Calina Mishay becoming well known for colorful murals
By James Stewart
A street artist with a quirky haircut and colorful personality to match has been the talk of the town over the last month as Calina Mishay or more simply ‘Cal’ has used her impressive talent to transform a pair of walls into vibrant murals each of which tells a story of Brady USA.
It’s her love for small Texas towns and the people in them coupled with her life experiences that have inspired her work. A self-taught street artist, she shelved her masters degree in counseling and job as a behavior analyst to pursue her passion—painting murals. With very little formal training, not even finishing her one and only college-level art class, Cal is riding a wave of being commissioned to share her art across the state—and beyond. Whether it has been a set of wings on a wall that provides simple photo opportunities for passers by, or a 400-foot long building in downtown Midland, where she paints, she leaves more than just her artwork behind—she leaves bits of her soul poured into her work for people to enjoy, marvel at, talk about and take pictures of in the years to come.
Following is an insightful interview that tells who Calina Mishay is and what inspires her.—JS
Humble beginnings in a small town…
JS: What is it about small towns that draws you to them?
CM: “It’s that experience where I get to see behind the scenes. I grew up in Rule (a small town about 60 miles north of Abilene) and I loved growing up there. It was magical to me. The hardware store where my dad and I would buy seeds for the garden every year out of these big glass jars, the little antique shop when you go in and they always ask “now who do you belong to?” And you had to break down your family tree for 10 minutes before shopping, in downtown Rule. There were only 600 people who lived there but we had the parades, the jubilees, the cake walks and people cared and to me as a little kid, it was magical. There was so much freedom and so much open nature to roam in – I had the last of the pure 80s childhood. You could ride your bike all night and no one knew where you were but all the families knew who you were with. Now, it’s a ghost town. No more hardware store, cafe or jubilees. Everything is falling in and hardly anybody lives there anymore. It makes me sad.
JS: Did you always want to be an artist?
CM: Growing up I was different. A little creative, a little to myself. In my own little world adventuring with my animals and doing my thing. People would tell me that I couldn’t make a living as an artist and were like “you need to get a real job” but
All you know about life is what you get to experience and you try to see life through other people’s eyes around you because that’s all that you know. I only knew Rule – that’s what I knew. I had never even eaten at a chili’s until high school. Becoming an artist took me a long time because I tried to do life the way everyone expected – or thought I should – go to school and get a degree and then get a normal job. I was the first one in my family to go off to college.
But every job I ever had, I failed at and I was not a person who failed at things. In high school I was successful in sports, did well in things I wanted to do, but in life I failed at everything. I would literally get fired from my jobs. I wanted to do well and felt like I was putting out good effort, but my skill set – filing papers or whatever – I would have this dyslexic mind about it. I would think I was doing well on something but it ended up not at all what they wanted. Ha-ha, I was a terrible waitress. I had a person leave me a note one time as a tip that literally said, ‘you’re the worst waitress that I’ve ever had.’ That still makes me giggle a bit to this day, because they were right – I was ha.
JS: So what path got you on the road you are traveling?
CM: I graduated high school in 2005 and then later from Midwestern University in Wichita Falls before I went on to earn a Masters degree in counseling at Hardin Simmons. From there, I did two years post graduate school study for behavior analysis and became a board certified behavior analyst. I wanted to help people so behavior analysis – working with kids with autism is where I ended up.
I took a job at a state school where I used reinforcement and things like that to help teach kids how to talk and build relationships and build these good behaviors and I loved it. I truly loved it but I hated the paperwork. It was almost like anytime I loved something, the world’s way of doing it didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t want to spend 40 hours a week doing paperwork three different ways just to help someone. It was soul crushing and I think that’s a big problem with schools today is that they just keep piling on paperwork and they’ve stolen the magic.
JS: So how did you get into painting?
CM: Rough patch in family life for about 10 years and that’s where I kind of developed my style.
My artist life, and those hardships are what broke me into painting. I actually failed my first painting class in college. I didn’t know how to paint, I hadn’t ever painted before and the professor (in an abstract painting class I begged to be in) – he said we had 13 paintings due at the end of the semester and that was all the input we were given. I had no idea what to do and I ended up dropping the class.
He told me “you have to let the painting paint itself” and I had no idea what that meant. So – I dropped the class, changed my major, ended up getting pregnant and went from that to being a stay-at-home mom and finished my degree on line. I finished the behavior analysis schooling and got into the profession and it was the paperwork and oppressive feelings that drove her crazy. The training, the schooling – it was supposed to be “the thing” but it just wasn’t. This should make me happy, but something was missing … so I kept fighting to try and find “the thing”—myself.
I started doing canvases and kept that flame alive believing that one day I was going to be an artist. I would paint on the weekends while I was going to school for counseling I started painting. It became therapy for me. I would paint at night or whenever I could. I just had to get it out.
At some point during this time, people started asking if she would do commissioned pieces. I would sit down with them and hear their story and I started to realize it was almost like a counseling session. I would hear people’s story and I would be like, man—I know what the pain feels like and I can filter that through what I felt and give you back what I feel like your story should be with and expression of myself—the “Cal filter.”
Continued from print edition . . .
JS: What has influenced you in developing your style?
CM: I ended up going through a rough divorce and custody battle, which had a profound effect on me in a number of ways, but specifically as an artist. I literally mourned the death of the mom I wanted to be and for years it was emotional and difficult. That’s when I really started painting.
My process is emotional, it’s expressive. Keep the happy accidents and keep working on the parts you don’t like until it’s all something beautiful and it’s real and it’s like life. You ask things like, why is that speck of purple in there or why is speck of green in there when it shouldn’t be and that’s what life is about—you’re just living and you should just keep working on yourself until it’s a masterpiece at the end. I wanted to make an impact on people. I never want anyone to hurt like I hurt during those rough times.
JS: So when did you make the decision to paint murals?
CM: I quit the counseling job at the state school and started in private practice. I had three months and that’s where the interest in urban street art started. I had seen a lot of it on social media and noticed how it was becoming popular in these bigger cities. But it’s not me ~ I’m not a city girl. I’m a small town girl. During this time period, there began a big revitalization push for these small towns. They wanted to put some effort back into their town to try and save them and It just so happens that what I do, I can do pretty quickly and it makes a big impact and it, like, overnight – can show people that there is still magic in their town and excitement about where their town is going.
JS: When did you start painting full time?
CM: As soon as I started doing the murals, it blew up for me. I quit doing therapy. I was like, I can do these murals, go to these places and still help people. It’s not about the art it’s about the people. For me, in these small towns, it’s like I know how small towns work because I grew up in one and when I leave, this wall can’t be a CAL mural—it has to be a Brady mural. The way you make that successful in small towns is showing them that you care. When someone stops, you get down from the ladder and talk to them. People like Gloria Barr are the jewels of the town. They are the reason there is even a town to come to. There are people in this town that are the reason these towns exist and make these towns worth it.
JS: How do you come up with concepts for your work?
CM: I hate the art world. It’s about money—big money and the investment. Street art is not that. It’s about putting yourself out there and the people decide if they want more. That’s why I fell in love with it.
It clicked one time when I was back home in Haskell looking for a wall to paint. You’re always 17 in your hometown. I went to them and asked them for a wall to do my first attempt. I knew if it wasn’t good, I would get ripped to shreds. I found a man in the community who was elderly and very well respected. We went to his house, he was there in his work coveralls and I had an idea to use his hands so we put soil in his hands and I took a photo of it and painted his hands on the wall and titled it “Deep Roots—we all come from people like him, those values and souls.”
You’ve got to be willing to listen to people and just stop and take time.
It was this perfect timing. No one could argue how it all came together. It was perfect. I feel like some of the most creative people I know come from small towns. There is so much freedom, there is nature and there is so much love in small towns. The creative kids get older and it almost becomes a fear that they’re not going to fit in the box anymore. I hope my murals help being some of them back home. Most ‘creatives’ want to come home and invest in their communities to help make them magical. I’m just really stubborn—you’re not going to take my small town from me and I’m not going to be a city girl.
I look at each town I visit, because I have a pretty good following on social media, as an opportunity to show them the hidden treasures. I always get the red carpet rolled out for me when I show up so I usually get to see some of the coolest things that these towns have to offer. So, I always want to do my best to make sure that when folks are passing through town, they remember a store, a restaurant or some really cool AirBNB. I get such a cool experience so I want to show my audience, through my eyes, what’s magical about small towns because I’m so passionate about them being where the best of the best is. Most people are only going through Brady because they’re on their way somewhere else so they’re never going to stop somewhere off the beaten path and it could have been the best experience they’ve ever had.
It has so much more to do with the art, the people the places the ‘Why?’ I go home to Rule and it breaks my heart—there is nothing but crumbled bricks left. That’s not what I remember. I remember the magic. I don’t feel that when I go to the city. It’s a different feeling.
It’s not about me, but more about making a connection with the community. I get energy and I gotta let it out.
Over the last year, I was busy and doing well, but the artist in me wanted to dig deeper.
Then came 2020. I was home and I had these two big walls here in Brady and a lot of traffic and I just wanted to do something better. That’s my burden, I want to come and help people and love on them and do this mural, but I want to give them something special — a part of me.
These cities I get to go to and do my work, I get to pick up some pieces and leave some pieces and I’m building this story at the end. They don’t get to keep me, I don’t get to keep them, but at the end, we have this moment together. It’s beauty and tension. It’s a conservative small town but they are allowing this loud color and this expressionist artist with crazy hair to come in and they accept her and they become fans. They’re an army. They’re like family when I leave. I have the best fans in the world. It’s like you get to eat at their houses, you get to be intimate with each other and be real, and that’s what I crave. There’s a lot of pressure on myself to leave something special for each town.
Knowing how much the town is loved by its citizens is key. Sometimes in certain towns I go to, those connections are not there and I feel lost. Other towns, I get these connections and I see their love for what they do here and everybody cares. That puts pressure on me to be successful.
It’s just people. Everyone is the way they are because of the life they’ve led. I don’t hold responsibility to that. I don’t live here so while I’m here, they can say what they want to me. Half the time, that’s all they wanted – to be heard. Everybody wants things to be easy and especially now, wants everybody to be one way. The beauty is in the tension. Even if sometimes people don’t do it in the most becoming form of communication, I know sometimes they have still have a valid point. (Like my waitress letter ha!)
They often just don’t want what they remember to change. And there is beauty in that – and there should be respect there. And if you know where other people want to go and if you can find a way to marry the two and that’s kind of what I try to do.
I wasn’t made for anything else. Knowing myself, I’m an over thinker, a romantic, I’m in love with nostalgia. I makes sense to me that the timing of people moving back to a small town because of the technology and they can ~ knowing the magic of a small town and what’s important to the older generation and knowing the progress the people over here want to make into something cool and attractive ~ all of that plus my need to want to connect to people ~ art is a vehicle that allows me to be there doing what I like to and people are drawn to it, but people are surprised when I turn around and want to hear about them. For me, I feel like that when I’m painting and I’m on the road, there’s no place else I want to be. My mind goes quiet when I’m painting. I don’t think, I just listen to music and I just go. I don’t think about where I’m going and just go. It’s peaceful to me. It’s the only time when things are quiet.
I’ve found my thing and I’m going to do the thing until no-one wants me anymore or until my body won’t let me.
JS: What are some of the signatures of your art?
CM: I’ve always loved the vibrant colors—and the drips—they are my signature and they are supposed to be there.
I love imperfections. It’s the same juxtaposition about tension ~ I love for things to be clean, but I also love for them to be expressionist and push you into “it’s messy and not supposed to be perfect.”
When someone looks at my stuff and says “it makes me feel one way or another…” that’s success in my eyes. I leave a part of myself there in each town.
JS: Where next?
CM: If I make it—my goal is to be all over the world doing this and going to different countries doing my art. Home is Texas—if I do make it—it will be because of every small town person who was the loudest fan for me. It’s little by little and all of these people who together fill a part of my journey and will be how it happens. They get to come with me and experience it in a way. It will be like having family all over the world. I don’t have a big family, but to me, all these people, the fans, the ones who stop and visit. I feel like they are all a part of it and I owe it to them to succeed and do well. I’m just going to keep going. I’m not stopping until I can’t do it anymore. I’m working as much as I can while I still can. There is just nothing like the source from where that small town magic comes from. There is a movement, especially with the millennials, to move to small towns.
I’ll always be 17 in my hometown. But people are starting to appreciate what I’m doing. I’m thick skinned and I’ll never forget where I came from.
JS: So how many murals have you done? Where do you want to paint next?
CM: I’ve painted over 60 in the last four years. Small to big—wings to walls the side of buildings in Midland. I’ve painted in Missouri, Oklahoma, all over Texas and I’m looking at Bentonville in the spring. I go where people are ready. I really want to go to Mexico and I would love to do something in Havana, Cuba. In Mexico I especially want to do something around San Felipe, Punta Mita or Puerta Vallarta—places I’ve been, places I know. I love that latin culture and I would love to do something having to do with Dia de los Muertos. I want to be with the people and experience these small towns. Places like that, these small villages, they draw me in me way more than a Paris or London or something like that. I want to be with the grandmas.