‘Like a magic trick’: Toms River craftsmen turn ‘forbidden’ art into astounding murals

TOMS RIVER – Growing up in Point Pleasant, the world of art — especially graffiti art — was central to Jay Mack’s life.

And through Mural Makers, the Toms River-based graffiti art company Mack launched with business partner Tim Sramowicz in 2020, the two are making an indelible mark on a range of buildings, homes, businesses and more while continuing to elevate their unique and vibrant form of artistic expression.

From painting crab shells with his grandmother during summer trips to her native Puerto Rico to painting with his babysitter, who was an art teacher, “I was always into art as a kid,” said Mack, 44, a Toms River resident. “But I especially loved graffiti — people writing their names with cool styles and characters on buildings and in subways — and I took it up at age 14.

“I was intrigued by the whole ‘forbidden’ aspect of graffiti. The fact that you had to sneak around and could get in trouble for doing it was an adrenaline rush for me,” Mack recalled. “The world of graffiti is almost like a magic trick that happens without people knowing how. I loved that people could achieve fame without being known and that the art was done at heights and other out-of-reach places that other people couldn’t buff off.”

Jay Mack, co-owner of Mural Makers, a three-year-old Toms River-based provider of murals for all types of business and residential customers, spray paints a pet portrait at Mural Makers in Toms River, NJ Monday, October 9, 2023.

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Mack went on to work in the flooring business (at Brick-based New Jersey State Flooring) for 18 years, but he continued honing his street-learned graffiti skills and remained passionate about painting murals.

“I liked the flooring business and was good at it, but it was tough being on your knees all the time and I didn’t see it as my future,” Mack said. “On weekends I’d get together with my friends and we’d create cool murals, but it was more of a hobby than anything else at that time.”

His big break

That all changed when Mack began taking and then teaching classes at Asbury Park-based art supply store Rebirth, which was co-owned by his longtime friend, Tim Sramowicz, a lifelong Brick resident, and Damien Hiller.

“Through one of those classes, I got hired to create a huge mural for A&J Sneakers in Asbury Park (the town’s first approved mural) in 2010, and that work caught the eye of art supply company Liquitex, which then sponsored me to help showcase a new water-based spray paint they were introducing,” Mack said of an arrangement that involved him conducting live painting demonstrations nationwide.

This led to his creation of murals for brands such as Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Epson, as well as a project for rap star Rick Ross in 2017.

“I painted a collage featuring Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Lebron James and Michael Jordan in the indoor basketball court at Rick’s mansion in Atlanta, which was later featured on an episode of MTV’s ‘Cribs,’” Mack said of a project that took him over two months to complete. “I wanted the exposure and I improved my skills so much during that time, evolving from abstract, character and graffiti art to more complex portraits.”

Based on their individual skills, Mack and Sramowicz soon decided to join forces.

“Tim had become an amazing digital designer for major companies and we thought that the combination of our talents would make us even stronger,” Mack said of their launch of Mural Makers in 2020 from their respective garages.

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‘The bigger the better’

Jay Mack, co-owner of Mural Makers, a three-year-old Toms River-based provider of murals for all types of business and residential customers, chooses spray paints for a project at Mural Makers in Toms River, NJ Monday, October 9, 2023.

Today they operate out of a 1,400-square-foot industrial space in Toms River that they leased in 2022 in order to be able to work on the increasingly large projects they were landing (among them, a series of 20-foot-by-40-foot murals for Trader Joe’s stores).

“We create everything from small canvases to murals in homes and children’s bedrooms, at restaurants, and on sides of buildings — the bigger the better, we always say — and have become the most requested muralists in the Shore area,” Mack said. “We also do live shows for parties, teach classes and apply our art to other surfaces as well, including floors, countertops, bathroom tiles and mirrors.”

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After meeting clients as a team to discuss what they want, “Tim plans/stages their concept and presents it graphically as if it were painted on a wall, and then I physically create the artwork in their actual space, typically using spray paint,” said Mack, whose signature style involves working in black and white or grayscale and occasionally incorporating one or two colors for a neon look.

“Projects can take anywhere from two days to a month depending on their size, complexity and our access to the space,” Mack said.

“Fees depend on the size of the mural, how long the project will take, whether the client has a concept in mind or needs a design and the extent of materials used,” he continued. “For example, we recently completed an 8-foot-by-30-foot interior mural featuring 100 different colors for the soon-to-open Mexican restaurant Casa Calaveras in Middletown. But we always try to work with our clients’ budgets.”

A mural by artist Jay Mack Mural Makers is under way outside Casa Calaveras, a Mexican restaurant under construction in Middletown.

Among their many standout projects, “we created an 8-foot-by-18-foot exterior mural of Bob Marley, Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix for The Social Leaf cannabis dispensary in Toms River, a huge exterior mural at The Butcher’s Block steakhouse in Long Branch, and a mural of John Lennon at an Exxon station in Lincroft, which the owner raised grant money to fund,” Mack said.

In addition to participating in UP Art Studio’s 2023 “Big Wall, Big Dreams” expo at Art Basel Miami and Houston’s All City Festival, “I’m currently working on a mural at a hotel in Savannah and just returned from a job at a dispensary in Michigan, where I painted a mural and Tim designed their branding and logo.”

In terms of industry trends, Mack said that graffiti art is increasingly becoming a respected form of creative expression.

“While it used to be considered vandalism, graffiti-based street art is trending now and people are appreciating it more and more,” he confirmed. “Murals have caught on in cities everywhere and a growing number of building owners are giving muralists permission to create pieces.”

In a world now fueled by social media, Mack noted that graffiti art is also helping to elevate a broad range of businesses. “People want those cool, edgy background photos for social media and places which have allowed graffiti art have become popular based on the vibe those murals create,” he said.

As for challenges, Mack said that securing permission to create a mural from a town or committee and/or adhering to their rules can sometimes be arduous, such as with a recent town mural that Mack was only allowed to paint on Sundays (causing the project to take nearly a year to complete).

“Inclement weather is also a major issue for any exterior mural,” he added, “but we’re booked out for four months on a range of different interior and exterior jobs and we do our best to utilize rainy days to focus on design or interior work.”

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Jay Mack and Tim Sramowicz, owners of Mural Makers, a three-year-old Toms River-based provider of murals for all types of business and residential customers, talk about their business in their studio space in Toms River, NJ Monday, October 9, 2023.

‘Keep pushing the envelope’

Looking ahead, Mack and Sramowicz are excited to launch their company’s new website in early December. “We also plan to offer limited-edition prints of murals we’ve done as well as merchandise like sweatshirts, T-shirts and a coffee table book,” Mack said. “And we hope to add more artists to our team in the future so that we can take on other projects.”

“We love delivering quality work that stands out from other artists and hearing the great feedback we receive from clients,” Mack said of the joy of the big reveal to clients. “It’s exciting to see businesses that use our artwork for advertising purposes thrive. It’s a feel-good thing that becomes our legacy.”

Mack said that he also enjoys contributing to graffiti art’s positive evolution. “There’s so much you can do in this industry,” he said. “We’re excited to move things forward, collaborate with others and keep pushing the envelope.”

A John Lennon

Mural Makers

Location: 2001 Lakewood Road, Toms River

Phone: 732-374-6478

Owners: Jay Mack and Tim Sramowicz

Launched: 2020

Instagram: @jaymackmuzik and @muralmakers

Tiktok: @muralmakers

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