The ‘Bird’ has landed — Mississippi native artist leaves his mark on the school that left its mark on him

Published 4:00 pm Saturday, October 8, 2022

The phoenix rises from the ashes once again on the bridge at Mississippi School of the Arts, lifted from fantasy by another “bird,” Michael “Birdcap” Roy.

Roy is a native of South Mississippi, and one of the original graduates of MSA. The mural on the arts school’s bridge is his second contribution to his alma mater, replacing his first mural there of the phoenix, the school’s symbol.

“This one is really about resiliency. It’s been a tough couple of years for probably everybody,” Roy said. “This one is a little more colorful and a little more energetic.”

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Roy sketched up his design for MSA on Saturday, then began adding color Sunday. Wednesday afternoon, he signed his work and began touching up spots here and there — making a black line sharper, adding a bit of yellow or green, straightening an edge with the blue background.

The 35-year-old has been a professional muralist for about 12 years. When he applied to MSA, however, what he really wanted to be was a writer. The school was not able to provide a creative writing tract right away, so Roy was left with three choices — music, drama or visual arts.

“I was kind of shy, so I didn’t want to do the first two, so I chose visual arts. I had never painted anything before,” he said.

Now he gets to do it for a living.

Roy studied painting at the now-defunct Memphis College of Art, but stepped into the thriving street art scene when he moved to Seoul, South Korea. It was there that the character of “Birdcap” was born.

His website bio calls his work “a product of the south, both a love letter to the region he calls home and a challenge to its problems. Birdcap works in a style equally steeped in Saturday morning cartoons and history paintings. He creates densely colored scenes that slide between references to Jim Henson and the Crossing of the Delaware. Using a vocabulary of fantastic shapes that make a Birdcap mural identifiable across the world, the artist takes up deeply personal subjects such as grief and loss, tackles political anxieties, and traverses a contemporary landscape both absurdly beautiful and troubled.”

It takes only a moment of looking at his creations to identify with that description.

The artist said he likes the medium of spray paint for a lot of reasons.

“It’s immediate. You have to pay attention, and constantly have to be ‘with it.’ And when I first started out I became part of a graffiti community. I was really attracted to the community,” Roy said. “Gallery work is isolating, lonely, and very competitive inside a building.

“Back then we weren’t making money. We were spending our own money to paint. When there’s no money, it’s easier to have camaraderie,” he said. “It’s easy to follow your heart because it’s your passion to do what you do.”

As he got older, his style of painting became trendy, Roy said, and people began hiring him and similar artists.

“So it worked out, which is good, because you start to wonder how you’re going to pay rent.”

Now Roy travels four or five months of the year, painting in places like Denver, Cleveland, Chicago, Gainesville, his current home of Memphis, and back here in Brookhaven.

Though his style has not changed much, his reasons for painting have changed somewhat.

“I want to do more positive things,” he said. “Now I consider what kids will think of it years from now.”

Examples of his work from around the world can be seen online at or on social media @birdcap.

Roy has another mural project to tackle before heading home — this time on an exterior wall of The Rabbit Hole Brew & Infusion on Brookway Boulevard. He loves getting to do what he does, but Brookhaven — and MSA in particular — holds a special place in his heart.

Roy said he wants people who see his art to take whatever they want from it — that’s the clichéd response that he says nevertheless holds true. But he also wants something more.

“I want them to feel the way I feel about this place,” he said of MSA. “This place is transformative. It was different than all my experiences prior to getting to this place. I can’t speak lovingly enough about this school. It gave me all the core things I needed.”