Chez Andre has been at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Glebe Road for more than 20 years, but its façade now has a new look.
"The restaurant now looks French," said Christina Jones, a Chez Andre patron. "It looks like Toulouse Lautrec has reappeared in Alexandria. The colors and movement in the murals invite you in."
The Chez Andre murals are Chad Brady's latest creations. "There is a window on one side of the door and the owners wanted a window [painted] on the other side of the door," Brady said. "I took measurements and created a window that looks like a scene from a French restaurant. I had a lot of fun doing this mural because the owners were great. They let me use my imagination and do what I wanted."
BRADY STUDIED art at the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore. "I always wanted to be an artist, but I also needed to eat and pay the rent," Brady said.
To meet those needs, Brady worked as an animal warden in Alexandria. While he was working at the animal shelter, he got the opportunity to paint his first murals.
"I had always worked on canvas and on a smaller scale," Brady said. "Then I painted life-sized cats on the walls in the cat room. I love painting animals — they really are much more fun to paint than people," he said.
He liked painting murals and got his first real commercial opportunity to do so because of his breakfast habits.
"Chad is one of my regular customers," said Nora Partlow, the owner of St. Elmo's Coffee Pub on Mt. Vernon Avenue. "One day when he was in for coffee, we started talking about art and he asked if he could paint something for me. He did one of our first T-shirts and then asked if he could do some murals in our windows. We love them and so do our customers."
The St. Elmo's murals are jungle scenes. "It was really kind of funny because I would go in and paint during regular business hours," Brady said. "People came in and watched me paint, and I actually got more work from those murals."
THE ST. ELMO'S JOB led to his leaving his position with the animal shelter. He also started to work with another artist. "We worked together on several murals until I just decided to go out on my own," Brady said. He's been on his own for just over two years.
Brady begins his outdoor murals with acrylic paint that is used in homes, then uses artist acrylics on top of that. He tops it all with coats of weather-proof finish.
"Sun and other harsh weather conditions are going to have an impact on the life of the mural," Brady said. "In general, though, the mural will last as long as a regular paint job — 10 to 15 years." Brady does indoor as well as outdoor work. "I am working on offices in Old Town right now and enjoy indoor work as much as the outdoor work," he said.
He also works with children. "I just recently finished some murals with a group of high school kids in D.C.," he said. "That was a lot of fun, and I wouldn't mind doing more of it."
In the meantime, his work is on display at various locations along Mt. Vernon Avenue, including Mancini's Café, Royce Flowers, St. Elmo's, Chez Andre and, of course, in the cat room at the animal shelter.