Riverwalk Mural by Christine Lutfy

An interview with the figurehead for Phunky Artz, muralist Christine Lutfy

by Ryan Finley / Garnet & Black

Mural 3: Riverwalk Mural by Christine Lutfy (@phunkyartz)

Covering both walls of a small alley near the New Brookland Tavern, you will find Christine Lutfy’s exuberant mural depicting the beauty of the nearby West Columbia Riverwalk. The work is very typical for Lutfy with generous usage of vibrant colors and eclectic imagery. “For me, I like painting big, big strokes, big blocks of color,” she says. Lutfy is also passionate about advocating for West Columbia, having a big attachment to them. She remembers feeling honored when they chose her for big mural in the alleyway.

The mural is colorful and neat, framed by strings of lights from above (so you can see the vibrancy even at night) and lines of small plants around the sidewalk. Covering two walls, there is quite a lot to look at: the warm, geometric sunbeams, the bright kayaks surrounded by flowers, and the panorama of cream-colored buildings on a gray bridge above a deep blue river. “A lot of the times when I do murals, it’s nice when they know what they want but gibe me the creative style,” Lutfy said, smiling. “It’s creating a blank surface into life.”

Lutfy has always had an affinity for the visual arts, beginning with drawing and ceramics as a young girl. When she arrived at Coastal Carolina for her undergraduate time, majoring in marketing, she still couldn’t shake her passions and began to get into painting, and she was nondiscriminate in what she painted. “Art festivals, music festivals, commissions, canvases, wine glasses, shoes, wood, glass,” she listed. Though she never sold art on the street, she has sold as a vendor before, with her colorful pieces attracting many eyes to her work. She had a particular fascination with dogs, saying “I’ve painted a lot of dogs, thousands and thousands of dogs.” When asked about subject matter that is consistent for her, she said that Coastal had imprinted the beach into her art. Without even thinking, her mind goes to beaches, tropical flora, flowers and sunsets.

When asked about how the mural process goes for her, she said that “it always starts with outreach or people contacting me. I do a little bit of both.” Once contact has been made and the commission is agreed to, they meet and discuss what the client is looking for. Lutfy says that she usually has to go through “three different mockups and one round of revisions in a week” before she buys the paint and gets to work. When asked about particular subject matter that she liked to portray, she said that she “wouldn’t really say that [her] work is very specific”. But, she is committed to making her audience feel united and exuberant, saying “I really like Lauren and Keith’s work because it has a deep meaning to it, but my work usually has to do with the entire community, so it feels like everyone is equal and one.”

After a successful 2019 where she had the highest number of large-scale and solo murals, 2020 took the wind out of her sails (as it did for so many others). “Am I going to be able to have this as my career? People are losing their jobs,” she said, as the commissions began to lull. She was committed to spreading a message of unity during these times, designing a mural for Home Advantage with the slogan ‘Columbia, we’re in it together’. As things slowly returned to normalcy, she began to feel more settled. Now, Lutfy is excited about her prospects for the future, saying that she “hopes to spread more public art in different cities” and that she’d also “love to go in with someone on a gallery and sell fun stuff and do classes.” While she loves Columbia, she believes that other artists can also paint this city and has expressed a desire to spread her wings and fly elsewhere.

For Lutfy, art is about “putting light in dark places.” With her work, she hopes to make it seem like everything is good in the world because a lot of the time, reality isn’t so pretty. Her color is her joy, and “we could all use a little bit of that”.