After 20 years, Julie Brunette’s paintings on her home in Anaheim continue to turn the heads of every person who passes by. Even as we sit in her garage, cars and kids slow down to catch a glimpse of over 40 different pieces that decorate her fence, porch, and garage. She’s painted everything from zoot suiters in front of their lowriders to Lucille Ball and Freddy Mercury. Locals know it simply as “The Painted House,” and no ones ever tags over her pieces. It’s become a landmark.
“When I paint, it comes from my heart.” Brunette says. “It makes me happy; it’s not to show off. It’s not to say ‘Hey, look at me, I can do this!’ It’s to make people happy…Where we come from in L.A., that’s what we do. That’s my heritage.”
In her hometowns of Wilmington and San Pedro, she learned both the importance of community and to have pride in who you are—two ideas central to the Chicano murals that later inspired her artwork. Painting always interested her, but she could never afford it growing up in the barrio, or later as a single mother raising two kids while suffering with a brain tumor that gave her seizures. She moved to her current Anaheim home after getting married in 1989, but missed the closeness of her old neighborhood. Around 1997, she came to her husband with the idea of creating comunidad by painting on their home.
“She wanted to paint right then, and I told her go ahead and do it,” Bob Brunette says. “Why not? I’ve never been against her painting. I told her to paint the whole place. Go for it!”
Without ever painting in her life, Brunette began teaching herself the art of portraits. Her first was a Michael Jackson that still stands on her fence. She didn’t know how neighbors would react, but everyone (with the exception of the local NIMBYer) has approved. Firefighters and tourists have given Brunette compliments. Kids (like myself) who grew up walking by the paintings on their way to school stop by to thank her for prettying the neighborhood. And throughout the years, everyone always kept an eye on the Brunette home to see what Julie would paint next.
Many of her pieces are in honor of celebrities she loves such as Johnny Depp, KISS, Marilyn Manson and Bob Marley. Some are for kids—Jack Skelington, Batman, Elsa from Frozen and Stone Cold Steve Austin with cobra arms. She’ll also take on deeper projects: a Star of David is painted in honor of her friend who survived the Holocaust, and a fairy holding a lily is in memory of her late mother.
The only real haters have been two drunks who smashed into the left side of her walls over the years. But Brunette saw those incidents as a fresh canvas. She’s modest about her work and will disagree with you if you call her artwork any good. She eventually got her tumor removed and painting helped in her recovery from surgery. Brunette’s just happy she could paint and considers her husband, their home and her life a blessing.
“God said to be humble.” Brunette said, “Whatever he gives you—thank him and keep on going. God was watching over me. I’m here, I’m great, I got grandchildren and God is good.”
Outside of her artwork, Brunette does her best to bring the community of the barrio to the quiet of the cul-de-sac. She’s the most familiar face in the neighborhood, and you’re likely to find her garage door open with the radio playing music as an open-door gesture. She’s gone out of her way to help her neighbors, such as when she attended a Anaheim City Council meeting to ask for help in building a handicap ramp for her neighbor’s disabled daughter. She’s also involved in efforts to keep the neighborhood safe and repeatedly goes to the city in order to create a better place to live.
“I’m going to treat this neighborhood like I did back there—fight for it.” Brunette said, “I’ll help anybody who needs it. [My mom] taught us respect, she taught us to respect the law but most of all she taught us to help people… I don’t want an ‘atta boy.’ i just want to see people happy. I care about people.”
Brunette plans on advocating for more change in her neighborhood and plans on painting exciting new pieces as she expands into 3D artwork. The only thing in her way is the occasional sickness, rain and money for art supplies. If you stumble upon this Anaheim gem, Brunette is sure to greet you with a smiling face as long as you show some respect; otherwise, you get the chancla!