Muralists have carte blanche in 44 Murals Project, gritty but dynamic
Property manager Pedro Phillips envisions the project as a way to connect emerging local artists to an open canvas space to help them pursue their art, while transforming an underused stretch of cool gray walls into a vibrant outdoor gallery.
Like the widely varying murals themselves, each artist differs in level of experience, style, work routine, and reason for getting involved.
Forty-four has always been Melody Thomas’ lucky number and this project offered the Fayetteville-based artist her first opportunity to create a mural. Now, after working side-by-side with other artists, swapping tips on everything from spray paint technique to drip work, she’s hooked. “I wanted to push myself to do something really big. I am beyond ecstatic that it happened like this.
Drew Borders, who has worked on murals in College Park, Atlanta University Center and Grant Park, said it was “super relaxed. They said, it’s first come, first served, just mark your spot, and you can paint anything as long as it’s not offensive.
“My style is very anime-inspired,” Borders said. “I started drawing from many shōjo (manga) drawings, so the sparkles and lines came from there. I’m drawn to the eyes because you can tell so much.
Even though her degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design is in animation, Borders said the mural was “a valuable lesson for me — it says I’m not a failure for trying something different than this for what I had gone to school. I realized that I didn’t have to do just one thing. I can experiment and if it doesn’t work, at least I’m going for it.
Like Borders, veteran muralist Cameron Moore appreciated how open the 44 Murals process was to all artists, compared to typical calls for public art, which require applicants to go through a rigorous vetting process. “They let in just about anyone who wanted to do a mural, which I thought was pretty cool,” he said.
Last fall, after the first call for artists, Moore reunited with artist 3 Kilo, who has also done recognizable work across town as The Killamari, to finally collaborate on a mural. They met in 2017 at the Cabbagetown street art festival, Forward Warrior, and discussed the possibility of joining forces, but never had the chance until 44 Murals. They did the mural all at once, from sunrise to sunset in a single day, while listening to one of 3 Kilo’s patented playlists.
As someone who works in both fine and public art, Moore appreciates how dramatically public appreciation for street art has changed in recent years. “For a long time, [it] was sort of synonymous with graffiti and vandalism, and a lot of people were trying to keep those things out,” he said. “Corn [street art] helps improve and transform the space, and I think that’s really good for the city.
Of course, this assessment comes with a caveat. While murals can enliven a city street, they can also signal gentrification. For artist Geoffrey Solomon, a Decatur native and muralist for five years, the influx of public art into the city can be a double-edged sword, especially when real estate starts to come into play.
“Unfortunately, murals are inextricably linked to property values,” he said. “It’s something I don’t particularly like. If you have a nice wall, that’s a sign that the rent is probably going up. It’s the most publicly accessible art form, but it also has the ability to gentrify a neighborhood and evict residents.
Of the 44 Murals property, he says, “I think it’s beautiful that they kept the space the way they did. It’s very gritty, it’s very dirty, it’s not chic.
However, development is on the way. Tenth Street Ventures purchased the property at 1060 Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway for approximately $20 million in December 2020. According to reports, the company plans to build up to 2,000 apartments and townhouses as well as office and retail space . Company director Brian McCarthy said his team partnered with the mural project “to bring local artists there, to spruce up the property and make it their own.” It is not yet known if any of the murals will remain once construction begins. Stay tuned.
Alexis Hauk has written and edited for numerous newspapers, alternative weeklies, trade publications and national magazines, including Time, the Atlantic, Mental Floss, Uproxx and Washingtonian magazine. Growing up in Decatur, Alexis moved back to Atlanta in 2018 after a decade living in Boston, Washington, DC, New York and Los Angeles. By day, she works in health communications. At night, she enjoys covering the arts and being Batman.
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