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An unexpected artist in an unexpected place

Valerie Lick, [email protected] • Aug 9, 2018 at 9:45 AM

KINGSPORT — Despite hue blindness and vision in only one eye, Skyler Leaman is bringing art to unexpected places — like the restrooms at the Zoomerz on Sullivan Gardens Parkway.

Skyler is a lifelong artist, but his murals at Zoomerz will be his first publicly displayed creations. The opportunity took him by surprise.

“They were talking about all the graffiti on the bathroom walls,” he said, recounting a conversation with some of the gas station’s employees. “I was joking around. I said, ‘You want me to graffiti the walls?’ They took me by surprise. They said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ ”

The station, which has been dealing with not-so-artistic bathroom graffiti for years, jumped at the chance to cover it up. Skyler made a sketch, and the station paid for his materials. On his next set of days off from work, he spray-painted the men’s bathroom with a bold, jagged, grafitti-inspired design.

Not everyone was in the know.

Bemusedly, Skyler recalls one encounter with a customer: “I was painting the bathroom, and this guy walks in. He says, ‘You know they put people in jail for that.’ I said, ‘Yeah… but I have permission to be here.’ ”

The women’s restroom, too, will get an artistic update. Skyler plans to paint it whenever he has several days off in a row again. He has an entirely different plan for that mural, with soft sunset colors and flower silhouettes. “But getting it out of my head and onto the wall is a whole other story,” he says, laughing.

If anyone can make sure a design gets “onto the wall,” it’s Skyler. He’s always improving his art, in spite of discouraging circumstances.

“I was in a bad wreck,” he says of the 1998 car accident that took half of his vision. “Art has helped me cope with things. Instead of being bitter or aggressive, I can put it on paper and get it out of my head.”

Skyler’s lifelong hue blindness, too, doesn’t stop him from experimenting with color.

“The colors sometimes run together in my head,” he explains. “I worked in a paint shop for awhile when I was younger, so I learned how to differentiate hues even though I can’t see them.”

His advice to other artists, like his youngest son? Keep practicing and share your art with the world.

“If you don’t get out there, you’ll never know how people feel about it.”

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