Topeka native completes John Brown mural inside local bakery & art gallery

In mid September, Josey Baking Co. added a permanent installment to its bakery and art gallery.


The bakery perfectly blends with the other store fronts on the quiet street in the Westboro Mart, and when it opened in November last year, one of the owners, Joe Vawter, said he wanted an industrial feel with a cozy edge.

Now, accompanying that feel is a 15-foot-tall mural of John Brown, encompassing an entire wall in the recently expanded shop.

The mural was completed by Josh Cochran, a native Topekan who moved to Holton in 2011, but still showcases much of his work in town — especially at Josey Baking Co.

“They invited me to be a featured artist for a First Friday, and it just kind of went from there,” Cochran said. “They wanted John Brown — and not the classic picture that you see in like, the capital — but more just my style, with the bright colors.”

Cochran delivered, adding his signature “pop” to the space, with a cartoon-esque Brown wielding a cookbook and a whisk standing in front of a Kansas cornfield. The skyline behind Brown reflects a harvest sunset, dark and ominous at the top and bleeding into a multitude of sunset colors. The longer you look, the more elaborate it becomes.

Cochran made the transition from a pencil and sketch pads to acrylic paints and canvas about six years ago. In the past three years, he said, he’s begun taking his work more seriously.

“I just wanted to show my art work off and eventually just be able to do that and not have to work a normal day-time job,” he said.

Before focusing on his murals and canvas, Cochran said he also painted shoes, which he still does from time to time, but when that market became saturated he began turning elsewhere. He’s currently illustrating and writing a graphic novel, which he hopes to release next year.

He currently works as a manager full time at a steak house in Holton, and between working and juggling his family of four rambunctious boys, Cochran said he usually finds himself painting early in the morning or late at night.

“It’s definitely freeing,” Cochran said when asked what he most enjoys most about his art. “I wouldn’t consider it really abstract, and it’s not your classic landscapes. It’s more unusual, I guess you could say.”

A more detailed description is that Cochran uses bright color to accentuate the characters he sees in his mind. Often cartoonish, with bulging eyes or deformed limbs, his work appears surreal, but there’s a beauty to the bizarre.

“Usually I get a pretty positive response, they like it, but they say, ‘It’s different,’ ” Cochran said, laughing. “But they like it. And you know, to be an artist you have to display and take some of the criticism.”

Over the weekend Cochran began his biggest mural to date, along Highway 75 in Holton. The piece is about 40 feet tall and more than 50 feet long, along the new grocery store coming to town, Cecil K’s Hometown Market.

Cochran said he’ll be working on the piece over the next few weeks.

For more of Cochran’s work, visit his Facebook page at Rock Bottom Works.

Contact reporter Savanna Maue at (785) 295-5621 or @CJFoodFun or @SavannaMaue on Twitter.