BlackCatTips is painting at the corner of street art and folk art

You've likely seen Kyle Brooks's whimsical art all over town

Kyle Brooks, aka BlackCatTips, at Ash Coffee in Virginia-Highland

Photograph courtesy of Kyle Brooks

“I don’t think I’ve ever done an interview while sitting on a bucket,” Kyle Brooks, also known as the artist BlackCatTips, muses while sitting on a blue plastic painter’s bucket. It’s a sunny afternoon in Virginia-Highland, and Brooks has begun painting a mural outside Ash Coffee. The cafe-meets-knickknack-shop opened just a few days ago and is already bustling. On the concrete wall outside, Brooks has completed a large white circle, where the cafe’s red logo will go. Next, he’ll add an abundance of whimsical, colorful characters: some mountains, some mushrooms, some faces of fanciful and unknown origin. With their large, gleeful eyes and eager smiles, the creatures are instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with Atlanta street art. After more than a decade of painting whatever he could get his hands on, Brooks has cultivated something of a one-man school of art. “I wasn’t meaning to paint folk art, but that’s kind of what happened,” he explains. “I just started drawing faces, and I had kind of a crazy fire to keep making more faces.”

Brooks, who is rounding 50, is tall and lanky, with a long red beard like Henry David Thoreau, if Thoreau had gotten into outsider art. Today, he’s wearing paint-speckled jeans and a blue knit cap from Your DeKalb Farmers Market. He grew up in Atlanta and has a soft Southern accent that adds to his aura of timelessness. Even as a kid, Brooks had a habit of crafting oddball art in places no one expected it. “In high school, I took a laminated picture of Elvis with some words under it and put it in a tree on top of Table Rock Mountain in South Carolina,” he says with a chuckle. He worked odd jobs after college, but kept finding detritus to turn into art, adding doodles to old road signs or hanging paintings on telephone poles. In 2011, he turned this found-art habit into a career and never looked back. He’s since painted dozens of murals, performed at Finster Fest, and published a children’s book, Smile a While, which features his signature bear. Why does BlackCatTips have a bear logo? Who knows? “It’s strange and a little mysterious,” he considers. “Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but a lot of my stuff doesn’t make sense.”

Back at Ash Coffee, Brooks tests a new method, using pounce powder to stencil the logo on the white circle. Ashley Saunders emerges, bearing a cup of coffee for the artist. Saunders opened the cafe with her partner, Moss Mills, who owns Junkman’s Daughter in Little Five Points. She handles the coffee; Mills handles the knickknacks. Saunders wanted a mural as soon as she saw the blank wall outside. “He was my first choice,” she says of Brooks. “If we couldn’t get him, then I didn’t really want to do it.” After moving to Atlanta, Saunders fell in love with the BlackCatTips pieces she spied while running around Arabia Mountain. “It’s so colorful and eclectic,” she says. “I was so excited he said yes to this project!”

The next day, Brooks sends me a photo update: The cheerful mountains and mushrooms are nearly finished. “I’ll work on it more next week,” he writes. “Make a happy wall.”

This article appears in our February 2024 issue.