The ingredients are simple: paint, brushes, water, and maybe a wall or two. Yet magic happens when Muralist Jack Pabis of Frederick, Maryland applies his artistic superpowers to blank surfaces. Pabis is a modern-day genius, the proverbial Renaissance Man who is a straight shooter with a wide range of talents. His website bio is as sparse as it is accurate. “I can paint anything. I can paint anywhere.” Truer words were never written.
Pabis came to paint public murals by way of a lifetime of loving and creating art. In the 1990s, he and his wife, Melissa Atherholt, owned and operated Gallery X in Leesburg, Virginia. Once their children came along, they closed the gallery and Pabis shifted his career to catalog illustration, airbrushing, photo restoration, and fine art portraits. Now, with artwork curated into private collections and on permanent display in public venues, his unique pieces transform ordinary spaces into a visual destination both breathtaking and memorable.
A lifelong artist, his early detailed pencil illustrations became a signature for Horse Country Catalog. He honed his skills as a faux finish artist and mastered marble, plaster, striée and wood grain finishes. One of his paintings on display in a restaurant in McLean, Virginia caught the eye of an employer who invited him to paint murals within model homes. “For the next 10 years, I painted dragons, Tuscan gardens, cityscape theaters, whimsical nursery scenes, curved staircases, and domed fresco ceilings,” Pabis recalled. “Every home brought a new adventure and a new way to express myself artistically.”
Pabis broadened his work outdoors. Now, with dozens of murals in public venues, schools, churches, restaurants, and corporate campuses on the East coast, Pabis is as prolific as he is creative. Still, he remains humble about his talents. “I’ve always loved to draw and paint. Painting is my way to create something meaningful in this world.”
The Making of a Public Mural
Creating public art is no small undertaking. “The space and size of mural is almost always chosen by the institution prior to painting,” he said. “Sometimes the client has a specific idea in mind, and I then must marry that to a concept that will complement the space. Murals need energy and excitement to work best, maybe even something unexpected and a bit surprising.”
When clients offer Pabis a blank canvas and free reign to design, his imagination takes over. For Washington D.C. public schools, he has created visual playgrounds and a series of portraits to inspire students with depictions of great thought leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Albert Einstein, and Malala.
So how does the process work? After a proposal is accepted and any necessary permits obtained, physical materials gathered, and often weeks of on-site work yet to happen, project management may involve numerous planning meetings and schedules with built-in weather contingencies. Pabis begins with a series of detailed sketches until he lands on the final concept.
“After I draw the finished design on the space using a grid system, I get ready to paint,” he explained. Occasionally he will draw the design ahead of time on huge sheets of paper in his studio. “I typically paint in good weather, but occasionally I’ll use a scaffold as a roof to protect the work in progress.” Though he doesn’t want to reveal all of his trade secrets, Pabis works in water-based paint and applies a protective clear coat to the finished murals that range in size from just a few feet to more than 25 feet high by 100 feet long.
Pabis has enjoyed collaboration with mosaic artist Tony Owens for murals that beautify spaces around historic downtown Frederick, Maryland. Their first joint project, North of Fourth, is a two-panel mural that depicts the sun and the moon in mosaic tile and trompe l’oeuil painting. The mural marks North Pointe, Frederick’s first “green” neighborhood. “It’s the first large public mural I designed and painted,” Jack said. “The weather was gorgeous that September, and my whole family worked with me.”
The Lord Nickens Mural in Frederick, Maryland honors a local Civil Rights hero and holds special meaning for Pabis. “My son, John, and I worked on this a lot together. At the unveiling ceremony, I had the opportunity to meet Lord Nickens’ relatives, and they were most appreciative.”
Whether he’s painting King Kong scaling the Empire State Building or music in motion, Pabis is happy. “I’m glad my art makes people smile.”
To commission a mural, painting or illustration for your public or private venue, contact Jack Pabis at 240.674.2934 or reach the artist through his website. Fine art paintings may also be purchased on Etsy.