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Exploring the world of underpass art in Charlotte

It’s crazy what you might miss when you’re driving. I was cruising under the Matheson Bridge through NoDa last week when my eyes popped over a piece of art I thought was new: The underpass streaked with colors and images.

Not so. This work was completed back in 2012 by the hands of fine artist/muralist Wiliam Puckett. His art tends to be for the people. “I like the idea of being out in the public and addressing an audience that does not frequent museums or galleries,” Puckett said.

Art under a bridge is a good space to start. This project was conceived in 2010 and was made possible through a NoDaRioty Committee grant, a matching Arts & Science Council grant and a City of Charlotte Neighborhoods grant, not to mention donations and volunteer time that cleaned up the underpass.

The project also required NCDOT approval, which Puckett said was hugely helped by a donation of anti-graffiti gloss to protect the paint from graffiti damage and therefore justify the cost of his exposed, public art work.

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“The idea of creating a gateway was monumental to me,” said Puckett, who was ultimately chosen by the neighborhood from a group of artists interested in undertaking the project just beyond the intersection of North Davidson Street and Jordan Place, a portal to the bustling stretch of NoDa restaurants and bars.

To complete the 14,000-square-foot Matheson Bridge Mural, Puckett devoted six months to research and development of the story board, which features the legendary Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, or Meck Dec.

[Related: Meck Dec Day is May 20. What in the world is Meck Dec Day?]

He worked with groups like the Mecklenburg Historical Association and The Charlotte Museum of History. Then, the application of the paint itself took about 11 months of onsite time.

What to notice

Puckett said the paintings on the columns create the illusion of vignettes — look through the spaces to the backdrop, take in the feel of traditional Renaissance art.

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The large backdrop images on either side of North Davidson Street create “sort of a giant children’s book” effect, Puckett pointed out.

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Notice each of the columns. “The characters facing the road (in color), they are four heroes and four villains, the American side vs. the British side.” Names like Gen. Thomas Gage and King George III are listed.

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On the sides of the columns, the black/grey images represent people who “were present but not acknowledged” during the era of the Meck Dec, like housewives and Native Americans that were part of the community, Puckett said.

As for other underpass art in Charlotte, Puckett would love to see art on the columns under I-277 near Midtown. “It would be amazing to have color under there,” he said.

For now, we can settle for:

– “Passing Through Light” by Erwin Redl, on view at the I-77 and West Trade Street underpass.

– The public art for the uptown arena that included nearby underpass art by Andrew Leicester.

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– A temporary public art project, Skyon Tryon by Sheila Klein, installed on the underside of the I-277/North Tryon Street Bridge.

– The kaleidoscope-like underpass artwork for NC Music Factory, commissioned by the venue’s owner.

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What is still to come:

The Wesley Heights Community Association is applying for a Keep Charlotte Beautiful Grant for underpass art on Fourth Street at Fraiser Park, according to Bernie Petit at the Arts & Science Council. The future Cross Charlotte Trail may have several underpass opportunities as well.

Fingers crossed.

Photos: Katie Toussaint

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