A few weeks ago, two groups of people with spray paint cans gathered at opposite sides of Imperial Avenue in the Las Vegas Arts District.
One group darted out of an SUV, sprayed 6-foot-tall bubble letters on the side of an empty building and quickly departed.
The second group looked on in disgust.
“That there, that’s not art,” says DJ Barry, an artist from Vermont. “It comes down to permission. If you don’t have it, it isn’t art. It’s graffiti.”
Barry had permission for the mural he was painting that day — an image he says exemplifies the spirit of unity and togetherness he wants to see more of: a cow.
Its spots are neatly arranged into the seven continents, configuring a world map on the heifer’s side.
“We’re all spots on the same cow,” says Barry, who had enlisted the help of two local volunteers.
While his wife attended a convention, Barry set out to find a home for his third cow.
He discovered a Facebook group for the Las Vegas Arts District and posted, asking if anyone would offer him a wall.
Sarah Collins, CFO at the Main Street Peddlers antique store, volunteered.
“I asked what he was thinking and thought whoa, that was cool,” Collins says. “He’s a young entrepreneur, he’s building a brand and selling T-shirts. I like that hustling.”
Barry put out a second call, this time soliciting the help of an artist who could give him a hand with his stencils.
“They’re arranged kind of like this 5-foot by 7-foot jigsaw puzzle. I draw it up at home, cut it up and then need to tape it up on the wall,” Barry explains.
This time, local artist Daniel Holbrook volunteered.
“I saw a post on Twitter looking for an assistant and thought, ‘Oh I’m a stencil artist,’ ” Holbrook says. “I like to help other artists when I can and DJ has a cool thing he’s doing.”
Since he was young, Barry has found excitement in drawing.
At home in Vermont, he steps away from his work as a network analyst in a hospital to create large-scale portraits of co-workers.
Inspiration for his four-legged motif struck when Barry and his wife took a scenic drive through Vermont and came across what he calls a beautiful Holstein.
He drafted up a stencil and modified the spots’ shapes.
“It’s kind of subtle,” Barry says. “It’s exciting when people realize they’re looking at a map. It brings smiles to people’s faces, reminds us that we’re all here on the same animal.”
His first public stencil was commissioned for the side of a barn in Middlesex, Vermont. Next, a buddy, also named DJ Barry, painted one in New York using the original stencils.
Barry’s next step, he figured, was to make T-shirts. He bought a $300 screen-printing starter kit and sold hundreds in the first two months. Now he sells World Cow apparel online at worldcow.earth. He donates 10 percent of proceeds to charity.
On a recent Thursday morning, Barry and Holbrook worked in tandem to line up the stencils and fill in the spaces. They were stopped by passers-by who lingered, asking the duo what they were creating.
Once the left hemisphere was pasted, Barry passed the paint can to Collins. She pointed to a spot below Florida.
“Puerto Rico! That’s where I’m from,” she said. And she added the spot to the wall with inky black spray paint.
She prefers that the walls of her shop feature murals. It’s equal parts appreciation of artwork and self-preservation.
“If there’s art on it, they don’t get tagged,” she says, pointing out the graffiti markings on the apartment building behind her shop. “It becomes art with permission. Otherwise, it’s defacing public property.”
Back on the other side of the country, Barry is planning to bring his cow to other cities.
“We’re all here to be kind to one another,” Barry says. “We’re all on the same animal.”