Education

Young artists paint colorful murals throughout hallways of Miami Killian Senior High

Artists Alain Georges, left, and Keyani Watkins with Activities Director Mark Barnett, right, display the finished look of Cougar's Pride, the mural located in the activities office.
Artists Alain Georges, left, and Keyani Watkins with Activities Director Mark Barnett, right, display the finished look of Cougar's Pride, the mural located in the activities office. frivas@miamiherald.com

A pair of Miami-based artists are beautifying the halls of Miami Killian Senior High, mural by mural.

Keyani Watkins, 25, an alumnus of Killian class of 2011, and Alain Georges, 22, a 2012 Felix Varela Senior High grad, have painted colorful designs throughout the hallways of the southwest Kendall school.

Watkins and Georges, both Miami natives, met while pursuing their bachelor degrees from the Miami International University of Art & Design. They graduated in 2015. Both artists are sponsored by All City Artwear, a clothing company keen on bringing artists’ work from the walls to shirts, baseball caps, and shoes.

Watkins became an intern at Killian while attending MIU, after pitching the idea to Mark Barnett, his former world geography teacher, now the school’s activities director. Barnett, an educator in his 24th year working in the school system and fan of Watkins’ work, was eager to see Watkin’s art painted on the walls.

Throughout its history, Killian had an array of murals and paintings on its wall. However, after changes in the school’s administration office, it was decided to cover the paintings, which upset both students and staff.

Now, under the leadership of Principal Magda Pereira, Killian is sprucing up and adding color to its walls. “I think it’s important to note that we had the full support of our principal when the idea to paints the walls was introduced,” Barnett said.

“We had a former student, who is a great and generous artist willing to help, everything was set to paint our walls,” he said.

The project has been supervised by art teacher, Barbara Phillips, Watkins’ 12th-grade art teacher. Recently, Phillips has mentored both Watkins and Georges.

“I’ve always enjoyed being around Keyani, and now Alain,” Phillips said. “I was very excited when I heard he was coming back to Killian to work on the walls, and I’m glad he brought his friend along.”

While involved in the school beautification process, Watkins invited Georges, a fellow artist, and classmate at MIU, to help out with the project. Barnett and Phillips helped get the paint, brushes and related material for the artists.

Watkins and Georges began designing simple messages scattered across the hallways. “Welcome to Killian” appears at the school entrance. Now, a few large “K’s” in Celtic style design appear in hallways near the main courtyard of the school. There are also a few cougar paws — a reference to Killian’s mascot, Kobe, the cougar.

The artists followed with painting a fierce profile rendition of Kobe’s face, on a wall adjacent to the parking lot. The face was adorned with a circular display of the phrase “cougar pride,” to help the students foster school spirit.

The duo’s pièce de résistance: a two-wall mural, divided by a corner, painted on the walls of the activities office, where Barnett plans the myriad activities available to the student body. The piece titled “Cougar’s Pride,” features a colorful array of cougar-like beings performing a multitude of fun activities. The piece, mainly inspired by Keith Haring’s dancing people but designed as cougars, is a representation of the students. It features the characters playing soccer and basketball, high-fiving each other, and playing the drums while dancing and “dabbing.”

The murals have changed the look of Killian, little by little. The teachers and students appreciate Watkins and Georges’ artwork.

“The murals give character to the school, especially the one in the activities office,” said Melissa Calil, a 12th grader and 2017 class president. “I think whenever you add any art to the school, you add life to it as well; the more, the better.”

Throughout the process of beautifying Killian, Watkins and Georges connected with students and took on mentorship roles. “I met them last year, they taught me little techniques to improve on my artwork, and after a while they just became my friends,” said Rachel Scheinhoft, a 12th grader.

The artists enjoy giving back to their community. “It’s a privilege and an honor to have my artwork displayed in halls for the students to enjoy,” Watkins said. “I’m glad that Mr. Barnett and Ms. Phillips gave me this opportunity.”

Said Georges: “Whenever I get an opportunity, I try to help others along the way. I like to take [students] under my wings, and they love it, I have a really good connection with them.”

Both artists plan to continue designing new murals at Killian. “Other teachers have noticed and want a piece of it,” Barnett said, laughing.

Artopia

Keyani Watkins and Alain Georges work collaboratively to promote their live painting shows in the Wynwood and Kendall areas.

Beginning 6 p.m. Thursday, they will paint live at the ninth annual Miami New Times Artopia event at Coral Gables Museum, 285 Aragon Ave.

General admission tickets are $30 at the door; $50 for VIP access.

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