Art Is King: Creativity Rules
Art reigns king in Atlanta. Just minutes away from the world’s busiest airport, budding local artists and industry legends can now mingle within the same hub of creativity. It is in this space where we can break down the distinctions between students and professionals to all learn from one another’s gifts. When walking into the Art Is King conference in the Camp Creek area of East Point, Georgia, I found just that: tucked away into the first floor of the Holiday Inn Express Hotel, artists young and old had come together to swap fresh tips and tricks that can only be learned from years of industry experience.
The Art Is King conference was a weekend of esteemed panels, drawing competitions, networking, and art shows. There were talks conducted by some of the best in the business, lectures by an attorney attempting to educate artists about the legalities of their work, and workshops created to give each artist a chance to learn something new. The curator and producer of the event was graphic designer Daniel Flores. He recently founded The Black Book Conversations ATL group in the hopes of offering career-orientated artists a chance to cultivate their skills through workshops. Art Is King was there final event of the year. I walked into the conference’s main room on Sunday and was pleasantly surprised; instead of being greeted by a plethora of high-rise abstract art, I instead found myself among excited, chatty artists. The theme of the event was Dia de los Muertos.
Stacked high on display were a group of sculpted skulls, one of which had been cleverly morphed into the Star Wars franchise’s iconic Storm Trooper mask. Beside the masks sat a series of paintings, a clever play on the “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” motif. Each painting featured a decaying skull being overtaken by white snakes (“the Japanese symbol for rebirth,” the painter told me), passing through and erupting from the eyes, sides of the skull, and mouth. The background tones of the work were mostly deep black with splatters of white, and quick dashes of yellow to highlight the place of the snakes impact. Moving along the display I came upon the next piece of artwork, this one painted in brighter colors that couldn’t help but remind me of “The Day of the Dead’s,” frequent use of loud reds and yellows. The painting’s main focus was also a skull, one half rotted and the other still alive, decorated in bright white makeup, purple lining the eye, and red lipstick. Every other piece in the art show seemed to use skulls in some way: an inked line drawing in which the subject is surrounded by unusual, winged creatures carrying skulls, an indigenous man holding a torch built by fiery snakes above a skull, and a skull with an urban feel to it, accented by a beanie atop the head and stereo speakers in the background.
After browsing through the gallery, we broke for lunch, during which time I was able to speak with an artist by the name of Jason Phillips. A drawing competition had just started among the artists as well (the winner would receive some coveted materials from local art supply store, Binders), and while eating I had the pleasure of watching Jason turn a simple line sketch into a detailed rendition of — you guessed it — a skull. He told me, in light of the recession, of how he had recently begun to focus almost solely on tattooing, a not completely desired but altogether necessary break from his usual fine arts style in painting. Jason also spoke about the recent work he’s done in collaboration with The University of Michigan. He’s thus far illustrated three of five books that will go along with an experimental English study of African-American vernacular. By the time we were done chatting over lunch, his drawing had already taken an impressive form.
The group moved outside into the lobby’s dining area for the remainder of the drawing competition. Here I met Miles, a graphic design student studying at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. He told me of his interest in helping create a corporate identity in his graphic design work and his love for tattooing. Unlike the artist I spoke to over lunch, Miles was fascinated with tattooing in a different way — having been bogged down by school and the restrictions of graphic design, he saw tattooing as the perfect venue to express what he had most loved as a child: simply drawing. He currently works as an apprentice to a tattoo artist in Atlanta.
Next to take place was a speed networking exercise. This gave each artist a chance to speak with industry professionals, in a one-one-one setting for three minutes at a time. “It’s not about who you know; it’s about who knows you!” the coordinator of the event, Dan, reminded us. Jumping in on the line of people, I was able to briefly talk with several different artists, one of which was Atlanta-based graphic designer Kevin “mr.soul” Harp. mr.soul, having found his artistic beginnings through membership in some of Cleveland’s best graffiti groups, has now moved along in the industry to become a renowned graphic artist. He has worked with rapper Ludacris, and now acts as both an artist and a curator at the City of Ink Tattoo Shop and Art Gallery in Atlanta. When he isn’t focusing on his own work, he can be found cultivating the talents of youth interested in pursuing art as a full time career. In a follow up interview, I got the chance to talk with mr.soul again about what aspect of the event he found most successful, as well as the importance of an artistic community. In addressing Art Is King, he said, “I find it successful that Dan could pull all of those things together for a weekend event dedicated to educating and informing young/future artists. I can definitely say that something like this would have been monumental when I was coming up! So the fact that he was able to pull it off with the informative panels and overall agenda was a great success in itself.” mr.soul additionally talked about the importance of networking with other artists, learning from both artists young and old, and his interpretation of the current community in Atlanta: “Fostering an artistic community for artists is the lifeline to not only becoming a successful artist, but to learn HOW to be an artist. Techniques, tips, resources.” He went on to say, “ I see and hear of a lot of things going on with the arts in Atlanta, but I’m so tunnel vision on what I’m doing and what the immediate artists around me are doing that I only focus on those growths. I have a good relationship with many artists in this Atlanta community and have a great deal of respect for their works. I think what’s more important than the growth is the unification to utilize art for a cause and not for glamour. To make a statement and not to boost and ego. When the artistic community finds in itself the need to do more of that, I will be more involved with that growth.”
Needless to say, I learned a great deal in just the short time I was at the conference. Art Is King offered a fostering energy that left no artist without something greater to take away at its end. I am really thankful that I was able to be a part, however small, in the spirit of the event – being in the company of such creative people gave me a stronger appreciation for what the stressors of everyday life attempt to take away: simple creativity. As celebrated painter and arts advocate Gilbert Young put it to me, “you know the one thing that would stop me from being an artist? Life.” And yet, at 71 years of age, he still keeps creating.
– Melissa Cruz