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Arts & Culture

'Talking Walls' festival commissions 8 new murals around Charlotte

Naji Alali.jpg
Nick de la Canal
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WFAE
Metropolitan makeover: Artist Naji Al-Ali works on a mural on the exterior of Charlotte's Metropolitan shopping center on Friday, Oct. 22.

You might think parking decks are bland pieces of city architecture — just lifeless slabs of gray concrete. No personality. No color.

Not so at the Metropolitan parking deck.

Muralists invaded the deck this week and are reimagining some of its walls in vibrant shapes and colors.

One nondescript wall near the entrance to Trader Joe's has been transformed by artist Garrison Gist into a teary-eyed, lip-locked couple. A pair of eyes peers through a rip in the couple's embrace and sheds a tear. Is this the story of a love triangle gone sideways?

On another wall next to Best Buy, artist Bree Stallings has created a trio of images inspired by tarot cards. There's the tower, the empress and the star. Each has a separate meaning, but Stallings said together, they might loosely represent past, present and future.

This is all part of the fourth annual "Talking Walls" festival, which hires a group of artists each year to create new, inspired murals at various locations around the city. This year, the festival has hired eight artists who are working in a variety of locations, including Camp North End, Ink Floyd, Fat City Lofts, Crown Station, Missiongathering Church, and Metropolitan.

Among the other artists taking part in the 2021 festival are Treazy Treaz, HNin Nie, Naji Al-Ali, Nnekka, Jen Hill, and Abel Jackson.

Each was given a plain, colorless wall and free rein to fill it with whatever they like from Oct. 18 - 24. Many had finished sketching out and filling in the majority of their designs by Friday afternoon, but still had details and finishing touches to work on through Sunday.

To learn more about the yearly festival, WFAE's Nick de la Canal traveled into the Metropolitan parking deck to meet with the festival's chair, Carla Aaron-Lopez. They spoke beneath Gist's mural near Trader Joe's.

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Nick de la Canal
Tarot cards served as the inspiration for Bree Stalling's mural, located next to the entrance of the Metropolitan Best Buy.

Nick de la Canal: This is your first year as chair of the festival. It was actually started four years ago by a group of local artists. Shout out to them. But can you give us an idea of why they wanted to start this festival?

Carla Aaron-Lopez: They really wanted to start this festival because they wanted to see more murals going up across Charlotte. It's something that a lot of our larger, global metropolitans have been doing, and it was time for Charlotte to catch up with the rest of the world.

De la Canal: So this festival kind of has a mission?

Aaron-Lopez: Absolutely. I mean, when you go to New York, when you go to Atlanta, L.A., Miami, all of our major cities in the U.S., there are all of these wonderful murals all across town. If Charlotte is a major metropolitan in the Southeast region of the U.S., then we equally deserve those same beautiful murals.

De la Canal: And over the course of these past four years, you guys have sponsored 48 artists —

Aaron-Lopez: Absolutely.

De la Canal: ... Who have created 48 murals all over Charlotte. I mean, that's like halfway to 100. Can you give an idea of some of the other memorable locations that murals have been painted over the course of the past four years?

Aaron-Lopez: Absolutely. There are a lot of spaces in NoDa, for sure, that have Talking Walls murals. Plaza Midwood by Moo & Brew actually has a lot of Talking Walls murals in that area. And then I would have to say the most iconic one was by Matt Moore and Matt Hooker. It's an extremely large mural of their friend Clarity and her eyes have been replaced with wolf eyes, and it's off of 277 downtown.

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Nick de la Canal
Garrison Gist fills in a brow on his mural across from the Metropolitan Trader Joe's on Friday, Oct. 22.

De la Canal: And then the murals going up this year are also in some interesting, maybe unconventional spaces. Let's consider this one here. We're inside the Metropolitan parking deck, right by the Trader Joe's, and we're standing in front of this mural that kind of takes up the full wall. What can you tell us about this mural?

Aaron-Lopez: All right, so this mural has been created by Garrison Gist. He's out of Rock Hill but he lives here in Charlotte. And Garrison is very much known for creating different variations as an ode to Roy Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein is one of his favorite artists. So what we're looking at currently is a background of a man kissing a woman who's crying. And then my best guess is that the eyes that we see on the inside here is whoever — whoever's heart is getting broken right now, y'all. They just said broken heart syndrome is real and we are looking at what the visual of that is right now.

De la Canal: Yeah, I wanted to ask if you knew, sort of, what the meaning behind this might be, and of course, we've got people coming in and out with their groceries and stuff, so maybe they'll have their own interpretations.

Aaron-Lopez: Absolutely.

De la Canal: But do we know what the meaning of this is, or should we leave that to the artist to say?

Aaron-Lopez: I think we should leave it to the artist, but I find that Garrison enjoys leaving his works open to interpretation from his audience.

De la Canal: And of course this festival is called the "Talking Walls" festival, so maybe people can come out and figure out what they think the walls are saying — or saying to them.

Aaron-Lopez: Absolutely. I think my favorites thus far is Garrison, Naji for sure, because his mural is a love story between a man and woman, and in between, there's going to be little love notes passing across the water, like, I just — I like the idea of it all. Like, that's cute! That's super cute. And then I'm also excited for Abel Jackson, because Abel is a Charlotte native. He has been doing artwork for quite awhile — like since Eastland Mall was still standing — and this is a culmination of all of those years of work within the arts in Charlotte.

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Nick de la Canal
Artist Jen Hill, left, and an assistant work on a technicolor disco ball spinning on the backside of Missiongathering church on East 15 St. on Thursday, Oct. 21.

De la Canal: I hate to ask you already about next year, but do you guys have plans for next year? I know you had to kind of scale back the number of artists this year and last year during COVID. What are your plans moving forward?

Aaron-Lopez: Next year I'm going to make it my goal to return to the original 16, and create as much diversity and inclusion within those artists that are selected that will be adding to spaces around Charlotte.

De la Canal: And that's 16 artists?

Aaron-Lopez: Yes, 16 artists, yes!

De la Canal: Well Carla Aaron-Lopez, thank you so much.

Aaron-Lopez: Thank you, Nick. Appreciate you babe.

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Corrected: October 23, 2021 at 12:35 PM EDT
A previous photo caption incorrectly identified Jen Hill as Jen White.