By age 8, Hudson Valley-based artist Eugene Stetz had already been through all 50 states.
As a traveling muralist, he has celebrated the dead in Mexico City, painting colorful sugar skulls and skeletons. He has painted murals in towns as far east as Kingston, New York and as west as Oakland, California with so many others in between.
But before he was a successful artist, he was a graphic design student at the State University of New York at Oswego, where he was arrested for graffiting.
After being locked up for a week, the now-27-year-old began making Craigslist ads that read, “Artist will paint murals, just pay for the paints and the travel expenses,” and he would create his artwork free of charge.
Fifty murals later, Stetz had finally felt that he’d developed his own style and started to feel comfortable charging for his services.
Having grown up in a nomadic family, Stetz was used to the idea of traveling around for awhile with no real sense of stopping. For the past three years, Stetz has been driving cross country with his mobile art gallery, showing off his artwork on the streets and painting murals in towns across the United States as well as across international lines.
Now settled down in High Falls, New York, Stetz finished up his 2016 tour in New Paltz on Saturday, Nov. 19.
Stetz said that come Feb. 4, 2017, he will start his tour right back up again, taking off from the south in New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
“We’re going to shoot down all the way along the south,” he said. “Hitting Austin, going through Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona, all the way up to Cali and staying there until it gets warm again here [in New York].”
Stetz said Oakland, California is usually his last stop. But this time, he wants to try hitting Eugene, Oregon before heading toward home for summer jobs lined up back on the east coast.
He has enough murals lined up over the next five years to go coast to coast, snowbirding the whole way around, planning for pieces in Saugerties and Kingston, New York; Vermont; Maine; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and back down toward Florida and Savannah, Georgia.
During Stetz’s three years of cross-country travel, he said he’s accumulated about 70 walls filled up with his imaginative artwork, including on the corners of Main St. and North Chestnut St. in New Paltz.
Last summer, Stetz co-painted the psychedelic mural of the Shawangunk Ridge located across from Bacchus Restaurant, Brewery & Billiards with fellow Hudson Valley-based artist Sam Van Kleeck. In total, Stetz said this mural took the two of them 19 days and 265 hours to complete.
The most recent mural Stetz completed is located on the exterior of Rondout Valley High School, where he graduated from. The mural shows a boy riding a gander, the school’s team mascot, through a sunset storm with his imagination exploding out of his head. Having been invited to the school’s community share day, Stetz had the chance to speak to middle school-aged students and had them draw up ideas for the mural, eight of which he chose to include in the finished piece.
“I had a teacher tell me that art wasn’t a career for me, so this mural was a little jab at that,” Stetz said. “I thought, ‘I have the only public piece of artwork here and it’s 30-feet tall.’”