Ben Franklin enjoys pizza. So does Albert Einstein.
That’s evident according to a couple of paintings on the front wall at Poppa Rollo’s Pizza on North Valley Mills Drive. Those are two of the several pieces that Rollo’s owner Roland Duty has commissioned from artist Tony Bryant. Their relationship goes beyond patron and artist, however.
“He’s a man who’s had a lot of influence in my life,” Bryant said. “He taught me one thing. He said there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If you don’t have anything to offer, you’re not going to get anything and you’ll be looking for handouts.”
That message also taught Bryant that if the art business is slow in one city, then move on.
“I don’t have to work in just one area. I can travel around the U.S. and do murals in other towns and do biz in other places,” Bryant said.
Bryant has spent the last few months in Brownwood, about 120 miles west of Waco, where he’s done several murals for the city and individual businesses. In addition to Poppa Rollo’s, Bryant’s work in Waco can be seen at Ambold’s Key Lock & Alarm, at 1125 Franklin Avenue., and at the Baha’i Faith building at 2500 Bosque Boulevard. His mural there proclaims “Education is Not a Crime.”
Bryant, who grew up in Georgia, ended up in Waco pretty much by happenstance. He had been spending some time in Marlin doing research for a book he was illustrating about Judge Carl Walker Jr., a Marlin native who, according to his 2002 obituary, was appointed assistant U.S. attorney by U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1961. Bryant was in Waco buying some art supplies at Hobby Lobby, “and I ran into some people who said they were looking for somebody to do a mural.”
“One thing led to another and there was more work in Waco than there was in Marlin, because I was there doing research and not really looking for employment,” he said. “I had a company already in Houston, so I was driving back and forth. I got so busy in Waco, I opened a studio.”
Tony Bryant doesn’t put much stock into the concept of the starving artist.
“If you’re doing what you love to do, you’ve got to find ways to get it done,” he said. “The only way you can get it done is through service and reward. It’s a business to me, just like it was when I was working in corporate America.”
Part of Bryant’s time in corporate America was spent working as an illustrator for Ted Turner’s companies in Atlanta.
“He was looking for a lot of young, fresh people with ideas around him,” Bryant said. “He didn’t care who you were or where you came from. If you could do the job, he would give you the opportunity.”
In Waco, one lesson that Bryant learned from Duty was that “if you hang around with nine broke people, you’re going to be number 10.”
“Life should be enjoyable,” Bryant said. “I think you should have and be able to do anything you want, just like someone who’s a doctor or lawyer or whatever.”
When Bryant begins a painting, whether a mural or something smaller, “I start with a dot,” he said, “and then I take that vantage point and take it anywhere I want to go. Once I know where that dot is at, that’s the center of attention, the seat of consciousness of the actual artwork. It’s like aerodynamics with planes; you can’t break the laws. You can’t break the laws in art of perspective.
“You start from nothing, unless it’s a commercial mural. You put whatever is in your mind’s eye on that wall.”