Local Arts

Artists create murals to provide comfort, healing after deadly UNC Charlotte shooting

Artist Abstract Dissent creates “Charlotte Strong” mural

Charlotte artist Shane Pierce creates "Charlotte Strong" mural after shooting at UNCC.
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Charlotte artist Shane Pierce creates "Charlotte Strong" mural after shooting at UNCC.

Within hours of learning of the deadly April 30 shooting at UNC Charlotte, local street artist Shane Pierce began sketching a design for his latest mural.

“CHARLOTTE STRONG” the mural would say. It includes the university’s logo, two hearts for the two students killed and six tear drops for the six students shot in a classroom that afternoon.

Pierce, who paints under the art name Abstract Dissent, finished the work over six or seven hours using various spraypaint colors that week, including five or six shades of green, he told The Charlotte Observer in an interview Thursday. He first built the wall for the mural out of treated plywood, he said.

The mural is 8 feet tall and 24 feet wide.

Since posting a photo of the mural on the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts of his Abstract Dissent business last Friday, the picture has received nearly 200,000 views, he said.

“It goes to show how important art is in our world today,” Pierce said of the high number of views. “They’re sharing it because it’s emotionally touching. It initiates the healing process.”

‘Direct and symbolic meaning’

Other Charlotte artists are also creating pieces in tribute to the UNC Charlotte shooting victims -- or already have.

Using aerosol paint only, artists Mike Wirth and John Hairston Jr. created a mural 8 feet by 8 feet on Friday at the Charlotte SHOUT! festival in uptown Charlotte.

The artists painted from 11:30 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. on Tryon Street outside Spirit Square, Discovery Place and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Hairston is a professor of illustration in UNCC’s arts and architecture department. Wirth teaches at Queens University of Charlotte and was on the art faculty and a research artist at UNC Charlotte from 2005 to 2009.

“Unfortunately, this is my third gun violence memorial mural,” Wirth told The Charlotte Observer in an email Saturday. “My cousin was murdered last year at the Marjorie Stoneman-Douglas High School shooting. Since that day, I’ve been using my voice as a muralist to make lasting change happen in our society.”

The painting completed Friday will be donated to UNCC from Charlotte Center City Partners, according to Wirth.

“I had originally designed the piece and decided that a fusion of our two expressive styles and connections to the issue would mesh well to visually represent the energy and passion of the victims in life and outpouring of UNCC community,” he said.

“The imagery has direct and symbolic meaning,” Wirth said in his email. “A graceful glowing golden band of ‘healing’ energy emits from the prospectors pan of Norm the Niner, and spirals up to surround the 49er athletics logo before disappearing into a cloudscape.

“Symbolic marigold flowers intermix a silhouetted candlelight vigil gathering support the golden spiral image on each side at the base of the mural,” he said.

‘Touched and humbled’

Pierce told the Observer that when he called the UNCC Chancellor’s Office to donate his mural, a spokeswoman declined the offer in part because so many artists have planned to create and donate works.

Students Reed Parlier, 19, of Midland and Riley Howell, 21, of Waynesville were killed in the shooting. Four other students were hospitalized. A Mecklenburg County grand jury indicted former UNCC student Trystan Andrew Terrell on murder, attempted murder and assault charges.

Pierce said he was told the university’s new Niner Nation Remembrance Commission might consider art proposals as it looks into how best to memorialize the victims and mark the tragedy.

UNCC spokeswoman Buffie Stephens said she didn’t know how many artists have contacted the university, but “we’ve been so touched and humbled by the outpouring of support from all parts of the Charlotte community, including artists.” UNCC Chancellor Philip Dubois thanked the community in a letter.

“Because there are so many ideas and thoughts, the chancellor wanted to be so very thoughtful about how we memorialize” the students who died that he called for the commission’s creation, Stephens said.

Pierce said the mural remains in his yard. He said he’s finalizing plans to permanently display the mural at a Charlotte business operated by a UNCC grad.

Pierce said he saw how art can help a school and a community heal when he created a 60-foot mural in the cafeteria of Butler High in Matthews after a fatal shooting in that school last October. The mural includes an image of a bulldog — the school’s mascot — with the words, “We are Butler.”

The online response from students and others was overwhelming, he said, “all of it positive.”

“He stepped in, literally, at the school’s darkest hour and was able to produce something to help us start to heal,” Butler High Principal John LeGrand told the Observer at the time.

“That was the first thing they needed to get through the recovery process,” Pierce said Thursday.

Abstract Dissent's work is all over Charlotte, including hallways of CMS schools.

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