his phone to show me some photos that resemble the style he’s planned for the SURFER mural.
“Something like this,” he said.
He talked to me for awhile about light and how it has become the main influence of his recent pieces. He’d been swiping left and right through different angles of barrel shots when he stopped on one and trips out.
“Bro, do you see this one — how the sun is just passing through the lip and onto the face? This is the kind of light that I’m talking about.”
I can tell he’s super passionate, and just amped on this upcoming mural.
He’s been hiding in the shadows like some ominous ninja painter who glides through the dimly lit beach bars quietly adding some color here and there. He sneaks some hand-painted wallpaper into the Shim Sham Room and creeps away unseen. But, it would be pretty difficult for him to ninja paint a 28-foot tall mural onto the old Freebird Live without us noticing.
So, next time you’re stumbling around, marinating in revelry, check out Anthony’s secrets scattered around. There’s a sick one hanging on the top floor of Shim Sham where a provocative woman wearing a motorcycle helmet is playing a piano in some high heels. There’s a full wall in St. Auggie Hoptinger and the Jax Beach location. Any Firehouse Subs murals completed in the last three years have some Rooney brush strokes. Green Room has an old piece hanging near the giant Jenga, and if you’re ever at our parents’ house, which is highly unlikely, but not impossible, ask my mom if you can see some of his “homework.”