Even if you’ve never heard Brigitte Selby’s name before, if you’ve driven through downtown Travelers Rest at least once, then you’ve noticed her work. You can expect to see more of her artistry around town soon.
Selby’s first mural, painted on the eastern wall of Swamp Rabbit Brewery and Taproom, makes you think a jumping swamp rabbit, beer barrel around its waist, is breaking through the gray brick. At any moment, the larger-than-life creature might scamper into the traffic of Main Street.
But rest assured: it’s all a visual trick. Selby’s technique — called trompe-l’œil, French for “deceive the eye” — uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the subject matter is three-dimensional.
After working as a graphic artist in advertising for years, Selby began her new career path as a trompe-l’œil muralist on a whim, when Ben Pierson, the owner at Swamp Rabbit Brewery, approached her with an idea: he wanted a swamp rabbit, a big one.
“I just tried because Ben’s my neighbor,” Selby laughs, adding that she hoped they could make a trade-off for beer.
She spent several months on the painting, studying the wall and then her grid and then the wall again, sifting through hundreds of pictures and aiming to incorporate vestiges of the brewery’s former life as a post office, like a barred window at the painting’s center. And she did.
By the time she finally finished the wall, her first large-scale visual illusion, she was already receiving commissions for more projects.
Currently, Selby’s working on another rabbit, this time the old Swamp Rabbit train engine that used to run through Travelers Rest. This mural-in-the-making at Whistle Stop at the American Café tricks viewers once again. In fact, you may believe the train engine is about to run right off its tracks.
Blues, grays, and yellows have begun to make out the form of the train and its mountainous backdrop. Surrounded by train prints and soda bottles of mixed paint, Selby figures and refigures how to turn a rounded pizza oven into a pilot and the oven’s exhaust pipe into a smokestack. This longtime cafe, opened as the American Cafe around the 1940s, will get a bright-colored makeover yet.
Selby’s the kind of artist towns like Travelers Rest could use more of, towns where new business owners don’t usually get to construct their spaces from scratch. Instead, they renovate and remake, translating old, abandoned buildings into newly fashioned storefronts.
The work’s a welcome change for Selby, too. In advertising, where “Nothing’s for keeps,” consumers often trash your fliers and ads after a glance.
“Now I’m producing something that people have to look at for quite a while,” says Selby. “I want them to enjoy it.”
Photo Credits: Celeste Hawkins