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3 SILOS, 3 VISIONS

Zach Northington loves science fiction, photography too.

Reading George Orwell's classic “1984,” he was struck by the story of how a tyrannical government can control its citizens. That led him to create a photograph of a girl, her face cropped, her blue eye made even more blue. Using a computer, Northington added a bar code to her face “to portray the message that people can be what society makes them.”

Now, much to his surprise, his photo will be part of Charlotte's newest public art piece.

On Friday, workers will cover three former industrial silos near South Boulevard and Remount Road with artwork printed on large sheets of vinyl. The image in the middle is by Northington, an 18-year-old who recently graduated from Charlotte Christian School and lives in Matthews.

“This is the first time something like this has ever happened with my work so it is really exciting,” said Northington, who will attend the Art Institute of New York in the fall.

The public art piece is at the Silos at South End, a $50 million residential and commercial development with an art theme. Next to the Lynx Blue Line's southbound tracks, the work will be seen by riders as well as motorists on South Boulevard. In addition to Northington's work, the project includes enlargements of an abstract painting by Mike Watson and a close-up photograph of bottles by Paul Cotter, both of Charlotte.

“It was a nice collaboration of talent, ages and interests,” said developer Tim Crawford of Citiline Resortline Cos.

Mixing and matching

In April, the silos made the news when one collapsed while being dismantled, obstructing the Lynx tracks and disrupting service. The remaining three silos, once part of Rea Contracting's asphalt plant, have been reinforced with metal hoops.

Citiline spent more than $100,000 on preserving and reinforcing the silos and buying the artwork. To find artists, Crawford hired the staff of the Arts & Science Council's Public Art Commission, which works with city and county governments and also with private companies for a fee – $3,475 from Citiline.

“We do projects that we really believe will enhance the identity of the city and will take public art to another level,” said Jean Greer, ASC vice president for public art.

Greer gathered examples of work by about 20 local artists. She'd seen Northington's photograph at an exhibit of work by the families of city and county employees. “It's so fresh and youthful that it just has this great strength to it,” she said.

Crawford and his colleagues made the final selection, mixing and matching with Greer's help on what worked together.

Watson's abstract painting, at 40 by 40 feet the largest of the three, will be next to the tracks. Watson, who teaches at the Art Institute of Charlotte, used photographs and memories of his fourth birthday party to create his colorful work.

Cotter, who teaches photography and does marketing for Davidson Day School, found a rack of colored bottles in an unfinished building off Camden Road in South End. He lay on his back to get an unusual angle. His piece, like Northington's, is 25 by 40 feet. Sean Miller of TPM, a graphics firm, said the images were printed on heavy duty vinyl suitable for the outdoors. The panels will be laced onto the metal hoops on the silos and tightened like a drumhead. Miller said the installation should take one day.

Saving what's old

Crawford, an art lover and collector, said he wanted to use art to attract designers, artists and architects as potential buyers and renters to his project where construction is scheduled to begin in September. He has an eye on those ages 25 to 40. “They may not own a lot of art but they appreciate it and want to be part of an art community,” he said.

He also wanted to save the 60-foot tall silos. “In South End, what's cool is what's old,” he said.

Public art, Crawford knows, has been a contentious issue in Charlotte. The six large earth-colored disks CATS installed on the Lynx line prompted controversy when they went up last September.

Crawford also knows people are more likely to object when public art is paid for with tax money rather than with private money. “I'm not worried about it at all,” he said.

Greer said Charlotte will be seeing more public art, installed not just by government but by businesses. Two recent examples: a 22-foot granite and stainless steel sculpture by N.C. artist Sally Rogers in front of the TradeMark condominiums on West Trade Street and a 25-foot movable stainless steel sculpture of a head by Czech artist David Cerny at Whitehall Corporate Center off Arrowood Road.

Such public art and the silos, said Greer, will become markers for the city.

“People are really going to relate to (the silos),” she said. “It's powerful because of its scale and color, and what's not to like?”

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