If you’re starved for art and chicken sandwiches, go to Zoey’s Fried Chicken Sandwiches in south Everett.
Owner Aissa M’baye has adorned her restaurant’s red walls with a series in pastels titled “Not All Heroes Wear Capes” by artist Julius Wilson.
“He asked me if I’d be interested, and I told him I didn’t have a problem because my walls don’t have any art on them,” M’baye said. “I like his artwork.”
It’s not exactly an art exhibit. But after 73 days of quarantine, it’s close enough.
Wilson, 34, of Everett, is a self-taught illustrator, painter and sculptor. He took just one art class while a student at Highland High School in Palmdale, California. It stayed with him.
“I started doing art when I was 7,” he said. “We lived in a bad environment, so my mom kept us indoors all the time. She would give us crayons and coloring books, then she would introduce us to drawing and painting. I have a brother who at 11 was already selling his art. All of us are artists.”
He’s a jack-of-all-trades from Southern California who moved to Everett three years ago for a contract job at Aviation Technical Services. When the coronavirus hit Everett, Wilson was laid off from Jamco, where he worked as an aircraft interior technician.
Now unemployed, Wilson has had more time to work in his sketchbook. With his commission at Zoey’s, he’s launched his passion into a new career.
“I’ve always been drawing, and now that I’m out here on my own, I’m drawing more,” he said. “I’ve been told more than once, after friends see my sketches, ‘Julius, your drawing is so good’ or ‘If it were bigger, I would buy this.’ They’re my friends, so I thought they were just being nice.”
“Not All Heroes Wear Capes” is a catchphrase that gained in popularity with the COVID-19 emergency. It serves as a reminder that you don’t have to be a superhero to be heroic.
Wilson’s series — made up of three illustrations and counting — features surreal portraits of his own heroes in pastels.
“A lot of people inspired me or kept me out of trouble,” he said. “I ask myself, how would Malcolm X or Martin Luther King handle this situation? Would he speak up? Would he be quiet?
“I’ve kept those ideas in the back of my head because I didn’t have any role models. I didn’t have a dad or a brother that I wanted to be like; I didn’t have anybody like that. I had examples of men I knew I didn’t want to be like.”
He and his twin sister, Ashley, were raised by their grandmother for a time because their single mother of seven couldn’t care for all of her children. Wilson said he and his sister moved around in foster homes after that to get away from his mother and stepfather. Their mother died in 2009, followed by Ashley in 2011 and their grandmother in 2015.
“I’m an orphan,” Wilson said. “A lone wolf.”
His work is inspired by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo; Jean-Michel Basquiat, a famous graffiti artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent; and Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci.
In “Not All Heroes Wear Capes,” Wilson’s childhood heroes from TV play prominently in his work: He’s drawn Xena from TV’s “Xena: Warrior Princess” wearing a tiger head as a hood and red war paint smeared across her face. In a corner you’ll find Courage the Cowardly Dog, from the TV show of the same name, which represents the bravery Julius finds in himself. And the faces of the three Edwards from the TV show “Ed, Edd n Eddie” are hidden in some clouds.
Wilson’s idol Basquiat is shown wearing a flowery gas mask. A pair of rabbits that appear to have walked out of Alice’s Wonderland represent Julius and Ashley. He also drew former President Barack Obama with a child in a birdcage on his head, and more than one portrait of human rights activist Malcolm X with eyes that are progressively more surreal.
He also featured Sackboy from LittleBigPlanet, a game in which you help the button-eyed crochet creature save the day by performing heroic deeds.
“That’s how I’m starting to perceive the world; it’s my reality,” Wilson said. “It’s like a game about balance. When you take from one side, you have to give to the other side.”
If you look closely enough, you’ll find sociopolitical commentary on the media, isolation, technology and generational divides.
M’baye, who moved to the Everett area 10 years ago from Niger, opened Zoey’s Fried Chicken Sandwiches last year. The restaurant has fans on Facebook who say hers is the best chicken sandwich in Everett. She recommends the hot chicken sandwich, which gets its heat from cayenne peppers.
She’s a fan of Wilson’s work — and he’s a fan of hers.
“He was one of my first customers,” M’baye said. “He liked the food and he kept coming back, bringing other people.”
M’baye said customers stop on their way to the counter to pick up their orders to check out Wilson’s series. Some of them even take pictures of it.
“It’s very smart art,” she said. “It makes you think, you know? You can tell there’s a thought process behind it.”
Wilson lifted himself out of poverty, attending trade school and landing jobs in the aerospace industry.
And he is a capeless hero of Everett in his own right.
He volunteered with the South Everett Boys & Girls Club on Casino Road from 2017 to 2018. He joined the Freemasonry, the world’s oldest and largest fraternity, in 2018. In 2019, he became the ninth member of the Everett District Commission — the only commissioner to be appointed by his peers. Wilson represents the Westmont neighborhood in the process of redrawing Everett into five city council districts.
“He’s a very kind and thoughtful person,” M’baye said. “He’s selfless; he thinks about other people. I love that about him.”
If you go
Zoey’s Fried Chicken Sandwiches, 510 W. Casino Road, Suite G, Everett, is open for takeout 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 425-374-3040 or find Zoey’s Fried Chicken Sandwiches on Facebook for more information.