Meet the Man Behind Some of DC’s Coolest Murals – Joel Bergner


Ed. Note: First, let me thank all the folks who wrote to let me know of the new mural going up on U Street just east of 14th Street. I love getting tips for new restaurants and development but it brings me a special joy when folks write in with murals and doors and gardens and signs… it makes me realize that I’m not crazy.

I was lucky enough to run into the artist, Joel Bergner, 30, while he was painting his most recent piece. Joel is originally from Chicago but has lived in DC for the past two and a half years (near Howard University). He says he was never a gallery artist but simply taught himself. He started going bigger and bigger leading to murals. In addition to being able to go bigger with murals, Joel also likes the community aspect of painting murals. A recent one (see photo below) on 15th Street, NW just south of Park Road was painted with the help of local youth.


He is able to paint these murals with the assistance of grants from the DC Commission of the Arts. You may recognize his style. In addition to the one above, he has also painted the great one on the corner of Morgan’s Seafood on Georgia Ave. He also has pieces in NE, DC as well as up in Silver Spring. I’d just like to take this opportunity to publicly thank him for all his work. I think he has greatly contributed to making this city a much nicer place to live.


Sadly, I wasn’t able to ask him all the questions I would have liked to but maybe he’ll read this and answer a couple more that I wish I asked – how long does it take to paint them, how does he pick the designs and how does he select the buildings/locations? Now if only we could get him to Bacon Funeral HomeAfter the jump a photo of his current project on U Street. I’ll be sure to update when it’s completed.


26 Comment

  • I think the Boxer girl mural generating all the fuss in Bloomingdale is rather hideous. But I love these murals by Bergner and also the classic Marylin Monroe mural in Woodley Park.

  • Thanks for introducing the artist. I have particularly admired his Morgan’s Seafood mural but hadn’t know who had painted it, until now.

    I recently blogged about another Mural Artist, Garin Baker, who did the great mural at 3rd & Elm, NW, in LeDroit Park, and referenced G. Byron Peck, another notable DC Muralist.

    Here’s the URL:

  • Ummm… these scenes of the great African-American heritage of DC are painted by a 30-year-old white dude that’s only lived here for 2.5 years? OK.

  • and i think the boxer girl mural in bloomingdale is amazing.

  • Boxer Girl rules in Bloomingdale.

    The artist is Lisa Marie Thalhammer.

  • The Boxer Girl is OK (I’m more of a graf traditionalist) but the furor it’s causing among our neighbors is hilarious.

  • anon 8:08, that’s unbelievably bulletproof thinking there.
    I also heard that Jim Henson wasn’t an actual muppet. Can you f*kkin’ believe it?

  • I really like this guy’s untrained comic style. It reminds me of old school artists like Will Elder.

  • C’mon, IA, don’t play dumb.

  • anon 8:08 – are you saying that only black people should paint black people?
    should black people only patronize black business? should black people only ride black buses? should black people only use black water fountains and black restrooms?

    didnt we already try something like that a few decades ago?

  • Preach it Christopher! Can I get an AMEN?!

  • Christopher, if a straight white guy from suburban VA was doing murals meant to represent the urban gay experience, you’d have no questions about authenticity? Somehow I doubt it.

  • For realz

  • Do you have any shirtless pics of the artist? Pretty please?

  • To Anonymous: This is Joel, the artist– I paint about many different cultural and social topics, not just “African American Heritage.” For example, the new mural I’m doing on U and 14th is the Afro- Colombian Mural Project, which is in 100% collaboration with 6 members of our local Afro- Colombian community, who are showing their culture and social issues through this mural. I also went to Colombia to visit their family members in order to further research the mural project. I will soon be doing a mural about foster youth, and I have worked with this population for 6 years, both in California and DC. I completely agree with you that an artist shouldn’t paint about another ethnic group if he/she is ignorant about it, but I can assure you that I would never do that.

  • anon,

    if the artist does the research (which joel obviously does) then no, i would not have a problem with your scenario. these murals arent satirical, nor do they have any big political message from what i see.

    your comments seem to reflect the general feeling that i get from a lot of dcers, something along the lines of ‘mine vs. yours’, with ‘mine’ (mostly black dcers) being the culture, entitlement, rights, and city itself, while ‘yours’ (mostly white dcers) being the problems left over.

  • I believe that Joel’s response to the anonymous poster may merit an OH SNAP!

    Joel, thanks for adding thoughtful, vibrant murals to our city.

  • I think the primary qualification for a mural painter should be that he/she knows how to paint a mural. Per Anon’s line of thinking, if someone wanted a mural to represent a specific ethnic tradition and no painter was available from that tradition – well then there would be no mural. Likewise if there were a person from a separate ethnic group who was a better painter, the ethnic group would be seen as traitors if they hired the better painter, instead of someone from “their own” community.

    Sure you don’t want somebody co-opting your culture but you have to look at the skills of the artist. That has to be the primary qualification.

    That said, I don’t think this guy’s the best muralist. But I’d rather talk about how he renders the human form on a flat surface than to talk about the fact that he’s white and his subjects are not.

  • Joel is an awesome artist and a great person! His murals definitely reflect his understanding of social issues and cultures. I am so glad you finally featured him. Hola Joel!!!

  • So Redhead, per your line of thinking, there are no Black mural painters available in DC?!

  • Anon – no. They’re just not necessarily the best people for every job that involves African American culture. I have no idea how many there are in DC.

    Let’s just say there are 7 black muralists in DC. Eight separate community entities want to have murals made about African American culture at the same time. They couldn’t contract someone else? Let’s say one of those black artists is actually really good at painting, say, fish, and someone wants to hire her to do a mural with fish instead. Would she have to take the commission featuring African American figures just because she’s black? And what do you do about a mural that features black and white and brown people together? Hire separate artists to paint different sections? Nonsense. You hire the person who is culturally sensitive, artistically gifted, and able to deliver dependably on-time and on-budget.

    The mural above is about immigration, which effects people of all colors.

    Last time I checked, Shepard Fairey was white and no one objected to his street art of Obama on those grounds. It’s simplistic, lazy thinking to look at the artists’ skin color to see if you should like something – rather than looking at the art. It could also lead to dangerous ghettoization of black art and black artists.

    And Anon – give yourself a name if you wanna start a real conversation. I can’t tell if I’m talking to the first Anon or some other person.

  • Y’all probably were Vanilla Ice fans, too….not that there’s anything wrong with that…(well, maybe a little bit)…..

  • Joel, welcome to the hood .. it hard for a P… out here. I support you brother.

  • I love art as much as the next guy, but this bothers me:

    “He is able to paint these murals with the assistance of grants from the DC Commission of the Arts.”

    So, taxpayer money is being used to paint over cruddy looking buildings instead of just rehabbing said buildings with said money?

  • Yes, taxpayer money is used in order to beautify our city with a variety of public art projects, including murals, which are not often painted on “cruddy looking buildings,” but instead regular buildings that do not need to be rehabbed, but would look nicer with a mural. The dc commission on the arts is partly funded by the national endowment for the arts, and is intended to support our local artists and bring art and culture to our communities. if you don’t believe that murals can make a huge difference in a city, you should go to philadelphia, or at least check out the philadelphia mural project online. i can think of a lot of things that we spend much more taxpayer money on that are much more pointless and wasteful than murals.

  • Joel’s murals are contributing to the fabric of our great city, stop all to bitching.. WTF

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