It’s ironic Liz Gray is saddled with a last name of that color.Gray is the shade of an overcast afternoon, or a mechanic’s grease-smeared wrench, or a week-old wad of gum trampled on a parking lot. It’s not the hue of a 29-year-old artist who once lived in the jungles of Costa Rica, or a person who keeps a can of spray paint in her car where most mothers of young sons keep a travel mug of full-strength coffee.If you’ve driven through Gibson Village in the past eight months, you’ve seen further proof of the paradox. Gray, who lives in her late great-grandfather’s house on Allison Street with her boys, is the catalyst behind a movement to reinvigorate the faded brick buildings, once thought of as eyesores, by splashing them with vibrant, popping works of street art. The towering image of Frida Kahlo on the side of Supermarcado Lupitas at Cabarrus Avenue; the giant squid and the Quetzal staring from the walls of La Palmita on Kerr Street; the beach scene and Aztec prints on La Caribena at McGill Avenue; and the latest creation, a peacock keeping idle cars company at the corner stoplight of McGill Avenue and Kerr Street. They’re all the works of Gray and a band of artists who joined in.The idea came last July.Gray was lying on the train tracks in Asheville’s River Arts District, watching some friends paint a mural.“I said, ‘I wish I could do this in my town, but it’s pretty conservative,’” Gray said.The artists’ brushes froze in mid-stroke.“They said, ‘Of course the public would be open to it. Talk to your city. The worst thing they can say is no.’ ”Gray’s idea came at a good time.Concord’s Center City Plan, a 10-year initiative to redevelop neighborhoods surrounding downtown, was reaching its end, and Gibson Village had begun to resonate with local artists. The city had repurposed the old City Water Works building of the 1920s on Crowell Drive into ClearWater Artist Studios, a 38,000-square-foot facility brimming with painters, sculptors, and glassmakers.Any art, like Gray’s, that beautified the area, pushed the city’s plan further along by attracting more people. “You often have the investors and creative entrepreneurs that follow,” said Steve Osborne, Deputy Director in the City’s Planning & Neighborhood Development Department.Osborne has watched Gibson Village grow into a colorfully bustling and creative-minded community in the past two years. If ClearWater Artists Studios is the focal point, Gray’s murals certainly add the splashy details that lead the way in.“We really envision it to be a very happening place,” he said.The murals are attracting new people and helping restore a sense of pride in the ones who have been here for years – the Dominican, Guatemalan, Mexican, and Indian family-owned businesses.At La Palmita, Gray painted a Quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird. “I say ‘that’s not just any bird. That bird has meaning,’” said Alex Gomez, the store’s owner, when people ask about the art on his building. “They are happy when we tell them what it means.”Rake Gandhi, manager of K&M Corner Stop on Kerr Street, said “People don’t realize all of the different culture in this community.“You can see it on the walls, where people are from. I like it.” The convenience store is next to receive a mural. Gray and other artists will paint an Indian-inspired elephant.In the past year Gray has ingratiated herself with the business owners and its neighbors. On a recent walk along the strip of Hispanic-owned shops along McGill Avenue, people stopped her every few yards.“Are you the artist who’s painting on the walls?” asked a silver-haired man in a pickup truck. “Nice job.” “Artist!” Pointed another, before disappearing into the hair salon.When she walked into La Caribena, the Dominican-owned grocery store, the clerk offered to dance with her to the merengue music piping through the speakers. For a few minutes they danced among cases of plantains.“There’s a lot of diversity within the Hispanic culture in this area that people just don’t know about,” said Gray, who speaks Spanish. “I feel like I’ve given them a voice. Like, hey, we’re here, and we’re nice. You can come on in and have a cup of coffee.”Six murals later, those voices are heard on the walls every time a person passes.“I just wanted to do one mural when I started. Just one,” Gray said. “But now, I want to build a foundation for what I’m doing in this area, so it can keep going.”
Friday, Feb. 15, 2013
Street art brightens Gibson Village
"Mr. Peacock" on McGill Avenue and Kerr Street is a work-in-progress by artists Liz Gray, in the picture, and Megan Walsh. COURTESY OF ISIAH DONTE LEE
The piece of street art, the Frida Kahlo on the side of Supermarcado Lupitas at Cabarrus Avenue, is one of the works that Lisa Gray has led. COURTESY OF ISIAH DONTE LEE
Painting starts soon on mural No. seven, an Indian-themed design by artist Alicia VanCuren. The mural will be on K & M Quick Stop at the corner of McGill Avenue and Kerr Street. RENDERING COURTESY OF ALICIA VANCURREN
Want to help? Each mural costs $500. That money pays for brushes, $65 per gallon paints, and a tank of gas for any artist who helps. Anyone who donates $20 or more will receive a print of the proposed design. Details: www.liz2thagray.com or www.kickstarter.com/profile/1219923681.