A muralist is an artist who creates large-scale paintings or pictures using a solid structure, such as a wall or ceiling, as a canvas. Many murals are considered public art, as they are often placed on public buildings or structures. Some cities have a long-standing tradition of hiring muralists to create public murals.
From the French word for "wall," murals are an art form in which size is a major factor. Unlike detailed miniature paintings or even life-size art, murals are often many times bigger than life, and can artistically depict whole scenes in vivid detail. A muralist must have a competent sense of scale and a strong vision in order to create a giant work of art with any coherence.
Although murals are almost always large, they are created using a wide variety of different styles. The history of murals stretches back for centuries, encompassing everything from the highly decorated walls and ceilings of the Sistine chapel to Diego Rivera's colorful paintings of multitudes. Modern muralists often use digitally created images that are laid on the wall, floor, or ceiling like wallpaper. Some art critics even consider the covert work of graffiti artists to be murals of a sort; although the associated illegality and relationship to gang tagging can undercut a graffiti artist's status as a muralist.
Some muralists find work in interior design, creating custom murals for the inside walls of houses. Murals can be popular in children's rooms, dining rooms, or to create trompe-l'oeil vistas of the outdoors in a room without windows or natural light. Often, using computer software, a muralist can design a unique image and import it into a computer which can multiply the dimensions according to the size of walls or desired surface. The finished product can then be specially printed onto wallpaper and applied to the canvas. By saving the designs in the computer, a muralist can create a database of murals that clients can order as desired.
Government officials often hire muralists to create art in blank public spaces, thus livening a plain city with public art. A muralist may have free artistic rein to create whatever they desire, or may be limited by the desires of the hiring party. Many public murals depict an aspect of the city or town, while others may have a social message, such as encouraging recycling. Cities with a long tradition of publicly-funded murals may offer tours and maps of all mural locations in the area.
Some modern artists are famous or recognizable for their long history of creating murals. Robert Wyland, a painter, sculptor, and muralist, is known worldwide for his enormous depictions of whales and sea life, called “whaling walls.” As of 2008, Wyland had completed 100 whaling walls in more than 10 countries, the largest featuring a diameter of 1224 ft (373 m) and adorning a circular arena in Long Beach, California. In Northern Ireland, a trio of muralists known as the Bogside Artists has gained much attention for their politically loaded murals depicting the violence and civil rights struggles of the country.