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Arts & Extras: Starting over through art

Arts & Extras: Starting over through art

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An artist who has been homeless gets a job painting murals at Screaming Vegan in Roanoke. Heather Rousseau, The Roanoke Times

Trina Maxey regarded the planets, contemplating how best to move the Earth.

“I’m thinking higher,” she said. “Bring it up a little. I’m not happy with it where it’s at.”

The 52-year-old artist started painting a series of murals in June on the outside of Screaming Vegan in Roanoke. As you might guess from the name, it’s a vegan restaurant, serving sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs and more with options like Brussels sprouts and asparagus on the side.

Maxey, who is homeless, had been selling small canvas paintings in downtown Roanoke at $5 a piece for extra money. She first came to the attention of Screaming Vegan co-owner John English because of a cardboard sign she carries.

It reads “SMILE: It could be worse,” alongside a colorful painting of of a bright-eyed, smiling face.

Screaming Vegan has made a practice of giving away excess food to the homeless. English had reached out to Roanoke Area Ministries’ RAM House to explore ways to get involved.

“There’s some people at the RAM House who knew that I did artwork,” Maxey said. “They knew Mr. E [English] was looking for artists, and they said, ‘Hey, what about Trina?’”

As Maxey put it, when English met her, he recognized the witty sign and thought, “That’s my girl!”

Screaming Vegan opened at 2715 Melrose Ave. N.W. about seven months ago, and even though pandemic restrictions were still in place, “we had a line out the door,” said co-owner Larry Jones. “They show a lot of love in the city, from all over southwest and northeast.”

Though it was a risky time to start a new restaurant, business has been good so far, Jones said.“They come up from Blacksburg, come up from Tennessee, they come from Rocky Mountain, they come from North Carolina, New York.”

Starting Monday, Screaming Vegan is expanding its hours of operation, Jones said. The restaurant will be open 11 a.m.-7 p.m Mondays and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, he said.

Screaming Vegan wants to use the lawn behind the building as an outdoor dining area and place to host events — there’s a wedding booked for the space in August — which is why the restaurant hired Maxey to liven up the square.

Doors and outdoor fixtures have been transformed into scenes of mushrooms growing in a nighttime forest and a guru meditating on a mountaintop.

“John and I are both into spirituality, not necessarily religion but spirituality,” she said. “As in we are all one, the Earth, the planets, the universe, the plants, the trees, and human beings and animals, air and everything.”

Her largest mural so far depicts the sun and nine planets — yes, including Pluto, even though that heavenly body has been demoted to a “dwarf planet.” Wednesday, Maxey decided she needed to repaint the disk of the Earth so that it floated a few inches higher up.

“Right now I’m perfecting my circles, and then once I get my all my circles perfected I’m going back with more detail,” she said.

The job marks her first time painting outdoor murals. A Christiansburg native, she spent 30 years working as a hairdresser in Salem before bad relationships and methamphetamine addiction drew her into a long downward spiral. She’s been off drugs, she said, since a four-month jail stint that ended in January 2020.

She first discovered her penchant for painting after she became homeless. “I saw these little garden gnomes and I just had the urge to paint, and I started painting those and then it grew, I was painting pallets and and candleholders just anything I get my hands on.”

She’s working toward getting a home, she said. “I want to start a business. I would like to get a van and two ladders and lots of paint, and keep this thing going.”

For more information about Screaming Vegan, call 609-3104 or visit the restaurant’s Facebook page. For more information about RAM House, visit raminc.org.

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