Many have spotted the painter standing on the corner of Main Street. He does not return their stares, though. Instead, he is completely transfixed on his work, oblivious to the honking horns of passing vehicles and shoppers’ pointing fingers. His brow is furrowed, and he is enveloped in the moving light and every slight shift in the scenery, ignoring any interference. He is painting downtown Starkville.
Garrett Seal, a senior fine arts major at Mississippi State University, is the famous street painter. Wiggins, Mississippi native, Seal is known to many in Starkville as the “man who paints on the corner of the street.” Seal confirmed this is much of what he does.
“I do a new painting just about every single day, every chance I can. I just love to paint,” Seal said.
Seal’s passion for art began when he was a child, but he cannot pinpoint an exact moment in his life when it began. For him, the desire to recreate his surroundings has always been a part of his story.
“I don’t know … I’ve been painting and drawing stuff all my life, but I think I got serious about it in the 10th grade in my first real high school art class,” Seal said.
Seal focuses mostly on landscapes and admits he loves to paint people and places. Main Street has proven to be one of his favorite subjects, though he cannot explicitly explain why.
“I just keep coming back to Main Street. I don’t really know why. I guess I just like the older buildings, especially with this here,” he said, pointing to the sketch of giant oak trees and the First Baptist’s Church steeple. “I like the combination of the God-made and the man-made structures.”
Seal has not spent a lot of time contemplating the philosophy of his work. Instead, he has always enjoyed the simplicity in painting.
“In reality, I like to paint. It’s very simple when I think about it. But I think my professors are trying to get me to think more and break out of that simple-mindedness about it now that I’m a senior. They want me to think more conceptually, things like ‘what do these things represent?’ and ‘why do I keep coming back to certain places?’ I think I’m slowly starting to understand that more, but for a long time, I just liked to paint,” Seal said.
The artist’s focus is hardly breakable, as he noted a power company once took down a light pole behind him, and he did not notice for a long time.
The process is pretty straight-forward for Seal, and the same shows in his work, preferring to keep his paintings small in size and impressionistic in style. His professors, such as Alex Bostic, are trying to break him out of this habit.
Bostic is the painting coordinator for MSU’s Art Department and a member of Seal’s thesis committee. He has taught Seal for three courses so far and claims art professors have a very unique and personal relationship with their students.
“It’s a whole ‘nother world, we have a different type of vibe. We spend more time with our students than any other faculty on campus. We are in class for at least six hours a week, and we crack jokes. They get to know things that are going on in your life, and you get to know their lives,” Bostic said.
Bostic noted the potential Seal has shown over the years, and he says that his job is to push his students’ limits instead of making them comfortable.
“School is the time to take risks, this is where you make every mistake you can possibly make. If you want to come out of college the same way you came in, you should have never come to college. We are here to scare you. We aren’t there to make you happy, but our job is to push you,” Bostic said.
Though Seal has not yet connected the dots on why he is drawn to Main Street and landscapes, Bostic suggested an artist’s style is reflective of their story, and there is no doubt Seal’s love of nature has found its way into his work.
“Your style is based on what you wear, what you eat, who your friends are, where you live, what’s your environment, and where you grew up. Those things dictate your style because they will show up in your painting. Garrett likes the environment, the outside, on-site and something in his psyche caused him to approach art that way,” Bostic said.
He described Seal’s style with a smile, noting the ways he hopes to see Seal expand his horizons.
“Garrett’s style is personal and quick. I’m trying to convince him to do bigger works. His are small. The reason is because he takes himself outside, and he challenges himself with the things he is confronted with. I’m trying to tell him to use that reference, and then come back and do bigger paints. We are working on it. He’s hesitant because he’s used to what he’s used it,” Bostic said.
The art student has taken his professor’s advice to heart, and he is enjoying the process.
“I used to only like small, but I’m slowly liking the freedom of a bigger canvas. I’m quick and more impressionistic than realistic, and in the smaller scenes, I can get in and out in about two hours and get what I want. With bigger pieces, I really have to slow down and think and process what I’m looking at,” Seal said.
Bostic believes, in ten years, Seal’s works will be in many galleries, and he will be a well-known artist.
Holly Emery is a senior communication major is a friend of Seal’s and has even been featured in one of his portraits.
Emery described Seal’s art in a similar way—not hurried, but quick.
“It’s very realistic, with a blur. He has a really good job at capturing things in a single moment, the beauty in the single moment, whether it’s the Cotton District or Chadwick Lake. Anyone can go down to Chadwick Lake and just look at it, but he captures it in a way that says, ‘This was the day when everything was sad’ or ‘This is the day when everything was peaceful,’” Emery said. “He captures the emotions, even the landscapes.”
Emery also described when she was the subject of one of his portraits.
“I had to sit in the same position for three hours, but he always gave me breaks. He is an artist, so he can sit for hours, but I had to get up and stretch every 20 minutes,” Emery said.
As a friend, Emery described Seal as humble in regard to his work, but “sassy” in regard to his personality.
“He’s this humble artist that’s hidden in the rough. He won’t tell you when he’s painted something new, so he’s really quiet about it … and you would think that he’s just a quiet guy that likes to paint, but he has a little bit of sass. You wouldn’t see that in his paintings,” Emery said.
Seal believes he has painted approximately 200 paintings in his lifetime and said the practice is much more than just talent.
“You really have to work for it. People like to say ‘you’re so talented’ and that kind of thing, and I can agree to an extent. I feel like God gives you passions for things, but it’s up to you to take that and run with it,” Seal said.
Working diligently for his passion is familiar to Seal who is on the streets every chance he gets, no matter the hours.
As the hours pass, the shoppers walk by Seal again. This time, they are less focused on the painter. Instead, they are enthralled by the painting, a once stark-white pallete now covered in colorful life: Garrett Seal has painted and captured downtown Starkville.