Caught in the act

Graffiti artist painting murals at city pool

Ryan Otis is a graffiti artist, but these days he gets invited to spray paint on people's walls.

Lately he's been working in the boys bathroom of the Craig Swimming Pool.

He was asked to decorate the walls there after the staff saw his work in the girls bathroom and on the pump house of the wave pool.

"We'd thought it'd be a nice outlet for him," pool manager Sylvia Griffiths said. "How many places let you paint all over their building?"

Otis has been painting graffiti works since he was a junior at Moffat County High School, after a friend introduced him to the art form.

"It just captivates me," he said. "It's pretty intriguing stuff."

His friend, Louis Wood, moved to Chicago, and Otis would visit him often. He'd take pictures as they rode by graffiti works on the "L" train and then study them when he returned home.

"It's a different medium that most people don't see as artwork," Otis said.

But soon, masses of people will see his work as they come to the swimming pool, which opens to the public May 31. He's currently working on several paintings in the boys bathroom.

He started painting at the complex when he was in high school. He created an image of a boy riding a surf board on the pump house behind the wave pool. He later redid that wall in an underwater motif, with large fish.

Last summer, he also decorated the girls bathroom with large flowers and a caterpillar.

This summer, he's adding to the snake he designed in the boys room with a silhouetted cartoon scene and glowing ball. Next, he plans to make the pool's entryway more appealing.

"I try to do different things all the time... just to keep myself on my toes," he said.

The city of Craig pays for the materials Otis uses, and he does the work for free.

"I think it's good for people to have art and open their minds to different stuff," he said.

And Griffiths said she's happy he's livening up the pool area.

"It's a positive thing rather than just tagging," Griffiths said. "It's a positive way to use it."

Otis is just happy to have somewhere to paint. His wife, Jenny, won't let him paint in their house, just in the garage. But when they get a bigger place, he wants to customize the bar area.

"I don't do a lot of entertaining, but when I do, it'll be fun and bright and cool," he said.

He typically completes projects quickly, but it wasn't always easy for him. He taught himself everything, without going to art school or having any training.

He said his hobby keeps him out of trouble, but it hasn't always.

Otis was caught painting a store once. His parents made him apologize and clean the work off. He pleaded guilty and paid only $33 in court costs when the charges were dropped.

"I had to pay the repercussions," he said. "Now, I'm on the other end of tagging."

He focuses his efforts on artistic works, instead of vandalism.

"I think it's cool kids do this style of art, but there's a place for it," he said.

He's found his place at the pool, and possibly other businesses in town looking for some original artwork on their walls.

Otis is a plumber and a father of two girls, Tane, 5, and Tressa, 2 1/2. He thinks his image is an important one to note, because many people have a distorted view of who graffiti artists are.

"Most people think they're gangsters, gang bangers. They have no clue," Otis said. "I'm not black or Hispanic. I don't fit the persona of a graffiti artist.

"I've been doing it for 13 years, and I love it."

To invite Otis to paint in a house or business, or for more information on his art form, call him at 824-4566.

Michelle Perry can be reach--ed at 824-7031 or mperry@craigdailypress.com.

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