Alex Brewer was born in Atlanta in 1978 and grew up in a creative home with an architect and an interior designer as parents. Brewer began doing unauthorized street art in the early 1990’s at the age of 13 under the name Hense. Alex still keeps the Hense moniker today. Brewer became immersed in graffiti culture and became well-known for leaving his “Hense” tag all over the city. Brewer graduated from Grady High School, then went on to attend Virginia Commonwealth University. Brewer’s time at college was brief as the siren song of the graffiti wall drew him back to his beloved street art. In 2000 Alex got a job in the art publishing business that allowed him to experiment with different art materials and techniques.
The skills developed and honed during his unauthorized graffiti years have served Alex well in the present as a successful commissioned artist. Brewer is now known for his large-scale public site specific commissioned works. A great example in Atlanta is the West Side Cultural Arts Center. His largest installation for the ISIL Institute in Lima Peru is 40 meters (137 feet) tall and 50 meters (170 feet) wide. A small sample of Brewer’s long list of clients would include Apple, Facebook, Hilton, and The High Museum of Art.
Brewer works in different media from spray paint to wood cut-outs and metal sculpture. In a 2014 DesignBoom interview, Brewer said this about his work: “I describe my public works as contemporary public art and my paintings as contemporary painting. I’m interested in the relationships of elements, shapes and colors and how they interact with each other. Mark making is a form of expression that I like to focus on as well. I think a lot about context and where the work will be seen.” Brewer’s work ranges from powerful and hyperactive to calm and peaceful, but it is ALWAYS colorful. The ends of Brewer’s dynamic range are exemplified in Atlanta by the facade of the Westside Cultural Arts Center and the mural under the Virginia Ave. bridge. The Westside work reminds me of streamers flying through the air at a New Years Eve party as the party horns blast. Whereas Brewer’s Virginia Ave. street art reminds me of Monet’s water lilies.
Link to Alex Brewer’s website: http://hensethename.com
In June of 2019 Angie Jerez was kind enough to answer a few interview questions for the Atlanta Street Art Map:
How do your early years in Bogota, Columbia influence your artwork today?
I grew up in place that was surrounded by kitsch elements. This aesthetic wasn’t that popular at that time (as it is today) but for me it was a visual introduction to design, and I started integrating them later in life as a student, graphic designer professional and I still apply in my current work.
You were a web designer. What made you decide to pursue your own art?
The challenge, at some point my work as a designer on an agency required a lot non creative tasks, routine and I had no interest on escalating positions. I started working as a freelancer, I still do, but this transition made me find freedom to creating my own work and see what happens
You could paint whatever you want. Why do you focus on everyday things?
Not a specific reason, is just an excuse to paint, sometimes I find them charm, unique. Maybe in the future I will paint something different or find inspiration somewhere else.
Your murals are popping up all over town. What do you like about murals?
They are for display for everyone to see without restrictions, you don’t have to go to a specific place to see it. As for why I like painting murals, is because every time the experience is completely different, the wall texture, the people around, even the weather, Every mural is a whole new journey.
What message do you hope to convey through your artwork?
Some of my pieces are inspired by nature, so I’d like to get the message of taking good care of our environment, Sometimes I don’t have a specific message I want to get across with my art. I want everyone to interpret it and give it a meaning.
Please share a bit about your education, awards, and accomplishments
I studied graphic design in Bogotá, Colombia (Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano). No awards. I consider getting into the art scene on my thirties, on a new country and on my second language, a big accomplishment. 🙂
Link to Angie Jerez’s website: http://www.angiejerez.net/home/
Lisette Correa (better known to her fans as Arrrtaddict) describes herself as a muralist, apparel designer, graphic designer, branding genius, and proud member of the LGBTQ and Puerto Rican communities. In August of 2021, Arrrtaddict answered some questions for the Atlanta Street Art Map:
Please summarize the highlights of your journey from childhood in Ft. Lauderdale to present day Atlanta?
Having lived in the top major cities in the United States has impacted my career in several ways.
Ft. Lauderdale being my hometown and foundation gave me my roots into my Culture. My house was very Puerto Rican down and being raised around other Caribbean people in south Florida made me feel so represented. It was like living on a little dirty south Caribbean island. New York taught me how to hustle. It taught me “closed mouths don’t get fed” and to go after everything I want! Los Angeles made me a career driven woman while still being able to walk into that world and be me. Often the career world can make people alter their identity while in the office. Me coming into the office dressed the way I do and being exactly who I am honestly drove my career more. I broke boundaries and when it came to what I was good at, street wear and fast fashion. I was a walking billboard or portfolio proving I was embedded in the culture. Atlanta is where all my lessons where able to flourish. My art thrives here because at the end of the day my roots are in the south and my culture and wanting more for my People of color is better understood here in the way that I translate it. Also I never want to live in a city who doesn’t play Outkast or dancehall on the radio on the regular again! Lol
Who is Mr. Smiley Dude?
Mr. Smiley Dude was my first tags that got me started in street art. He was this Grimey looking smiley face with a motto of “Just Fckn Smile”. I have always admired juxtaposition. To have this grimey face making people smile is what life is to me. Sometimes it gets really hard but you really have to keep smiling and pushing to make it through. There literally is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Why did you transition from Black and White to Color?
I started practicing lucumí. In lucumí the Orishas are represented with bright colors. White is worn as protection. When doing rituals you are told not to wear black as it attracts negativity and that really resonated with me. I realized that at that time my life was very black and white down to my wardrobe and home decor. While it was fashion forward and chic it was also depressing. Adding color in my life brought joy. I learned about color therapy and applied to everything including my art. My life really changed after that.
Your recent installation on the Beltline titled “Somos Borincanos” features the Taino People, the original inhabitants of Puerto Rico and much of the Caribbean. What would you like Beltline users to take away from your artwork?
First and foremost the truth! For centuries we have been taught lies in books. I want people to understand that the Taino’s which actually means Good People were in the Carribean first. Not just in Puerto Rico but they were in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica as well. I want them to understand that Christopher Columbus didn’t find anything. It was already found and his people murdered, slaved and raped this beautiful, good tribe. Secondly I want them to understand the impact that Taino’s still have on American Culture today. Many of the words we currently use are from Taino language and culture. For example Hurakán which today is Hurricane, was a Taino Cemi known as the “god of the storm”. There are many more that will be displayed on the website that is linked to the QR code on the mural for people to learn more about Taino’s. Third I want them to know that Taino’s are not extinct ! We are still alive and through DNA testing we are all discovering our roots are here today in us as well as in our hearts. We too were taught that we didn’t exist but we are learning that we do and we are taking our power back as well as spreading our history and culture with the world. This is just the beginning! Fourth I want people to just feel the love and beauty that came from this tribe. This is how the people of Puerto Rico still are! Beautiful, Loving, Good People.
What do you like about murals?
Community is such a big part of mural painting. I am able to build with artist who assist me and see how the art is directly speaking to the local people in the area I am painting. I get to meet these people and build temporary bonds that sometimes like my community in NODA through my work for Salud Cerverceria turn permanent. Being able to be the reason people smile due to my bright colors or evoke emotions or learn history like my “Somos Borincanos” mural let’s me know I am doing the work my ancestors want me to do. I’m just trying to leave a mark that will evoke change in every community I lay a brush stroke on.
Please tell the readers a little bit about your brand work
I have created a few branding elements you can find within my work. Leopard print which is fun, wild and really represents my little revolutionary heart. Vibrant colors for healing and happiness. Plants which represent growth. Last I always illustrate POC in various vibrant colors versus our natural skin color. I do this because society focus too much on black and white versus the vibrancy of our culture. Even within communities we use colorism to divide us versus bringing us together. Through bright colors I highlight how bright we shine as people from the inside out.
Anything else you would like the readers to know?
I’m gearing up for a solo show in spring of next year. It will be my first and I’m extremely excited to share myself on a more personal level through art with Atlanta.
Link to Arrrtaddict’s website: https://www.arrrtaddict.com/
Periodically, ArtsATL publishes an article titled “Today in Street Art” written in collaboration with the Atlanta Street Art Map. Click Here to read the article from November 27, 2019 featuring Ashley Dopson (f.k.a. Ashley D. Thomas).
Link to Ashley Dopson’s website: http://www.ashleydpaints.com/
San Francisco native Austin Blue (aka Proper Blue) is one busy artist. When He’s not painting movie sets, he does fine art, murals, and curates the Stacks Squares Mural Project. In September of 2021, Austin Blue answered some questions for the Atlanta Street Art Map:
What are the highpoints on your journey through time from your early years in San Francisco
My highlights from back home all involve the people I’ve met and the lessons learned along the way. Although I’ve been an artist for most of my life, I didn’t start taking myself seriously enough to pursue a career in it until I was in Atlanta which dates to almost 11 years ago. My highlights for Atlanta would be me becoming part of the art community, meeting my now Fiancée, and joining the film union. Atlanta has a very special place in my heart.
How would you describe your artwork to someone who hasn’t seen it yet?
Thats always a tricky one, Id say contemporary geometric with vibrant colors.
I understand that you always drew, but started painting relatively recently. What attracted you to painting?
I honestly just got tired of black and white, I wanted to know more and expand. I particularly didn’t like feeling limited.
Please talk a little about your collaboration with T.I. on the SWATS house.
So T.I was the curator of the images that were to be wheatpasted over the abstract mural that I was commissioned to paint. This was a pretty big project as it was all to be done in 2 weeks. Its definitely the biggest mural project that Ive done so far as the building had about 7 sides to it varying in size. I had the privilege of meeting several artists that were featured in the mural including Katheen J. Bertrand and Ceelo Green, which was pretty dope.
How did you get involved with Stacks Squares and why is this project important?
John Dirga had reached out in search of someone that would be willing to take on such a project using the 10 squares and was directed to me. I accepted when I got that call and its been going for 4 years now with 60+ artists. To me its important because it gets artists involved in the public art realm, which can be tricky to initially get started with. I also see it as a potential source of inspiration for other aspiring creatives.
What do you like about murals?
I love the concept of paintings in large scale formats, especially in relation with architecture. Seeing a mural is what made me want to be a muralist myself. Its such a grand level of expression to me, to have your works shown on such a scale is incredible.
Bears are a recurring theme in your artwork. Why are bears significant to you?
The polar bear in my geometric style to me is a symbol of uniqueness, as I’m showing the viewer a familiar subject, in a different light. I’m big on the concept of being yourself and embracing it.
Anything else that you would like the readers to know?
I’m ambidextrous! Haha. I’m also grateful for the art scene and a big shoutout to those that have supported and voiced positivity towards Stacks Squares and even my personal journey as an artist. That support means a lot.
Link to Austin Blue’s website: https://www.austinblueart.net/
Brandon Sadler is a Gwinnett country native who now lives in East Point. Sadler also goes by the name Rising Red Lotus. The bio on Brandon’s website has a beautiful explanation of the significance of the name Rising Red Lotus as follows. “A name which also serves as a mantra telling the story of the lotus who’s roots were sown deep in the mud of good and evil, who gathered nutrients from both sides, and rose to the surface to become whole”. The process of becoming whole has significance for Brandon who grew up bi-racial in the deep south. Sadler experienced some if this “mud” as he expressed in a 2016 interview with ArtsAtl. “I wasn’t accepted by whites, and there were fights and stuff with that. I wasn’t accepted by Blacks because I was light-skinned. Later in life, I had this identity shit going on where I was realizing I could be anything because of that seesaw of ambiguity. Now it’s something I embrace.”
Sadler was immersed in art almost from birth as his mother was an art teacher. He refined his observational skills as a graffiti artist with the name Lean One. He continued his formal art education receiving a fine arts degree in painting and illustration from SCAD Atl. Brandon’s interests in martial arts and kung fu movies led him to a love and understanding of Asian culture. These Asian themes form the basis for much of Brandon’s artwork. Brandon uses multiple disciplines including visual art, calligraphy, writing and film.
Brandon’s trademark visual vocabulary includes a mashup of Chinese calligraphy and graffiti influenced by a year of living in Korea. He has created multiple alphabets of English characters constructed with Asian brushwork. Each alphabet has it own visual attributes. He selects the alphabet that best fits the essence of the mural it adorns. You can see Brandon’s murals created for Living Walls, The Atlanta Beltline, Outerspace Project, and private commissions all over Atlanta. Brandon’s work is also part of the permanent collection of Atlanta’s High Museum of Art.
Link to Brandon Sadler’s website: http://www.risingredlotus.com
Charity Hamidullah who goes by “Cake” is a multi-discipline artist who works in mediums ranging from tattoo ink to acrylics to pencil and charcoal. Charity’s creative canvases include human skin, concrete walls, and yes actual canvas. Cake was born in Rochester New York in 1989 where she attended Monroe Community College. One evening after school Hamidullah was channel surfing when she ran across a show about tattooing. This life changing moment inspired her to pursue the freedom to create and to be herself that only the arts could provide.
The tattoo business may have disadvantaged some young black women. But that wasn’t the case for Charity. Cake strove for excellence, embraced her uniqueness and turned her situation into an advantage. At age 16 Hamidullah obtained permission to begin an apprenticeship with a local tattoo shop by telling her parents that it was part of a college preparatory internship (which wasn’t exactly true). At age 19, she began the hard work of being a beginning tattoo artist at Inkaholicz Tattoo Family in Rochester. In 2011, Charity moved to Atlanta and began working at Iron Palm Tattoo, a shop with a nationally famous reputation for black tattooing. Cake doesn’t just crank out tattoos, she tries to develop a unique connection and friendship with each client as they work through the creative process together. Hamidullah’s hope is that her relationship with each client will last as long as the tattoo itself.
But there’s more to Charity than just tatooing. Cake is also a fine artist who creates work ranging from brightly colored abstracts to insightful studies of black women. But wait… there’s more. Hamidullah is also one of Atlanta’s top muralists. Her murals were featured by Elevate Atlanta and Forward Warrior. Charity has also been spotlighted as a Black woman tattoo artist by Sprite P.O.U.R. (purveyors of urban reality), in a MIC Dispatch article, and in a VoyageATL article. In the VoyageATL article she said: “I am a creative who specializes in tattooing, visual arts, and mural art; but I don’t want to place myself in a box. One day, I could wake up and decide to be a chef, writer, spiritual advisor or clothing designer. Who knows.”
Link to Charity Hamidullah’s Website: http://charityhamidullah.com
Charmaine Minniefield is an Atlanta visual artist. Charmaine’s journey has taken her from her devout Pentecostal beginnings, back through time and across an ocean connecting her with her African heritage and returning her to present day Atlanta to share those connections with all of us.
Charmaine works in different media from acrylic on canvas to mixed media to public murals. Minniefield is inspired by African and African-American traditions and by the women who served as role models in her life such as her grandmothers. Minniefield’s work celebrates the female angels, deities, mothers and warriors of African traditions. Through her feminist perspective she strive to inspire her fellow Atlantans as an artist and activist for social justice and women’s rights. Minniefield wants to make sure that the black aesthetic is seen and that the black voice is heard. Here are a couple of quotes from Charmaine that give us some insight into her artwork: “My work invokes the power of ancestors by creating visual road maps from the past to the present paved by the history and stories of my ancestors”. “History exists beyond the textbooks, but in the African American culture it exists in the shrines of our actual family archives.”
In 2016 Charmaine was one of three artists chosen to paint murals commissioned by the Baha’i Community Center on Edgewood Avenue in the heart of the MLK historic district. This commission was sponsored by the “Not a Crime” social justice project which uses street art to shine a light on modern-day apartheid. Along with Joe “King Atl” Dreher and Fabian Williams, Charmaine painted the centerpiece of a trio of murals all with an education theme. For her mural Charmaine collaborated with civil rights photographer Dr. Doris Derby. The selected image was a 1969 photograph taken by Dr. Derby of people from the all black town of Mound Bayou, MS where the residents took it upon themselves to ensure their children’s education. Minniefield’s hope is that the citizens of Mound Bayou would serve as role models to those struggling with inequality and as a reminder of the importance of diversity and inclusion.
In 2018 Charmaine was sponsored by DoSomething.org to paint a mural of Adrienne McNeil Herndon who was an actor, professor, activist, supporter of black suffrage and the first woman of color faculty at the Atlanta University Center serving alongside W. E. B. Du Bois. Located on the Westside Beltline trail, the mural calls attention to Herndon as an example of the numerous African-American leaders who have been underrepresented or even erased from our history books.
Minniefield received her degree in fine art from Agnes Scott College. Charmaine served as an arts administrator for organizations such as The National Black Arts Festival, The High Museum of Art, The Fulton County Arts Council, Arts Station in Stone Mountain and The Soapstone Center for the Arts. Charmaine has also worked with Hands on Atlanta and the Marting Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change . She is currently a faculty member at both Spelman College and Freedom University .
Link to Charmaine Minniefield’s Website: http://charmaineminniefield.wixsite.com/ritual
Cherry Virginia is a world-wide traveling artist based in Atlanta. Her artwork has been featured by Artoberfest and by Art on the Atlanta Beltline. In March of 2021, the Atlanta Street Art Map asked Cherry a few questions:
I’ve seen you called Cherry Virginia, Mikhaela Cherry, and Cherry Chandra. What do you prefer to be called and where did all the different names come from?
I got this question multiple times and I’m glad you asked. Mikhaela is actually my confirmed name my full name is Cherry Virginia Chandra. Back in 2012, I thought it would be cool to use my confirmed name with my real one, hence the @mikhaelacherry account. The account got pretty popular at some point and thought it’d be too late for me to change it. So you can call me Cherry, but I usually display my artwork as Mikhaela Cherry.
How do your formative years in Indonesia and traditional Indonesian artwork influence your work today?
Interestingly enough, I actually found my style when I was traveling in London. I took a 4 day course and how to draw basic paintings such as portraits, perspective, animals, etc. By the time I got home to Indonesia, I started experimenting with different pattern that was inspired from Indonesian traditional fabric called “Batik.” I usually call it zentangle but a lot of my Indonesian friends notice it as a “Batik” pattern influence.
When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
I feel like I’ve always wanted to be an artist since I was 5 years old. I used to paint my kitchen wall with crayons and got scolded pretty bad by my parents. For some reason when it’s time for me to go to college, I thought having a major in business would help me get a better job perspective. So I took fashion marketing and work as a graphic designer for a while. Not long after that I quit my job. If only I could tell my younger self that I’d get paid painting walls now, its be hilarious.
How did you get your start painting murals?
After I quit my job as an in-house graphic designer, I decided to start traveling around the world. When I was backpacking throughout south east asia, I offered one of the hostels I was staying if they want to exchange a mural with free stays. They looked at my artwork on Instagram and said yes! Since then, I start painting for a lot of hostels in exchange for food and free stays. The experience helped me build my portfolio on my website and Instagram. After I came back from my trip, I started to get a lot of clients from Instagram and word of mouth, so I started charging them. So it’s kind of like a bootstrap from what I thought was a hobby.
You have lived and worked all over the world. How did you end up in Atlanta?
After a few years working with the traditional mediums, I feel there’s a lack of my skill in terms of digital. I thought to take small courses here and there, but I decided to might as well get a degree while learning the digital medium. SCAD was my first choice because of its amazing illustration department and that’s how I ended up here.
I understand that you specialize in Zentangle art. Can you say a little bit about Zentangle?
I see Zentangle as a way to keep you feeling “Zen” or calm. Because that’s exactly the feeling I get whenever I started my big zentangle painting. I just have the feeling of ease and relax when I worked on the detailed pattern. It is actually knowns as self-help art therapy practice to enhance relaxation and focus.
Whales are a recurring theme in your work. What special magic do whales hold for you?
When I was a little girl, I used to have a recurring dream where I would be in the darkest ocean swimming with a blue whale next to me. The dream will come to me every few days to the point where I had to tell my mom. Being raised Chinese-Indonesian, my mom told me that our culture believe if you dream about fishes, it means you’re going to receive good luck or fortune. Coincidentally, a few years later when I drew my first mural, which happened to be a whale, it was the first mural that I get paid for. A lot of my clients actually commissioned me to draw whales because of that first mural and it has become my signature voluntarily.
Anything else that you would like the readers to know?
I am currently open to work this summer! and you guys can follow my work at @mikhaelacherry on Instagram 🙂
Link to Cherry Virginia’s website: https://mikhaelacherry.com/
Georgia native Chris Veal was born in Millidgeville. Better employment opportunities drew Chris to Atlanta’s Old 4th Ward in 1999. Veal has always loved art. He started out doing graffiti, advanced to commissioned work and then studied graphic design at American InterContinental University. Chris is comfortable with several art media but his favorite medium is spray paint. When CommonCreativ ATL asked Chris to describe his style in a 2016 interview, here was his response. “I can’t [laughs]. It changes from piece to piece. One day it’s graffiti, the next it’s portraits, the week after might be something completely different. I really just enjoy trying new things. Sticking 100 percent to one style always sounded boring to me. This has been a downfall for me though, because I meet people all the time that never put together that the same guy who painted the birds at the Highland Bakery is the guy who’s painting Ninja Turtles in Little Five [Points]”.
One of Chris’ best known works was located on the former Marco’s Pita facing Ponce De Leon Ave. This retro pop art inspired mini mural was a commentary on the changes that the Old 4th Ward has seen in recent years. The former lower middle class neighborhood has seen an influx of more affluent gentrifiers who turn up their noses at things that have been integral to the fabric of the neighborhood for years such as the day laborers in the Home Depot parking lot. This clever piece of spray art caused quite the social media buzz. It also caught the eye of Creative Loafing Magazine. Chris earned the following two highly coveted CL Best of awards: “Best Mural” and “Best Critique of the Urban Bourgeois”. Unfortunately all street art has a limited life span and alas this insightful mural is no longer with us.
Link to Chris Veal’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/caveal/
Courtney Hicks is a member of the Lotus Eaters Club Creative Collective. If you’ve ever walked the Eastside Beltline you have probably seen Courtney’s work under the Freedom Parkway bridge. Here is an interview that Courtney gave to the Atlanta Street Art Map in June 2019:
You could have been anything, why did you become an artist?
I’ve always loved to draw, which I’m sure is the answer you get from most artists! When I was younger, I never expected to make art into a career, because I’d already been incepted with the idea that an artist could never make a living off of art alone. For a while, I was considering ‘splitting the difference’ and becoming an art teacher, so that I could still work in art, while also earning a more stable income. But, at the end of the day, drawing was what I was passionate about, not teaching. So, I took the leap and went to art school, hoping that I could find a way to keep doing what I loved most, while still making a living. It’s worked out well, so far!
Philadelphia has a reputation as one of the best cities in the US for street art. How did your early years in Philly influence your street art today?
Honestly, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that street art was not on my radar for most of my time living in Philadelphia. I saw graffiti everywhere and thought it was fun, but I never invested much thought in it or planned to do any myself. I was mostly focussed on “fine art” (The Philadelphia Museum of art being one of the most AMAZING museums you can find). I never imagined I would eventually find myself in the street-art scene, but once my eyes were opened to it, I see Atlanta and Philadelphia in a totally new light.
How did you end up as an artist for the Archer animated series?
Well, in my last year of college, I finally watched Archer on Netflix. It absolutely blew my mind, and I was all over the internet singing its praises! While doing that, I was informed that Floyd County was accepting portfolio submissions, and I was lucky enough to be given a shot!
What are your favorite artistic media?
My favorite media changes almost constantly. If you had asked me a year ago, I would have told you Prismacolor markers on illustration board (which I still love), but now I’ve gotten into flat acrylic on wood panel. I think my change in mediums and style has been greatly influenced by my time with the Lotus Eaters Club and being surrounded by so many different talented artists. Who knows, next year I could be in love with an entirely different process! But I think that kind of growth and evolution really helps to round people out as artists and keeps them searching for new outlets of creativity.
Is there a particular message that you try to convey through your artwork?
Most of my work is just me wanting to see an idea in physical form. I do think about the audience, but the majority of my energy is simply creating an idea that’s in my head so that ‘message’ tends to vary greatly. A lot of my earlier art is simply fantasy, so there’s some interpretation room for the audience to create a story around a character. Recently, I’ve been painting badass women characters, which is probably a reaction to the struggles women have been coming up against, brought more to the forefront in recent days. So drawing strong women has become somewhat of a self-comfort, as well as an encouragement to others, that we’re gonna hang tough together.
What is your approach to street art, your approach to animation art, and your approach to fantasy art? How are they different?
As far as animation art, that’s mainly my day job. I don’t animate outside of the office, so my approach is basically to follow the rules set before me so that I can help out the team. As far as street art and fantasy art, my approach is largely the same. I think of something that interests me, personally, and then work it for an audience to enjoy. I’d say my fantasy art is probably more of a personal journey, to create something that entertains me, foremost. When it comes to street art the audience is more important. Taking into account the area, the wall, the viewer, all affect what I paint.
The fox seems to be a recurring theme in your art. What does the fox mean to you?
I love foxes, they’re such cool animals. I think my first love for them came from all of the childhood fairytales. They were always clever and sneaky, and always had a kind of other-worldly essence about them. So, when I started to draw fantasy art, it made sense that foxes would make an appearance. Other than that, they’re simply fun to draw!
Tell us about your FoxySwine comic strip.
FoxySwine is a comic that I make with my fiance, Chris Alvarez (@thepitoto). He’s always loved pigs, and while we were dating he actually drew a pig a day for a whole year. I love foxes and drew them all the time. We both have fond memories of reading Sunday Comics as children, so we decided to make one of our own! It made sense that his character would be a pig (Swine) and mine a fox (Foxy), and the comic is basically an accurate summation of the silly situations we find ourselves in. It’s been a really fun project for us to work on together!
Tell us about your education, accomplishments, awards, etc.
I went to Tyler School of Art, in Philadelphia. And have won a few Emmys for my illustration work on Archer
Link to Courtney Hicks’ website: http://www.courtneyhicksillustration.com//
Dax Rudnak or Dr. Dax, is one of the most prolific Atlanta muralists. He was born in Cleveland, OH, lived in Florida as a child, then moved to Atlanta in 1985. Inspired by seeing graffiti by other artists while riding the MARTA train as a kid, Dr. Dax started painting as a young graffiti artist developing his now iconic bubble lettering style. In a 2018 CommonCreativ interview, he talked about his early graffiti days: “My style developed from years of painting my name over and over many thousands of times in dark, seedy places without permission. There’s no better way to develop, now looking back. Kind of like picking up on learning a foreign language when you’re a child compared to trying to learn it as an adult. It’s second nature, like speaking my first language.”
A self-taught artist, Dr. Dax will paint anything from canvas, to walls, to cars, to trains. His work varies greatly from subtle patterns, to whimsical animals, to flashy and audacious graffiti tags, and often contains his bright bubble lettering. In some pieces he paints subjects while in other places he writes only his name. He aims to leave the viewer with a sense of inspiration. In another interview with Atlanta.net when asked if he could paint anything what would it be he says, “I’d paint the whole outside of the High Museum. I’d paint subliminal messages of love in one continuous, hypnotizing abstract portal pattern.”
Dr. Dax was a founding member of The Dungeon Family, a group of hip-hop artists containing names like Big Boi, Andre 3000, Ceelo Green, Sleepy Brown, and others. Dr. Dax’s experience with The Dungeon Family allowed him to expand his artistic horizons well beyond painting. Dr. Dax also makes music, acts in films, and makes music videos.
Link to Dr Dax’s website: https://www.instagram.com/dr.dax/?hl=en
In June of 2022 Drew Borders graciously agreed to answer a few interview questions for the Atlanta Street Art Map:
Can you please say a few words about your formative years and how they influence your work today?
Race had a lot to do with the evolution of my work. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, I also went to predominantly white schools for my entire education. I talked about race with my family all the time, it was a regular dinner table discussion. It was strange for me to go to school and realise that most of my friends or classmates avoided the subject, yet I still had to pretend as if the daily microaggressions, prejudice, and general ignorance didn’t bother me. I fell in love with drawing very early on, it was a good escape for me and it also gave people something to associate me with other than my skin color. It wasn’t until my teenage years that I started making more of a statement with my work. I stopped thinking about what made my white classmates comfortable and started making work that was important to my identity and background. As I got older, my friend group diversified and my voice became louder.
What drew you to animation?
I watched animation all the time with my siblings when we were little. Everyday after school, we’d finish out homework and then draw for hours while we watched cartoons. Animation was like an escape. These characters lived in fantasy worlds and did whatever they wanted. That kind of freedom was unknown to me. Even though I had never animated anything before, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do once I went to College.
What led you to add muralism to your skillset?
It was actually a family member. One of my Aunts asked me if I’d paint orchids in her bathroom. At the time, I’d just graduated College a few months prior right at the start of the pandemic. I was frustrated because it was hard to find work in my field because barely anyone was hiring. I thought that if I started accepting jobs that didn’t fit my degree perfectly, then it was all just a huge waste of time and money. I thought it made me a failure. I accepted her job anyway and ended up really enjoying the process. After that, I became more open minded to new opportunities that came my way.
Is your approach to murals different than your approach to animation and illustration?
For murals, I end up thinking and planning them in a logistical sense instead of just what looks cool. For animation and illustration, all I have to worry about are my fundamental principles. But with murals, there are so many variables that affect a job. I’m often pushing my body to its physical limits with murals while still having to think critically about the overall design. So for that reason, I try to make the execution as easy as possible. Murals are always a learning experience though and that’s why I like them.
Your Inferno mural at Stacks Squares is very dramatic. Is there a story behind it?
The piece is less about a story and more about a feeling that it evokes. The woman in the piece gives off a strong sense of power but still wears a solemn expression on her face, like she knows there’s more work to be done. The interpretation is pretty much left up to the audience. For me, it’s a brooding reminder of my own ambition as well as other women of color as we attempt to make our mark in a world full of adversity.
It’s my understanding that your mural at the 44 Murals project was influenced by Anime. Can you say a few words about your connection to anime?
Most of the cartoons that I watched growing up with my siblings were anime. I was immediately drawn to the drama and exciting story lines. It was actually my greatest influence when it came to drawing. My siblings and I had plenty of “Shoujo” drawing books that taught you how to draw anime characters. I loved the big sparkly eyes, long flowing hair, and funky outfits they wore. A lot of that has leaked into my work today.
The Fates is a tale out of Greek Mythology. Why was it important to represent the fates as Black women in your recent BeltLine Mural?
I think that when you often see work about Black women or Black people in general, it’s typically about the “beauty in the struggle.” But I don’t like that. I feel like only focusing on the pain and trauma that we and our ancestors experienced normalises it too much in our society today. It’s almost like we are expected to struggle and that there’s something “heroic” about it instead of it being a commentary about the flaws in our society. This bridge mural was specifically about putting power and control in the hands of a marginalized group of people.
Is there anything else you would like to say to the users of the Atlanta Street Art Map?
I’m understanding more and more that life is so unpredictable. If I hadn’t struggled to find work after graduating, I probably would’ve never turned to murals as another alternative. I probably wouldn’t have made the same friends that I’ve made today in this community. I would have missed out on so many opportunities. So take a leap of faith! You never know where it will lead you.Link to Drew Borders’ website: https://drewborders.com/about2
In May of 2021 Elaine Stephenson (a.k.a. Artsy Elaine) was kind enough to answer a few interview questions for the Atlanta Street Art Map:
When did you know that you wanted to be an artist ?
I grew up wanting to be an artist from an early age, but it always seemed like an impossible dream. So I used my artistic interests to major in graphic design to become a designer. I have really enjoyed design as a career path, but there was something always missing from my roles. In the last few years I dipped back into art again and got my first taste of public art which reignited a passion for becoming a full-time artist.
How would you describe your work to a reader who is learning about you for the first time?
I create bright and colorful art with positive messages to uplift and inspire. Flowers and typography play a big role in my work, but I’m also inspired by geometry, nature, and abstraction. This allows for a variety in subject matter, but what my styles have in common are bright colors, delicate details, and a positive message. I am also passionate about using my artistic voice to express my point of view on important topics like equality and social justice.
I briefly met you painting your first power box near Ponce City Market in 2018. Was that a pivotal time in your career?
Yes, it was! That project came at a time in my life where I really needed to be inspired and have a chance to use my artistic skills. That was my first ever ‘mural’ and public art project. Going through the process and seeing the result gave me the desire to continue to do more public art projects and power boxes, and those ultimately led to me wanting to pursue being a full-time artist. That project was a game changer!
Flowers and Typography are two very different things. What inspired you to bring them together?
Being trained as a graphic designer I got to learn about typography which led to learning hand lettering and calligraphy. I loved exploring type as imagery itself. However, I wanted to create more than just letters, so I noticed what I was drawn to doing was lettering a phrase and embellishing it with beautiful florals like I did for my first power box. Adding flowers enables me to pair organic shapes against more rigid typography and use different skill sets. I also like to learn about flower symbolism and choose flowers to add to the type that help support the message I’m trying to convey.
Your work is always colorful. How do you choose your colors
I always prefer to choose bright, cheerful colors when possible. Part of it may come from creating my designs digitally first, so bright colors make the most impact on the screen. Ultimately I want my artwork to feel positive and uplifting, so colorful murals help achieve that. I would say it also depends on the location and if the mural is for a client. If the goal of the mural is to make a space feel calm, then I would likely choose more calming and subdued colors. I also enjoy working with different color palettes my clients have, which keeps my work evolving.
Your murals are often described as positive and uplifting. What does it take to make a mural positive and uplifting?
I think it comes down to how it makes you feel. If you picture yourself coming across that mural unexpectedly, would it brighten your day? Would you have a nice moment looking at it? I think the subject matter and colors play the most important roles. That’s why I like to use phrases or words that are encouraging and helpful. Usually the messages are things I myself need to hear or be reminded of, so I know they will likely resonate with others too. Most people also enjoy flowers, so that’s an easy way to beautify a wall and make it cheerful, by connecting us more to nature. I see my purpose as an artist to make the world more beautiful and inspire others.
Why do you focus your branding work on female owned businesses?
Since I’m trained as a graphic designer, I am still very passionate about design. One aspect of design I’ve always loved is branding. I particularly want to partner with female owned businesses for a couple of reasons. I enjoy working with solo entrepreneurs, because I feel like I can really see my direct impact on their business and thus on their lives. I am helping another woman achieve their dream of owning their own business, just as by hiring me they are helping me achieve mine. So it’s women supporting each other by investing in one another. I also enjoy creating brands that have more of a feminine style or nature about them, so naturally that fits with many female owned brands, although part of my process does identify the style that is right for their audience.
Is there anything else that you would like the readers to know?
I’m really excited to be entering into a new phase of my career with a focus on murals. I’m looking to make more artistic connections and collaborate with other artists. I also am hoping to continue doing even bigger murals and participate in some art festivals. My biggest work so far is the 4,700 sq. ft. bridge underpass in the West End on White St. that was completed last November.
November 14, 2021 – Eric L. Chisolm is a mixed-media artist, muralist, designer, art activist, master cosmetologist, and urban development specialist working to uplift underserved communities through art.
As a child growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Erica was influenced by her mom and aunt who were both in the beauty industry. She learned many life lessons as she spent time in the beauty shop as she matured. Chisolm became interested in art early in life. At four, she was winning prizes in coloring contests. At five she started art classes. At six she looked at her mother’s art portfolio and wanted to create her own artwork. Growing up in a mostly white neighborhood, attending a mostly white school, Erica emerged with more questions than answers. One example of the artist’s search for answers came in fourth grade when she was assigned to make a square for an Alabama History quilt and she chose the KKK as the subject of her square.
Erica moved to Atlanta in 2008 where she attended Southwest Dekalb High School in Decatur. After graduation, Chisolm became a Master Cosmetologist at Aveda Academy in Atlanta. Then, on a HOPE scholarship, Erica graduated Magna Cum Laude from Georgia State with a Sociology Degree in Urban Development with a minor in painting. She initially worked as a cosmetologist, but it wasn’t a passion for her. However, the job allowed her to meet people from all over the world. When Erica did a facial for one of Trayvon Martin’s lawyers, Chisolm became inspired to explore other ways to use her artistic and urban development skills to reach out to society. She now splits her time between her role as an artist and muralist in Atlanta and her role as a Community Placemaking Specialist with Urban Impact Birmingham, a non-profit organization bringing public art to Birmingham.
Chisolm’s Atlanta studio is in her home garage. Here’s how her website describes her fine artwork: “E L Chisolm uses acrylic paint, twine, decorative paper, and other textural elements on wood surfaces to represent the beauty and imperfections of growing and becoming a Black Woman.” Erica has recently been selected to paint murals in several high-profile locations around Atlanta including a mural sponsored by Tila Studios on the prestigious Sound Table wall on Edgewood Avenue and a mural sponsored by Art on the Atlanta Beltline on the Westside trail. Her murals in Birmingham activate public art spaces in impoverished neighborhoods. The artist also has a line of custom hand-made clothing.
Erica lives by the motto: “keep moving your feet because no one ever went anywhere by standing in the same place.” Despite adversities including near-death experiences, homelessness, and verbally abusive relationships, Chisolm has successfully fulfilled her motto, emerging triumphant devoting her talents to the service of others. In a 2019 interview with VoyageATL, the Erica said the following: “We are all created, which means we are all creators, and if you take away someone’s right to create, you create chaos. This chaos can be seen in neighborhoods around America. When you take away someone’s right to create you also take away their identity. My dream is to go home to Birmingham, AL and paint the city. I would like to help the people see the identity and the strength in their community. Atlanta has inspired me.”
Link to Erica Chisolm’s Website: https://elcreative.co/
The following bio was taken from the artist’s website with the artist’s permission: Fabian “Occasional Superstar” Williams is an Atlanta-based visual and performance artist best known for his fluorescent, symbolism-filled mural work depicting black cultural and civil rights leaders in modern and futuristic contexts. Williams is also known for his work depicting the seemingly state-sanctioned violence perpetrated against black men.
Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Williams studied fine art at East Carolina University. After working for 13 years in the advertising industry with a long list of clients from Nike, Warner Bros to HBO, he decided to move to a purely expressive practice, where he had the freedom to express more political and socially relevant contemporary themes.
Assessing and updating the Black Arts Movement’s centering of a racialized aesthetic, Williams’ vibrant and sometimes neony illuminated art interrogates both the liberatory and oppressive forces at play in black American life. In his entire body of work, Williams employs a broad scope of source material from commercial illustration, classic portraiture, and hip-hop iconography, to confront issues of race and the larger public’s oft uninterrogated consumption of black cultural icons and products. Williams’ early realist paintings were of the men who he played pick-up ball with on Venice Beach, California during his stint in marketing and design.
Through his formal education, Williams cultivated an interest in realism, particularly the work of Italian painter, Carvaggio. He also is stylistically inspired by the naturalistic works of Norman Rockwell. His series Rockingwell, an homage to Rockwell, re-imagines Rockwell’s depictions of America through a racial and pop-culturally informed lens. In much of his work, Williams often idealizes the seemingly ordinariness of black life and situates hip hop icons and everyday citizens alike in sometimes idyllic and sometimes imperfect postures.
Fabian’s works have been featured at Art Basel, on CNN, Headline News, Great Big Story, in The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Playboy Magazine, The Atlanta Journal Constitution and a host of other media outlets.
Link to Fabian Williams’ website: http://occasionalsuperstar.com
Connecticut Native Gregory Michael Menching (better known as Greg Mike) became fascinated by graffiti during trips to nearby New York City as a child. Greg began experimenting with graffiti in the streets at age 12. He incorporated the cartoon images from the golden age of animation that he grew up with. As an adult Greg transitioned into a gallery and mural artist and became a central pillar of the Atlanta art scene. As a teenager the colors, linework and surrealism typically found in graffiti and street art along with imagery from classic cartoons inspired Greg. Today, they are still the sources of inspiration for Greg’s adult murals and canvas work. In a 2011 article in Jezebel, Greg stated: “I’m drawn to creating something that couldn’t exist in real life.” Greg attended Florida State and frequently visited Atlanta during his college years. Fortunately for Atlanta, Greg chose Atlanta as his home.
Greg is well-known for his iconic Larry Loudmouf character seen all over Atlanta and all around the world. Larry Loudmouf born out of a near death experience Greg had in college is a reminder that life is short and precious. Greg created a line of clothing called Carpe Denim. He is also the founder of the ABV Gallery and Agency providing services ranging from branding to web design to product packaging. ABV gallery is also a contemporary art exhibition space hosting internationally acclaimed artists. Greg’s ABV Gallery is a cosponsor of the Outer Space Project, an annual Atlanta event featuring live art competitions, pop-up art galleries, extreme sports demonstrations, and live music. The Outer Space Project adds more than a dozen brand new murals to Atlanta’s collection of public art each year. A goal of the Outer Space Project is to expand the reach of Atlanta’s street art from a just a few neighborhoods to all of Atlanta.
Link to Greg Mike’s website: http://www.gregmike.com
Link to Outer Space Project website: http://www.outerspaceproject.comTop
Atlanta native Helen Choi is an illustrator and muralist interested in understanding human nature. Her work is inspired by visual arts and life science. Choi defines success not by material achievements nor by distinct finish-lines, but rather as a state of mind, as an ever-changing journey of self-improvement and as a process of making the world a better place filled with joy. Her work reflects the traditional underpinnings of painting with an added layer of modern technology and graphic design. The artist’s subjects include portraits, and subject matter found in the natural world. Many of Helen’s recent murals feature floral patterns with digitally enhanced petals having the appearance of torn paper.
Choi’s journey to become an artist was challenging. As a child, Helen had a love for drawing and painting that continued through high school. However, in deference to her parents, she studied nursing for two years. After being diagnosed with anxiety disorder and depression, she returned to the art that she really loved doing, eventually leaving nursing school. Helen was at a loss for how to turn her love for art into a career and took two years off to travel, to create art, and to save up some money.
Finally, she was ready to enroll in the Savanah College of Art and Design where she earned a B.F.A in Illustration. While working in a coffee shop, she met and was taken in by one of Atlanta’s premiere artist’s collectives, the Lotus Eaters Club. In January of 2020, an invitation to paint a mural with Lotus Eaters Club at the Bakery gave Choi a chance to apply her academic studies and she has been painting murals ever since. In a March 26, 2020 article in ArtsATL, Choi described her association with the Lotus Eaters as follows: “I’ve never met a group of people that I have clicked so well with, and that feel like family.” Helen Choi has been a featured artist for Outer Space Project, Stacks Squares, Forward Warrior, ABV Gallery’s Drink and Doodle, ABV Gallery’s 6×6 show, and the Coca-Cola Mural Project.
Link to Helen Choi’s website: https://www.helenchoi.art/Top
Janice Rago’s website says the following: “She focuses on feminine beauty while exploring new mediums and techniques to bring her work to life.” Rago is regularly featured at the Forward Warrior Mural Festival, and her commissioned work can be seen all over Atlanta. In November 2021 the artist answered a few questions for The Atlanta Street Art Map.
Do you have any childhood memories from your birthplace of Hawaii or from your years as an Air Force brat that influence you today?
Most of my memories are of traveling – my parents loved to travel so I was able to see so many beautiful countries and cultures early on.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I’ve always had a love of art. I’ve been drawn to it ever since I can remember. My mom is creative so I definitely get it from her side.
What were the highlights of your journey from Valdosta, GA to Austin TX, to Atlanta?
I’ve met some amazing people in Valdosta,GA. I moved there from England mid high school so it was definitely a bit of a culture shock but I adapted pretty quickly. Going to VSU was probably the highlight of Valdosta – I loved their art program. Austin was amazing but coming to Atlanta back in 2012 was the best move I made. The art scene here is much larger and more diverse. The art friends I’ve made here are hard working, supportive, and incredible artists that I’m grateful I have in my life.
What brought you to Atlanta and what keeps you here?
I wanted a change of pace and to check out another fun city – It also brought me back closer to family who still lived in South GA at the time. Also going to college in south GA I have a lot of friends from college that live in Atlanta.
How would you describe your art in words to someone who has never seen your work?
I’m a process oriented artist. I love to experiment and try new things. My work consists of fun colors, female figures, florals, and patterns. I enjoy being detailed but also love being loose and gestural in my work.
Your work often features the female form or geometric patterns. How do you integrate this apparent dichotomy?
I like to integrate it with colors, mark making, and just being weird and unusual with it… more in a way that’s appealing to the eye haha. (or my eye I should say).
Diamond shapes are a recurring theme in your work. What does the diamond shape represent for you?
It’s a style I like to bring back here and there in my work. It symbolizes being controlled yet letting loose in how I would splatter the paint inside them.. I called the series controlled chaos.
How is your approach to mural art different from or similar to your approach to studio art?
I try to bring certain elements of my studio work into my mural work when I can. A lot of the time with murals you cater to the clients wants while still incorporating your style into it. I enjoy the challenge murals bring with painting large scale- There’s something so rewarding about it. With my studio work I enjoy getting messy and using a lot of mixed media – I’m definitely more experimental.
In these difficult times (police brutality, covid-19, political division, etc.) do you view your art as a vehicle for advocacy?
I’m not one to really get into politics so I don’t think my work is a vehicle for it really. I like my work to invoke emotion – for the viewer to connect to it in their own way.
Anything else you would like to tell us?
I have a solo art exhibition coming up Friday, December 10th called ‘Alchemy’ at Freemarket Gallery on the westside! I’m proud of this body of work – it’s a culmination of my styles over the years, mixing some older styles in with the new 🙂 Please swing by!
Link to Janice Rago’s Website: https://www.janiceragoart.com/
If I were to summarize New Jersey native Joe Dreher in one phrase, I would call him a people person. Here is a quote from Joe’s website: “I consider myself a social artist. My work is mainly described as installation art. I use a number of tools and mediums to create my work including photography, murals, street art, wheatpaste, painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry to name a few. People are my primary interest and it is my appreciation for people that informs so much of my creative work…”. Dreher received his alternative moniker “JoeKingATL” when fellow artist Louis Lambert repeatedly told him “you’re the best, you’re the king”. The “king” nickname stuck and the added “ATL” of course refers to the city Joe loves: Atlanta.
As a child, Dreher was creative and interested in art, but his practical-minded engineer dad steered him towards a more traditional career. Joe spent time in the air force as a graphic designer (in the pre-computer days). Then when faced with a choice between an architectural engineering program at Drexel University in Philadelphia or a more creative program at SCAD in Savanah, Dreher chose the more creative path. He worked in the architecture field for 20 years holding positions from designer up to owning his own architectural firm working on projects ranging from single family houses to Olympic stadiums. Joe had to shut down his business in 2008 because of the Global Financial Crisis.
This shuttering of his architectural firm triggered a dark period in the artist’s life where Joe became depressed and physically present, but emotionally distant from his family. In 2013 as a way of rebuilding Dreher’s strained relationship with his 14-year-old son Alex, Alex’s teacher suggested that the father and son should volunteer together assisting muralists for Living walls. Volunteering with Living Walls and with other arts organizations proved therapeutic and transformative for both Joe and Alex. Meeting and working with artists through Joe’s volunteer work rekindled his interest in art at age 45.
During this time Dreher was an avid photographer. Joe understood that small gestures have big impacts on people. As a photographer, he would take pictures of anybody and everybody. Joe always tried to have authentic interactions with his photography subjects and felt enriched by these interactions. In 2014 Joe and Alex (then 16) had the opportunity to paint a mural together in Cabbagetown. When searching for a subject to paint, the lightbulb went off to paint one of Dreher’s photographs. He chose a photo of a down on his luck gas station clerk named Brian. This iconic “guy in the Atlanta hat” mural created with $20 of materials began Joe’s prolific new career as a muralist, and artist, and he hasn’t stopped since. And by the way the mural also had an enormous positive impact on Brian’s life.
Mostly self-taught, the artist has murals all over the city and each mural tells a story. Sometimes the message jumps out at you such as the “I am a vote” mural on Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. Sometimes the narrative is cleverly hidden for example the portrait of Mary Phagan concealed among the flowers in Joe’s mural on Georgia Ave in Summerhill. But the story is always there. Joe’s honors and credentials include a Master of Architecture Degree from the Savanah College of Art and Design (Cum Laude), the Outstanding Achievement in Architecture Award, AIA Design Award, the Commitment to Sustainability Award and a LEED certification.
Link to Joe Dreher’s website: http://joekingatl.com
Rod Ben (aka Killamari) is a member of the Lotus Eaters Club artist collective and the recipient of the 2019 Laura Patricia Calle Grant from Living Walls. In March of 2021, Killamari was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Atlanta Street Art Map.
Every superhero has an origin story. Tell us yours.
My mother was a refugee from Vietnam, and my father was a soldier from Cambodia who was training in Columbus, Georgia when the Khmer Rouge took over the capital in Cambodia, and he got stuck here. They met, fell in love, and moved to Atlanta. My pops worked at a gas station near the Varsity and went to Georgia Tech. My mom worked at a rug factory and Salvation Army to help pay for my father’s tuition. Somewhere down the line they got to making me and my sister and we moved up to DC where my pops got a gig. It was there I was exposed to graffiti on my walks to school, comics in the Vietnamese bodega slash antique store, and Saturday morning cartoons. My parents worked a lot and my sister was too cool to hang out with me, so I was often left to my own devices. There was a big rivalry between the Latin and Asian gangs in my neighborhood, so getting to and from school was often a very violent experience. A lot of things were kind of crazy back then, but art was my escape. Art kept me out of trouble, until I got into graffiti when I was older. I haven’t put the pencil down since.
How did you get your Killamari moniker?
I was hanging out with my buddy Camille and my sketchbook one day, just doodling. I drew this little grim reaper dude and his cloak had tentacles coming off of it. She was watching me draw and was like “Yo, that’s a KILLAMARI not a CALAMARI.” Hah, and that was pretty much it. I dug it and been running with the name ever since. I was 18 at the time, and that was 18 years ago.
What would you like everyone to know about Khmer Culture and how does it influence your artwork?
I’d say that our culture is not just Pol Pot and the Killing Fields. It is what we’re most known for, and the struggles and the healing is definitely part of the experience but we’re more than that. Khmer culture is very old and rich, the food is great, the art is ancient, the pre genocide music scene was rad as fuck. I haven’t found a lot of Khmer Americans in the art scene so I try to rep the culture in my art where I can. It’s impossible to sum it up, so I’d just recommend to anyone reading to do the research, Cambodia is very interesting and cool.
Your subjects range from cute animals, to monsters, to real people. How do you choose your subjects?
Man, it’s just whatever I’m feeling at the moment. It could be because I just watched a certain cartoon, or heard a random song, or saw someone really interesting on the street. Sometimes I’m researching something on the internet and go down an internet rabbit hole cause I came across something interesting. I did that with Axolotls for a while. So yeah, I guess that’s why my subjects are all over the place, rabbit holes. Now I want to draw rabbits.
Your website features a drawing saying “I am not a virus”. What is the story behind this piece?
This is a heavy one for me, but I’ll try to keep it short ish. So first off, anti-Asian racism in this country is nothing new, but I do think that experience is relatively invisible to most people. You only really hear about the struggles of the Latino and Black communities in the media, and on top of that Asians get labeled as the “Model Minority”. Which is bullshit and all it does is create a wedge between us minorities. I’ve never once in my life been treated like a Model Minority, I’ve only ever been treated as a person who is anything but White. So yeah fast forward to 2020, and take all the already existing anti-Asian sentiment, and then sprinkle it with a president who calls Covid-19 the “China Flu” or “Kung Flu”. The result is Asian Americans like myself, who was born here, being blamed for the pandemic. I’ve received hate mail for being Asian, someone try to pepper spray me in front of a store, and the saddest one for me was watching a dozen parents stare at me and my daughter and say “we have to go now” as they remove their children from where my daughter was playing even though they were perfectly fine with letting the other kids play together before we walked up. And that’s all pretty light compared to other cases. People have been beaten, stabbed, shot, had acid dumped on them, even our elderly and kids have been attacked or murdered. It’s all messed up. Just for being Asian. So yeah, that illustration is a reflection on that. I am not a virus and attacking our community is not your vaccine.
What do you like about painting murals as opposed to other media?
I love the physical aspect of it. Murals are my Tai Chi in the park. I like the big gestures that require me to hold my breath and use my whole body. Even if it gets physically exhausting it never feels like work. I’ll take painting a mural over sitting at a desk any day.
In an Instagram post you said “I wanted to rep all walks of life” in your two Living Walls murals recently painted in Decatur. That’s a tall order. How did you approach this task?
I wanted to paint characters that were representative of different races, sexual preferences, and identities. Obviously that’s a lot to try to portray but I chose little details here and there that were interesting to me. For example, color played an important roll for me in these two murals. For one wall I took the color yellow, which is associated with the color of Asian people, and mixed that with the red, white, and blue of the American flag. The resulting colors was the palette I used to paint the first mural. The act of mixing the colors as well as the visual impact of the resulting mixture was my metaphor of blended or multi racial communities. For the second wall I chose the colors from the Pan-Sexual flag because I wanted the mural to be welcoming and accepting of anyone no matter their identity.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?
up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A and Start
Link to Killamari’s website: https://www.killamari.com/
If I had to pick one word to summarize Kyle Brooks’ artwork, it would be: happy. Happiness permeates all of Kyle’s work. His joyful folk-art style is truly unique among Atlanta’s street artists. Brooks’ website describes him as “a painter, a poet, and a teller of tales. He aims to ‘paint the world happy’ with his brush, bright colors, and materials found along the way.” Kyle who calls himself a streetfolk artist is known for both his striking red beard and his iconic smiling bear images.
Brooks works in several different mediums ranging from drawings, to murals, wooden roadside installations, and sculpture. He is also the author and illustrator of a children’s book titled “Smile a While”. Kyle turns found objects such as pot lids, tires and articles of clothing into works of art. His wooden cut-outs and sculptures each tell a story through layered pieces and words. Brook’s love for playing with words led to his Street Poetry installations. A typical street poem is a stack of two or three small signs installed on a phone pole with unique word combinations such as “Marathon Logical Fragment” “bouncy people road” or “cake waste”. The intention is to allow every viewer to uniquely interpret the street poetry in a way that is relevant to the viewer. Kyle’s murals can be found all over the city, sponsored by organizations such as the Atlanta Beltline, Forward Warrior and Elevate Atlanta. Brooks also does murals for schools, but his bread and butter is commissioned artwork for large corporate clients such as the Atlanta Braves, Coca-Cola and Home Depot. McDonough High school recently named a scholarship for aspiring art students the “Kyle Brooks Honorary Art Scholarship”
Both lines of Kyle’s family have deep roots in Georgia. Although Brooks was born in Columbus, OH, as a toddler he moved to Atlanta where he has lived most of his life. He spent a pleasant childhood attending the Mt. Carmel Christian School in Stone Mountain. Kyle’s middle-school years were less pleasant comparing his first day at Stockbridge Junior high to being “the newest convict in the prison yard.” In high school, Brooks entertained his classmates by creating doodles and weaving stories to go along with each doodle. His desire to tell a story with each piece of artwork continues to this day. Acquiescing to parental desire, Kyle attended Milligan College, a private Christian liberal arts college in Tennessee. It was not a good fit for Brooks and he left after only two years.
He bounced around for a few years trying to find himself including sojourns on the west coast, Tennessee, and Alaska. In 2000, Kyle returned to Atlanta and by good fortune capitalized on his love for doodling landing a job in graphic design. Brooks took up painting in his spare time and became obsessed with it. For the next 8 years, he constantly painted, but didn’t do anything with his artwork. Kyle’s introduction to street art came when he had too much artwork cluttering up the basement of his East Atlanta condo and he began tacking them up on phone poles at night. In 2008 when the recession hit, Brooks lost his full-time job and decided to begin promoting his artwork. He picked “black cat tips” as the name for his website on a whim by putting random words together until he liked the way they sounded. He keeps the “black cat tips” handle to this day. In 2009 Kyle met and married his wife Maria. It was Maria’s insistence that “You’ve just got to do something with these paintings” that prompted Brooks to get a booth in the 2010 East Atlanta Strut and his career as a full-time artist began. Currently Kyle, his wife Maria, and children Teddy and Ruby live in Lithonia, GA near Arabia Mountain. They also have a condo in East Atlanta.
Link to Kyle Brooks’ website: http://www.blackcattips.com/
Lauren Pallotta Stumberg
Lauren Pallotta Stumberg (b.1981) is a local muralist, painter and arts advocate with a background in graphic design, education, non-profit management and international development. Her work honors the human experience through abstracted portraiture and symbolism. Her paintings are imbued with patterns that translate into the hieroglyphics of one’s journey; they are feminine, painterly and expressive of the energy that unites us. Since moving to Atlanta in 2012, Stumberg has used her creative offerings as a means to engage with community. She started Think Greatly as a platform to facilitate neighborhood projects as part of her social practice and to curate female-driven collaborations.
Stumberg’s work has been awarded grants from Living Walls, Fulton County, the City of Atlanta, and Georgia Council for the Arts; public commissions of her work are currently located in Norcross, Peoplestown and Hapeville; other projects in the public realm can also be found in Cabbagetown, Decatur, Old Fourth Ward, Midtown and Southwest Atlanta.
Stumberg is one of two local artists to receive a 2017 Emerging Artist Award from the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs. She is a Hambidge Fellow, and represented by dk Gallery in Marietta, which was recently voted Best Gallery of 2018 by Jezebel magazine.
Link to Lauren Pallotta Stumberg’s website: http://www.thinkgreatly.com/Top
Native Atlantan Lela Brunet was born in 1985. Brunet received her BA in Art Education from Kennesaw State University in 2014 and currently lives in Atlanta. Lela’s artistic talent was encouraged from a young age. In Fact, her mother allowed her to draw on her bedroom walls. Lela inherited her family’s multi-generational love of teaching. As a college student Brunet was heavily influenced by the eye-opening experience of teaching a special education adaptive art program. Lela maintains her love of teaching while pursuing a full-time art career.
If you’re not familiar with Lela’s work, here’s a quote from Lela’s website bio that sums it up: “With her main subject being the female form, Lela explores the contrast created when the grace of the figure and the tension of energetic patterns and colors collide together.” Whether it’s a mixed media on canvas or a mural, Brunet’s iconic bold patterns jump out and draw you in from across the room (or from across the street). She has described her long hours devoted to creating her intricate patterns as “not only satisfying to me but meditative”. Brunet draws inspiration from the Art Nouveau movement of the early 20th century, Greek and Japanese mythology, couture fashion, and from color patterns found in everyday life.
Her talents span the full range from fine art to street art including murals, painting, mixed media, drawing and design. When you view Lela’s work expect to find media such as graphite, ink, coffee, acrylic, tissue bleed, marker (the Precise V5 extra fine is her favorite), gold leaf, and oil paint. Lela has done murals with the Moreland Avenue Mural Project, Forward Warrior, Phoenix Fest and Living Walls. Her murals can also be seen next to Lenox Mall, at Hodgepodge coffee in East Atlanta, and behind Heards Ferry Elementary School. Lela’s fine art can be seen at the Kai Lin and Kibbee galleries.
Link to Lela Brunet’s website: http://www.lelabrunet.com/
Mario Daniel goes by the handle “doit doit” and has a funny whimsical style. Humor is always preset in Mario’s work, but sometimes there is a more meaningful message hidden in plain sight. The Atlanta Street Art Map’s interview with Mario will shed some light on the person behind the artwork:
What is your origin story?
Atl native. Very early on I thought the arts were my path, went to a magnet school for smart and artsy kids, did a little graffiti as a teen, school newspaper cartoonist etc..,but I went into the Army. Family tradition, had a few adventures, came home did the classic adulting stuff.
What led you to become an artist?
Retired military, worked at the post office and owned a few rental properties. It was all so boring, needed a artistic outlet so tried free art Friday and never stopped.
What message do you hope to convey through your artwork?
A laugh, maybe even a little political/social satire. Mostly a laugh. I draw donuts farting, it ain’t that serious.
What led you to doing murals and what do you like about murals?
The challenge of going big. The logistics of doing murals is as fun as creating the Art itself. It’s a humbling endeavor at times.
Tell me about the Lotus Eaters Club. How did you get involved?
Like Voltron we desperate artists came together to save the ATL from tedious, upper crust, MoMA types. Art should be accessible to everyone. I call us the Wu-tang clan of Atlanta artists.
How did your iconic green guy in the Charlie Brown shirt come about?
Cthulu Brown is a extension of me. The friendly monster. He’s my commentary on how folk see black people, black men in particular. I’ll leave the high-minded intellectual interpretations up to you. So he will always be a part of my work in some capacity.
Tell me about your education, accomplishments, awards, etc?
I’ve lived a lot of life in a very short amount of time. Cliff notes version: Fought in a war, saw some real shit, climbed a mountain, travelled, broke my body, Army decorated, rebuilt my body, got an education, made my momma happy college degree is on her wall, started a business, failed in that business, kept at it, now I get paid to make the ‘Scrib Scrabs’ (Art) I’m a doer. Nuff’ said.
Link to Mario Daniel’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/doitdoitleague/
Matt Letrs is a muralist, painter, sculptor, graffiti writer, mural broker, and designer. He was born in Ft. Lauderdale, FL in 1982. When Matt was 9, his family moved to Montreal where he spent many of his formative years. At age 12, inspired by a graffiti piece on the side of a bridge, the artist began painting an occasional railroad car for his own entertainment. Although he didn’t seek attention for his early work, art became Matt’s passion. As a high school senior making the transition to art school, Letrs expanded his outdoor painting interests to include murals. Matt lived in several cities including Miami, Kansas City, and New York, absorbing artistic influences from each. After permanently relocating to Atlanta in 2010, he decided to focus on his artwork.
In a 2018 VoyageATL interview, here’s how the artist described his work: “My murals and fine art are more narrative, seeking to explain or at least come to terms with the backwards insanity that is our present reality. The pressure, influences, glitches in the matrix, etc. Through this I’d like viewers to understand the truth – which is we are the masters of our own reality. My graffiti is the opposite. For me it’s a time spent with friends or just myself. Its therapy….and crack. It doesn’t have much meaning and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s simply a matter of style.”
In 2011, Letrs landed his first public art commission from Living Walls kicking off his professional art career. Here are some interesting tidbits from Mat’s artistic journey: In 2015, Letrs’ work became more sustainable when he began sourcing his paint from a non-profit organization called Global Paint which collects surplus and discarded paint from donors and puts it to good use by supplying it to underserved communities and local artists. In 2019, he was selected by Nike together with Fabian Williams to paint a major mural titled “Where Dreams are Made” at the Westside Cultural Arts Center for the Super Bowl. In 2020, the AJC picked Matt’s mural featuring Josef Martinez of Atlanta United Football club as the best mural in Atlanta with an overwhelming 63% of the vote. In addition to Living Walls, the artist has also painted murals for Forward Warrior, Art on the Beltline, Forward Warrior, Burning Bridges in Chattanooga, and Art Basel in Miami.
Letrs was the founder of All City Murals, a multi-service mural brokerage company in 2012 matching walls with sponsors and artists. Through his company, Matt has completed hundreds of murals of all sizes all over the US. Rebranded to Let’s Go Paint in 2020 Matt’s company expanded its offerings to include an on-line shop selling artwork and merchandise. Let’s Go Paint also donates several pro bono murals to support the community.
In the early months of the covid pandemic, a previously heavy workload dropped off. Letrs teamed up with Chris Wright (another local artist) to paint murals raising covid awareness in East Atlanta as a way to use their involuntary down-time for good until normalcy returned. Although these days, Matt is more focused on his more narrative work including fine art and murals, he still finds it therapeutic to occasionally throw up some graffiti just for fun.
This bio was written February 2, 2022
Link to Matt Letrs’ website: https://letsgopaint.co/
Molly Rose Freeman
Molly Rose Freeman is originally from Durham, NC but now makes her home in Atlanta. She received her high school diploma in Visual Arts from the North Carolina School of the Arts. Her BA in Creative Writing is from the University of North Carolina. Molly has painted murals with many organizations including Living Walls and the Atlanta Beltline. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and W Hotels are just two of Molly’s many clients.
Moving from small rigid and confined environments to large and open interactive environments seems to be a recurring theme for Molly. For example she transitioned from a rigid parochial school environment that wasn’t a good fit for her to the NC school for the arts where she thrived. A similar transition also played out in her artistic journey that took her from highly detailed studio work to large-scale mural work around Atlanta and around the world. A two-week trip to Miami in 2011 accelerated her journey. There she assisted some muralists and decided to become a muralist herself. Getting outside of the studio allowed Molly to interact with the overall environment and with the people within that environment. Or as she put it in a 2015 interview with Word of Mouth: “I prefer to make something in the world rather than alone in my studio.” Interaction, collaboration, and establishing personal connections are an integral part of Molly’s work.
A key waypoint in Molly’s journey into spaces, colors and patterns came when Molly’s mom took her to Italy for 3 weeks as a college graduation present. The experience of being inside of cathedrals with their myriad of patterns from the stained glass windows to the vaulting in the ceilings was viscerally soothing and comforting. From than moment on, Molly wanted to re-create these environments through her work.
Molly’s work centers around patterns. She likes to work in radial patterns starting in the center and allowing the pattern to organically and naturally grow outward. Everything in the work is interconnected and interdependent. Molly described her love for patterns in the same 2015 interview with Word of Mouth: “My language is pattern, light, space and movement. Why patterns affect me so deeply is still a mystery. They bypass my brain and go straight into my bloodstream.” In a 2014 Burnaway interview, Molly described an epiphany that solidified the importance of patterns for her: “Years ago, I was doing more traditional figurative and still life paintings. All of the objects were embellished with pattern. It got to the point where I was like, “This is ridiculous, I don’t even care about the thing that I’m painting. I only care about the patterns.”
Link to Molly Rose Freeman’s website: http://mollyrosefreeman.com
Atlanta native Emir Alighanbari (better known as Mister Totem) began his long graffiti writing career at the dawn of the 1990’s. As a teenager he developed his skills working with Tats Cru, a prestigious group of muralists from Brooklyn. In 1995, Mister Totem was on the vanguard of painting in the now famous Krog Street Tunnel. As a reaction to gentrification, other artists, followed his lead and now the Krog Street Tunnel serves as an impromptu art gallery, message board, and tourist attraction. In Totem’s early days of commercial work, his main patrons included restaurants, sometimes paying the artist with meals. Inspired by the people he has met, the experiences he has lived and his favorite music such as chill hop, Mister Totem has become one of Atlanta’s most widely displayed and most iconic artists. Today the artist is still a graffiti writer, and also a designer, a commercial muralist, the owner of a design studio, and a car enthusiast hosting vintage auto meets. He is also a husband and proud father of four boys who loves to show off his sons’ dancing and skateboarding skills on social media.
Mister Totem uses various media, but he is best known for his master spray can skills. He works in both 2D and highly complex 3D styles. His works are seen all over Atlanta ranging from graffiti so cryptic, you might not even recognize it as graffiti to beautiful story-telling murals. In his younger years, the artist was fascinated by the interaction of two things that normally don’t go together: lettering and machines. Over the years, he has developed this unique juxtaposition into his now signature style which he calls “Mechanical Battle Serif”. Totem’s Tactical Dreadnaught Lettermech pieces featuring “TOTEM” spelled out in Mechanical Battle Serif letters resemble an armored steampunk battle spider. Mister Totem sometimes represents the letter “O” of a Tactical Dreadnaught piece as a baby or small child operating the machine. This symbolizes the tender small child inside all of us surrounded by the armor which we all build up around ourselves over the years. His “Body Style” pieces feature fanciful characters with their bodies contorted into the letters of his name. Always be sure to take in the background of each piece because Totem creates a unique and detailed world hosting his weaponized letterforms.
One of Mister Totem’s most beloved characters is his friendly ghost called Mister Fangs or the Geist. Around Atlanta, Mister Fangs is just as ubiquitous as Totem’s graffiti and murals. The Geist sometimes wears the normal ghost’s sheet, and sometimes is decked out in imaginative costumes. The color Mister Fangs sports can be indicative of its mood or context. For example, white is a color associated with memory, so Mr. fangs in an abandoned location might be white. A yellow Mr. Fangs might be feeling playful, and a red Mr. Fangs might be mad. When you see the Geist interacting with a fried chicken leg, it symbolizes the South. Of course, no loveable character would be complete without merchandise. You can get your Geist Merch on the Geistown website.
Mister Totem has been invited by governments, events, and organizations to paint in countries all over the world including Japan, Switzerland, New Zealand, Germany, and France. Corporate clients include names such as Nike, Pandora, Xbox, PSP, Coca-Cola, Red Bull and The Red Cross. His list of private collectors reads like a Who’s Who of the celebrity world. The artist’s international acclaim is further evidenced by his more than 100,000 followers on Instagram.
In a February 2019 article in VoyageATL, here’s how Muhammad Yungai described himself: “I am an artist who creates murals for schools. I help schools create culture through art and color. I try to create inspirational visual stories that helps to keep the school building connected to the school’s mission. I am most proud when students and teachers tell me how much they enjoy seeing my artwork every day. I know that my work has then served its purpose, and so have I!” Growing up, Yungai didn’t see visual representations of black and brown people presented as positive role models. Now he is on a mission to correct that.
Born in New Orleans in 1974, he is a self-taught artist, husband to his wife Khadijah and father of two grown daughters. Muhammad first began painting in high school inspired by the colorful stylized works of another self-taught artist William Tolliver. After working exhaustively towards the herculean task of achieving Tolliver’s level of artistry, Yungai became dissatisfied with his efforts and put painting aside for several years. He moved to Atlanta in 1996 with hopes of making it big in the music industry. Although Muhammad was going to make it big in the arts, his art of choice turned out to be painting rather than music.
When one of Yungai’s daughters attended KIPP WAYS Academy in Atlanta’s Bankhead neighborhood Muhammad once again heard the paint brush’s siren song and volunteered to paint inspiring murals for the school. The principal was so impressed with his work that he recruited Muhammad to become the school’s visual arts teacher. There is no better way to learn a subject that to teach it, so over his ten years as a visual arts teacher, he immersed himself in both learning and teaching the basics of art. During this time Muhammad continued painting murals inside of the KIPP school system. It wasn’t long before other schools started asking for his murals. For several years, Yungai supplemented his income as a teacher by painting school murals in his spare time. Then in 2016 after both of his daughters were away at college, he made the leap of faith and became a full-time muralist. Initially the transition from a steady income to getting paid by the gig took some getting used to, but Muhammad is making the adjustment.
Today Yungai’s murals depicting lively positive images of people of color can be found throughout the hallways and classrooms of schools in Atlanta and all over the country. Muhammad has also done commissions for the Atlanta Jazz Festival, and the Essence Music Festival. He was a featured muralist for the Off-the-Wall initiative creating four civil rights themed murals in downtown Atlanta for the 2019 SuperBowl.
Link to Muhammad Yungai’s website: http://artofyungai.com/
New Orleans native Neka King, who goes by NNEKKAA, is a visual artist, teacher, textile artist, digital illustrator, and muralist who now makes Atlanta her home. After graduating high school, she wanted to study fashion in New York City. Deterred by the high cost of fashion schools in New York, King enrolled in the Textile program at GA State which concentrated more on the art side of textiles than the fashion side. But this turned out to be just right for Neka. She took other courses that expanded her interests beyond textiles to include print making and digital art. Neka received her BFA in Art with a concentration in textiles from GA State in 2016. Initially working in textiles, she made the transition from textiles to digital art by posting her digital work on Instagram.
Here is the first thing that you will see on King’s website: “Know that my stance is for the humane treatment of all black beings and for the active pursuit to dismantle any systems or institutions which seek to deny us this.” This is Neka’s way of “putting her foot down” and letting all of us including her future clients know where she is at.
To that end the silhouette-like black figures with piercing white eyes in her artwork are intended to have a slightly threatening edge. In a “Studio Noize” podcast from September 29, 2020 the artist said: “By simply having the figure stare back at the viewer, it’s not like this passive interaction; It’s like you have to look at this figure and the figure is also looking at you. It’s like a stance for power. At the end of the day, the figure’s going to win because you can’t out-stare it down”. One of many inspirations for King’s figures is photographs of Olympic divers because they convey powerful motion through space.
In 2019, Neka painted one of her first murals when Living Walls asked her to paint her “Peaceful Peach” mural on the parking garage at 76 Forsyth Street in Downtown Atlanta. The large-scale installation was a combination of murals painted on the concrete surface of the garage and huge fabric panels with digital artwork complementing the painted murals. The artist had this to say about the characters featured in this work: “…The large figures in the picture pay homage to Atlanta’s African American Community. These figures act as peacekeepers watching over the city.” This transition from digital art to mural art proved to be a smooth one and Neka has been painting murals ever since. Another large-scale installation in collaboration with Living Walls was a gigantic manually painted canvas at the AT&T Perch at Mercedes-Benz stadium. King saw this installation as an opportunity to show people who look like her “oh yeah, I could do that too.”
Neka received the 2018 Hughley Fellowship conducted by WonderRoot. She was a featured artist for the multi-city touring 29Rooms art exhibit in 2019. In 2020, King won the NABF Horizon award for Visual Arts. She has also been a featured artist for Outerspace Project and Forward Warrior.
Link to Neka King’s Website: https://www.nnekkaa.com/
Niki Zarrabi was born in New Jersey and is a first generation American from a hard-working immigrant family. One of Niki’s sources of inspiration is her father who came to America at a young age and made huge accomplishments in his adopted country even with no connections and no initial knowledge of English. Having moved to Atlanta as a tot she had always studied and loved art. But at the suggestion of her sister Niki, initially planned on attending Georgia Tech to pursue a career in Industrial Design. Along the way, an elective art course at Georgia State convinced Zarrabi to follow her passion. Fortunately, her parents supported her artistic career path as a valid alternative to the doctor/lawyer/engineer career path often followed (willingly or unwillingly) by many first-generation Americans.
Niki successfully addresses the business aspects of art without sacrificing her care for the meaning and power behind the work. With a long-term goal of opening her own gallery, she is an avid networker and believes in creating her own opportunities rather than waiting for them to come along themselves. One of her college art professors lit a proverbial fire under Niki by saying that “out of our whole class there would only be 5 percent of us that would become full-time working artists”. Operating under the assumption that her professor was correct, Zarrabi became even more determined to be one of the five percent.
Influenced by science and biology, the content of Niki’s artwork ranges from realistic floral motifs to pure abstracts. She embraces mixed media and multi-media ranging from painting to sculpture and hybrids of the two. The size of Zarrabi’s artwork ranges from small studio works to large outdoor murals and even a sprawling crosswalk painting in Downtown Atlanta. When you see Niki’s multi-layered artwork, you will find materials including pressed flowers, inks, oils, acrylic, wood, paper, cellophane, and metal. She works out of her suburban garage studio which includes a wood shop for making panels and frames. This quote from Zarrabi’s website bio summarizes her approach to her work: “I’m interested in capturing the idea that every living cell in all the history of time has been recycled from the same elements, passed on to new life from old life. I want to capture that connection between all of us and all living things. Science does not negate spiritual connectivity; it enhances it.”
Here is a sample of some of Niki’s acomplishments:
• Bachelor in Fine Arts with a Concentration in Drawing and Painting from Georgia State University in 2014.
• Awarded regional finalist of the 9th Annual BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® Artisan Series, Atlanta, GA
• Received Best in Show in the juried exhibition of 50 Georgia artists at Abernathy Arts Center in Sandy Springs in 2015
• Guest lecturer at Savannah College of Art and Design
• Selected to create murals for Outerspace Project, Forward Warrior, and Artoberfest.
Link to Niki Zarrabi’s website: https://www.nikizarrabi.com/
Peter Ferrari is a freelance painter and muralist living and working in his home town of Atlanta. Ferrari is one of Atlanta’s most prolific public artists. His older style reminds me of a mashup of tangled plumbing pipes and vines growing in a time-lapse video. Some of his more recent works are reminiscent of a retro paisley pattern. Hands are also a common image in the artist’s murals.
Peter did some illegal tagging in younger years until his mother encouraged him to transition to canvas work out of concern for his safety. However Peter never lost his love for filling walls and today considers himself fortunate to have the opportunity to return to larger scale work in the form of commissioned murals. Ferrari especially enjoys doing commission work for the film industry because they have generous budgets and allow lots of creative license. Peter painted the iconic “Best of Atlanta” mural for the cover of Atlanta magazine in 2015. This famous mural till can still be seen at Paris on Ponce in Midtown Atlanta.
Ferrari’s mark on Atlanta extends well beyond just artwork on walls. When the city of Atlanta threatened to place bureaucratic restrictions on public artwork in 2017, Ferrari participated in the lawsuit that forced the city to back down. Later that year Peter was one of the recipients of the ArtsAtl Luminary Award and received Creative Loafing’s “best advocate for the arts” award. Ferrari is also founder and curator of Forward Warrior, a block party with music and live painting performances where attendees meet and interact with their favorite artists and see the mural making process from beginning to end.
“Forward Warrior” was a phrase of encouragement used by Ferrari and a former roommate when times were tough. The event started in 2011 with Peter and a dozen friends hosting a live performance party along the beltline in the Old Fourth Ward. In 2013 Forward Warrior was invited into the Castleberry Hill community to paint. In 2014 the event was invited to paint in Cabbagetown along the half mile long wall owned by CSX which was plagued by graffiti tags. The thought was that taggers would respect murals. It worked and the event is still there today.
Link to Peter Ferrari’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fastredcar/
Sanithna Phansavanh is an Atlanta-based visual artist who puts the human condition at the focus of his work. In a 2014 CommonCreativAtl interview, Sanithna was asked about his favorite themes to explore in his work and here was his response: “Examining the human condition is a core theme. My work defaults to deconstructions of who we are and what we do as humans. Life, death, and the dynamics between drive everything for me, so I try to find reflections of us in various explorations… from simple portraits to fuller, personal narratives.”
Sanithna uses the “tooth and nail” idiom in his logo to explain his approach to his work. The teeth represent fighting with all of his resources in the pursuit of his projects. The teeth also carry a second layer of meaning i.e. his hunger to “sink his teeth” into a nice fat succulent project. The nails (carpenter’s nails instead of fingernails) represent creating practical solutions infused with artistry.
Sanithna grew up in a refugee program in Kansas City after his mother escaped the communist regime in Laos during the 1970’s. The poverty he experienced during his early years influenced his mother to push Sanithna to better his circumstances by becoming a white-collar professional such as a doctor or a lawyer. Despite his lifelong love for the arts Sanithna initially stayed on the white-collar path. Then somewhere along the way he discovered that the arts provided an alternative path to success without the need for the restrictive vwhite-collar.
For many years Sanithna worked as a commercial graphic designer. Fortunately for all of us he decided to put aside the long and unrewarding hours of commercial work aside to focus instead on his personal art. The immersive graffiti culture of his skateboarding youth eventually led Sanithna back to public art.
Sanithna received his Associate of Fine Arts Degree with a concentration in drawing and painting from the University of Georgia in 2000. In 2003 He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in Graphic Design from Georgia State University. His works have been displayed internationally as well as locally in public murals and in numerous galleries and venues such as the High Museum of Art.
Link to Sanithna Phansavanh’s website: http://art.sanithna.com
Shanequa Gay’s Artist Statement begins as follows: “My work evaluates place, tradition, storytelling, and subject matter to develop imaginative dialogues and alternative strategies for self-imaging. Through installations, paintings, performance, video, and monumental sculptural figures, I am fabricating environments of ritual and memorial, depicting amalgamated images of familiar iconography, new gods, and mythical figures whose lives have been impacted by systemic inequalities.”
Atlanta native Shanequa Gay began her artistic journey at age three when she applied a multi-media work including crayons onto the wall at home. She took her first commissions in grade school helping her classmates with their poster board book reports. Gay’s first murals were done during her high school years. Even then, Shanequa was experimenting with different media including decorating her friends clothing. Gay received an AA degree in Graphic Design and Fashion Marketing from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 1999.
For the next few years Shanequa worked as a graphic designer and in the field of education. Although, these endeavors payed the bills, they didn’t satisfy her need for creativity and self-expression. Throughout these years, Shanequa continued to do her artwork on the side. That began to change in 2006 when a friend encouraged Gay to make the leap from being an art hobbyist to becoming a full-time fine artist. In 2008 her brother died in an automobile accident sending her into a difficult two-year long period. Normally her art lifted Shanequa out of her difficult situations. But this time she wasn’t able to motivate herself to create, and not being able to create was suffocating her. Shanequa knew that through the structure of regular assignments she could force herself back onto the creative path. And that’s exactly what happened when she enrolled at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) where she graduated at the top of her class. Gay continued her education receiving an MFA from Georgia State University.
She draws from the media, poetry, folklore, African and Greek mythologies using multi-media artwork as a platform to advocate for issues she is passionate about; issues such as gangs, incarceration, police brutality, and feelings of self-hatred experienced by some members of the black community. One of the artist’s many projects is the Fair Game project which uses mythology as a tool to address the pervasive violence in our country specifically violence directed towards black men. The protagonists of the Fair Game project are mythological deer/man hybrids with human bodies and deer’s heads. These hybrids initially appeared to Shanequa in a dream where she saw black men running through the woods transforming between deer and human form while being chased by black police officers. The central premise of the Fair Game project is black men being hunted over the centuries whether by overseers or by police officers.
The artist’s works have been purchased by high-profile collectors such as actor Samuel L. Jackson and singer / song writer Leon Russell. Gay was chosen by the Congressional Club to be the illustrator for the First Lady’s Luncheon where Michelle Obama received a piece of Shanequa’s artwork. She was selected to be a featured artist for the “Forward Warrior” mural painting project. Shanequa was also a featured artist for the “Off The Wall” mural project sponsored by the Super Bowl LIII Host Committee and WonderRoot. Shanequa Gay’s honors go on and on, check her website for the full list.
Link to Shaniqua Gay’s website: http://www.shanequagay.com/
Travis Love is an Atlanta native with a unique style that is super identifiable. He grabbed on to the graffiti style as a child and held on the whole way. Starting with character drawings as a kid, he found his niche and brand through a character he called, “Brody the Braniac.” The brain matter texture carried with him into his adult career.
Travis received a BFA in Graphic Design from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 2011 and has been working in that field ever since. He prefers to draw stating that even his computer-generated work is generally hand drawn first.
In an interview with AB+L radio in April of 2017 he was asked what lasting impression would he want to make on others with his work. Here is his response: “The impression that I would like to leave with my work is a fun and energetic presence and also tell an inspiration story that I think like minds like myself can relate to.”
He has expanded beyond just murals and painted canvases offering clothing and shoes with his designs. Love sells his products and artwork though his online store and at dozens of shows that he has been participating in since 2011. Adidas offered him the opportunity to design a limited-edition sneaker which features his iconic design and is available online. He was chosen by WRS, a South Carolina based development corporation as one of four Artists to mural-ize exhaust vents in underground Atlanta as an effort to revitalize the neighborhood.
Here are some of Love’s recent solo shows:
• Dark Matter – Atlanta, GA – 2016
• KWYS Pop Up Show – Atlanta, GA – 2017
• Street Dreams – Douglasville, GA – 2018
• Scuff – Wish Gallery – Atlanta GA – 2018
Link to Travis Love’s website: http://lovetravis.com/
Periodically, ArtsATL publishes an article titled “Today in Street Art” written in collaboration with the Atlanta Street Art Map. Click Here to read the article from April 23, 2019 featuring Yehimi Cambron.
Link to Yehimi Cambron’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ycambron/?hl=en
Yoyo Ferro was born in Piracicaba in the state of São Paulo, Brazil but now makes his home in Atlanta. His first venture into the arts was through music playing bass in a Brazilian punk rock band (which was a rare thing in country Brazil). That sense of nonconformity can be seen in his murals even today. His whimsical abstract art features bright primary colors bounded by a single continuous looping black line. You can find Yoyo Ferro’s public art in murals, and on building façades all over the Atlanta map.
One of the techniques that Yoyo Ferro has embraced is blind contour drawing where the artist draws without looking at the paper and without lifting the pencil from the paper (hence the continuous looping black line). Blind contour drawing encourages the hand and the eyes to work as a team and it promotes right brain thinking over left brain thinking. But Yoyo Ferro takes it to the next level by asking each blind contour portrait subject to tell a personal story while Yoyo draws. Blind contour drawing influences his non-blind street art and canvas art as he said in a 2016 interview with CommonCreativ ATL: “I try to loosen up my hand as much as I can and not look at the paper too much, as I’m not usually trying to achieve anything too perfect. It has to be a little weird and imperfect to feel right.”
Yoyo Ferro was a participant in lawsuit that prevented the city of Atlanta from imposing undue regulations on artwork on private property. As a result of his efforts he was a recipient of a 2017 ArtsAtl Luminary Award. Yoyo Ferro has been a featured mural artist for the Outerspace Project, Living Walls and the Forward Warrior Project.
Link to Yoyo Ferro’s Website: http://www.yoyoferro.com
Periodically, ArtsATL publishes an article titled “Today in Street Art” written in collaboration with the Atlanta Street Art Map. Click Here to read the article from August 8, 2019 featuring Zipporah Joe’l.
Link to Zipporah Joe’l’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zipporahjoel/?hl=en