Growing up in the Philly area, the concept of graffiti art was a source of constant grumbling and a total lack of understanding from many of the folks in my community. I heard it referred to as “garbage” and “a disgrace”. I’ve even heard someone refer to graffiti art as “outright, felonious vandalism”, which I guess is technically accurate…if you’re not viewing the art with an open mind.
Now, I’m not out here trying to categorize a four-letter slang word that’s hastily scrawled across a street sign as “art”, but I am here to remind us all that most graffiti art is the result painstaking planning and the blood, sweat, and tears of extremely talented visual wizards. And, over the past few decades, these graffiti geniuses have bucked the trend of the traditional spray can and have not-so-quietly advanced their work to the level of the mural. And to the tippy-tops of our city skylines.
Look up at the tops of buildings in just about any location in the City of Brotherly Love, for example, and you’re bound to catch a glimpse of the city’s history and its favorite sons and daughters standing three stories high and in glorious pastel. I remember the first time I locked eyes with John Coltrane standing tall on the side of a building on 29th Street in Philadelphia, and it immediately evaporated my growing anger at sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. Because that’s what good art does: it transports us. It lets us feel the emotions we have hidden just beneath the surface, and it provides an opportunity for personal exploration–even in its simplest forms.
That’s why I almost exploded out of my shoes when a quick drive down Main Street in my adopted hometown of High Point, North Carolina revealed a whole lineup of brand-new mural art staking claims on the tired brickface of many surrounding businesses. A giant Stay-Puff Marshallow Man in one spot. A glistening tree frog sprawled across a whitewashed wall in another.
Over the course of only a few years, the entire town escaped the drab browns and reddish hues of traditional, Southern masonry and forged ahead in the brilliant pinks and greens and yellows of pure celebration: for the pride we have in our tight-knit community and all it offers to our individual lives. Many of these murals are the brainchild of local resident, Brian Davis, who is the owner of BrianStudio and who should be awarded a free beer each time he enters a local establishment for single handedly transforming High Point into a more welcoming and colorful place. You can read more about Brian Davis and his mural art explosion in this recent interview he gave to High Point Discovered.
Of course, as a writer, when it comes to mural art the main thing I’m looking for is inspiration, which I got the first time I was lucky enough to pass a two story tall Cardinal mural that spans an entire building on MLK Dr. That also happened to be the exact moment my brain started dreaming up bird images on the regular, which lead me to think about Birdland Jazz Club, which motivated me to dive back into my research on jazz legend, John Coltrane, one of High Point’s most illustrious former citizens.
And that, my friends, is what eventually culminated in Cordy Wheaton’s epic journey, which you can now read on the pages of my upcoming young adult novel, ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND. I hope you’ll consider ordering a signed copy from local, independent Sunrise Bookshop, or get it wherever books are sold.