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  • Words and Photos by John Domine

On the Road: North Carolina

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from the "First in Flight" state when I decided to explore North Carolina's urban art scene. With all the negative headlines recently with controversy over Confederate statues, ill-informed Transgender Laws and KKK racist bile, I had no reason to think I would actually find anything remotely redeeming, much less, beautiful, about this place. I was happy to be proven wrong, at least in the cities I explored.

Basing myself in Duke University's backyard of Durham, I ventured out to some of North Carolina's more open-minded and creative locales: Asheville, Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Each one had something special to offer the casual visitor with art on the brain.

Of all the cities I visited, Asheville stood out as the shining star of the Tar Heel state's street art scene. The River Arts District is home to a graffiti wonderland of painted walls, centered around the Asheville Waste Paper Company on Lyman Road. Artists Jerkface, Dustin Spagnola and Peter Parpan have taken up real estate on the main building, along with a few others.

This year, as well as 2016, the annual Burners & BBQ event was held here, not far from the main building. I got in touch with one of the event's creators, Gus Cutty, to find out a little bit more about it.

"My buddy Topr and I started the event to promote graffiti culture and history in Asheville. Ishmael, Trek6 and Ian Wilkinson have all played important roles in making it happen from the beginning. Two years ago, we officially brought in Ian to help produce the event. At the core, it was an excuse to get our out-of-town graffiti friends to come to town and paint and drink beer and eat BBQ."

What could be better than enjoying beers and BBQ with like-minded friends while adding a little color to the neighborhood? Sounds like the makings of magic to me.

Here are a few pics of the main wall from this year's event:

Walking around the compound is like exploring a huge outdoor museum of murals and graff. And if you get too hot or hungry after taking in all the beauty on the walls, you can always stop in at the 12 Bones Smokehouse for some BBQ and beers of your own, located right in the middle of it all, on Foundry Street. Once you have fueled up, take another stroll around to sober up while soaking up the beauty one more time before hitting the road.

Elsewhere in Asheville, there are also works of note, with pieces by Gus Cutty, Patch Whisky, and Huns. Many of them lie along Haywood Road, but you can find pieces scattered throughout town. And if you want to check out any of the previous year's Burners & BBQ walls, head to The Odditorium (2014) or Sky Lanes Bowling Alley (2015).

If you venture beyond the art epicenter of Asheville, you should head on over to Winston-Salem, where there are some fun walls worth checking out, including a piece by Kendall Doub entitled "The Baller", which features a broken man-turned-gumball machine which will leave you questioning the meaning of life. (You may need another beer for that.)

I got in touch with Doub, a professional artist and graphic designer focusing on studio and contemporary mural art, based out of Winston-Salem, whose style ranges from cartoon to illustrative realism. He enjoys creating imagery that begins to tell a story, leaving it for the viewer to finish.

"It's a great way to pull people into the work", Doub says. "I strongly believe mural/street art is a great way to bring people into the arts. Not everyone will visit a gallery or a museum but we all walk down the street".

Doub also organizes the annual mural event at the Artivity Art Park in Downtown Winston-Salem, called The Concrete Canvas Mural Fest. It takes place every May and features 11 muralists from all over North Carolina, replacing the walls in the park each year. Along with the muralists painting, there is also live music, vendors and food trucks. Here are some of the walls from this year's event:

Once you have had enough of Winston-Salem, head to nearby Greensboro, where recently, the local street art scene has been attracting a world-class list of artists to beautify the urban lanscape.

No Blank Walls was a project started by social entrepreneur Ryan Saunders and North Carolina Artist Jeff Beck. Their goal was to beautify the city of Greensboro by adding murals to its walls. Between 2015-2017, the project, sponsored by the city, successfully added over ten new murals to the downtown area. In addition to the work of No Blank Walls, Create Your City, Rockers Print Shop and Phillip Marsh curated additional works in Greensboro, bringing in a diverse group of internationally-recognized artists to the mix. Greensboro now showcases work by such as Pastel from Argentina, Art of Chase from Los Angeles, and Kevin Ledo from Canada.

Here are some of the walls you may come across in town:

Although I didn't have a chance to check them out during my time in North Carolina, I am told that Charlotte and High Point are worth a visit for their urban art scene as well, with artists Miss Lotus, Joey O and Brian Davis doing some really great things. I will have to add them to the list for the next visit.

Until then, if you find yourself in North Carolina, check out the art on the streets. And wash it down with some BBQ and beers!

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