One of the biggest hurdles in the street art world from the perspective of the artist is getting walls to showcase their art in the first place. Many times, especially in cities where there is not a precedent for such work, there is a lot of convincing or negotiating that must happen in order to secure a wall. And even then, there is no telling how long a particular wall will last or the degree of latitude the artist maintains with regard to his or her creative license. Sometimes, it takes some near-superhero strength or the powers of the universe conspiring together to make this happen.
Work by Matt Adnate, digitaldoes and Belin at RED Cinemas
Enter Marty Kotis, real estate developer and art lover in Greensboro, North Carolina, who has found the perfect balance for this problem by merging his love of street art with his vision to improve the urban landscape of his hometown.
I spent some time with Kotis, as he gave me the grand tour of the city he loves, sharing with me his vision of what is possible given his unique position in the city of Greensboro. He'll be the first to admit that what he is doing is not completely altruistic. By creating this beauty on the walls of the buildings he owns, he is not only enhancing the visual landscape of his community, but also improving the likelihood for success of his businesses, such as Pig Pounder Brewery, Darryl's Wood Fired Grill, Burger Warfare and RED Cinemas. The artists maintain huge canvases for their work and the community gets to enjoy some incredible art which puts their city on the global street art map. Sounds like a win-win to me.
The beauty of Dan Kitchener at RED Cinemas (above)
and a piece by JEKS (below)
In his travels, Kotis became enamored with the work that he would see on the streets around the globe. Together with images of street art he found online, he soon developed a list of "must-have" artists whose work he would love to see in his own city. Believing strongly in the idea that art should be made available to the people rather than held in private collections or stuffy galleries, it became his mission to create an outdoor gallery space for his community, and visitors like me, to enjoy. Topping that list were Matt Adnate from Australia, Belin (Miguel Ángel Belinchón Bujes) from Spain, Dan Kitchener from the UK, Eric Mangen from Luxembourg, Jesus Benitez from Mexico, as well as local Greensboro artist, JEKS (Brian Lewis), among others. The work which has been created thus far is nothing short of astounding.
Work by Jeks and Eric Mangen at 1420 Westover Terrace
Kotis first brought Matt Adnate to Greensboro to paint Tecumseh Lee Jones of the Tuscarora tribe in North Carolina. This would be the first time Adnate would paint a Native American in one of his walls. Following this, he painted Lumbee tribe ambassador Madison Davenport. Both works are in line with Adnate's extensive body of work of documenting First Nations people, specifically those of Australia.
Portrait of Tecumseh by Matt Adnate at 1201 Battleground Avenue
Portrait of Madison Davenport by Matt Adnate at 516 Federal Place
Next, Adnate returned to Greensboro to paint the RED Cinema with Belin and digitaldoes. The collaboration was everything, drawing on inspiration from the X-Men comic series (painted by Adnate) and the most stunning likeness of Wonder Woman (painted by Belin), with a splash of unifying color by digitaldoes to tie it all together (see images at the top of the story).
And if that weren't enough, Matt Adnate was drawn back to the southern charm and hospitality of Greensboro once again and to the walls of Marty Kotis to create yet another masterpiece. This time, he was going HUGE, collaborating with Eric Mangen to paint an entire building floor to ceiling (including the asphalt surrounding the building). The result was nothing short of breath-taking.
Using a fire hose connected to an ACTUAL fire truck, Mangen sprayed a swath of lime green over a lavender background, stating it was "the craziest 10 minutes of my life!!!!!" on his Instagram page. Following this, Adnate painted two Cherokee sisters, bookending the building, with patterns in between and all around the perimeter of the building. On the rear of the building, in what will eventually become a garden for the building's residents, is the face of an Australian Aboriginal boy, whose eyes hauntingly, yet beautifully, track one's every movement.
Cherokee Sisters adorn the front of this building while the face of an Australian Aborigine is on the back.
All of this beauty has been created in Greensboro within the past 14 months. And there is much more on the horizon. Kotis told me of some of his projects, including a Darryl's Restaurant which is scheduled to open in May of 2019. Though still under construction, there is already works of art adorning both the inside and outside walls of this lakeside building. In the interior, a woman with eyes considering the beauty of the lake beyond, was painted by Belin in his characteristic post neo cubist style. And outside, mimicking the colors or the landscape, digitaldoes painted a wall of abstract movement. Once some of his other ideas for the space are implemented, this is sure to be a hot-spot eatery, serving up wood-fired dishes with plenty to look at while dining, either inside or al fresco.
"Ella Mira el Lago" (She Looks at the Lake), work by Belin, inside future Darryl's Wood Fired Grill,
and the work of digitaldoes on the back, looking out toward the lake
Located at 699 Cone Boulevard
In addition to the new restaurant, Kotis is expanding the Pig Pounder Brewery, which currently has some vibrant work by Mexico City's Jesus Benitez on the rear of the building. The extension in the space next door will house even more art by such artists as Insane51, a 3-D style artist hailing from Greece. I won't give away too much information on the details of the proposed work, but from the sound of things, it will definitely be a conversation piece!
The work of Jesus Benitez on the back of Pig Pounder Brewery
Located at 1107 Grenade Street
As a final nod to his mission and his creative vision, Kotis showed me a few more buildings which have been erected specifically with art in mind. The very brickwork of some of the facades has been placed in such a way as to create a frame just waiting for beauty to be painted within. And he has quite the lineup of world-class talent ready to fill those spaces. If all goes as planned, the Midtown area (and beyond) will be a destination in and of itself.
So, if North Carolina wasn't on your radar for some incredible street art before, it should be now. There is much to celebrate in the Gate City, and Marty Kotis is becoming quite the legend in helping to create the magic. I can't wait to see how it all comes together. Until then, enjoy the beauty and the southern hospitality!
And if you are considering elsewhere in this Southern state, check out our piece On the Road: North Carolina, which gives an overview of some other street art hotspots.