Tulsa-based Clean Hands Army landed their first invasion force in Norman at 227 W. Main Street. It was a friendly foray creating a mural on the upper west wall of Gabriel Bird DDS’ office building. Clean Hands Army (CHA) is a “multi-disciplined design and mural crew and mobile retail experience” in operation since 2012. They have done work for well-known clients including the Oklahoma City Thunder, George Kaiser Family Foundation and Pepsi Company. CHA co-founder Justin Baney along with partners Aaron Whisner and Case Morton were pleased to have been commissioned for their inaugural work here.
“Dr. Bird reached out to us and told us about his facility, what he did and his involvement in the community,” Baney said. “With a project like that we go into the discovery phase. We want to know about you, your business, how you heard about us and get into a position of understanding how you’re approaching the project.”
CHA’s clients often break down into those with primarily a corporate mindset or an artistic one.
“Art that represents the community or art that represents your business branding,” Baney explained. “This project was one communicated to us as speaking to the community and representing Norman. Those were among the parameters provided by the client.”
CHA worked up a couple different designs with a message of welcome being the focus.
“It’s a three story building so visibility and messaging needed to be very pointed up top so the imagery could be seen from the street,” Baney said.
CHA’s creation of a mural for the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa was a turning point for the crew’s operations. It’s a top of building to street-sized painting of Oklahoma’s greatest folk bard playing guitar. His lyrics “This Land is Your Land” resound at the top of the mural. Emblazoned on the guitar is the famous warning, “This machine kills fascists.”
“Doing that mural flipped our entire business plan upside down,” Baney said. “Over the next few years we ended up transitioning to about a 70% focus on creating murals, exterior art and interior media pieces for corporations. We started going and haven’t stopped. We’ve been fortunate enough to do it across the United States.”
CHA have enjoyed the enterprise and the appreciation they’ve received from clients and viewers of their art.
“I like the creative freedom of it,” Baney said. “It’s a way of bringing vibrancy to areas that don’t necessarily have any. I look at other murals for inspiration. It’s a great thing to travel to other cities and see other art. A lot of communities are built around art even if they don’t realize it. Art can be very valuable to a community. History, character and comfort come from this. You can walk down the street and be inspired by murals.”
Challenges for creating murals might not be what you’d expect. Inclement weather and painting on inhospitable surfaces were not mentioned.
“It’s breaking down barriers and misconceptions,” Baney said. “There’s a lot of perception that it’s just vandalism. We enjoy when people look at it like that because we realize they aren’t our target audience. Part of the barrier is convincing people that we’re a well-constructed and properly run business. We create commissioned art not vandalism. Tulsa has been very welcoming to what we do.”
Indeed, some of CHA’s panache is inspired by 1980s graffiti. Much of what was once considered vandalism is now shown internationally in well-respected and pricey galleries.
“We’ve traveled the globe and brought back certain styles that we love to our pieces,” Baney said. “Writing on things is where a lot of art originated, from cave drawings to the graffiti on freight train box cars.”
This place we call Oklahoma has been fundamental to CHA’s artistic credo and imagery. The Norman mural is Okie to its core.
“It contributes fuel to what we do,” Baney said. “Oklahoma is looked at more as a fly-over state not a creative state. Part of our mission is to change that perception of what Oklahoma is and what we can produce. We’re just a small percentage of that mission. But being landlocked in the center of Oklahoma has really contributed to our passion for creating this big art.”