Coloring outside the lines
Ryan Saunders has his eye on a gray wall on the side of a building on Washington Street. It’s blank, but he is out to change that.
Saunders’ company, Create Your City, is on a mission to reshape how people view the city of High Point. Backed by many creative people, 26-year-old Saunders currently is focusing on inviting local and international mural artists to paint on buildings at various core city sites. He hopes this will help make downtown more attractive to younger generations.
“A mural is basically a billboard for creativity,” he said. “Somebody’s driving through town and they see murals, they’re probably going to feel like, ‘OK, there’s probably peers here that I can get along with, have a conversation with, collaborate with and can learn from.’”
Create Your City spurred the creation of 512 Collective, an art gallery owned by Tammy McDowell on Washington Street. Since the gallery opened, Saunders said it has seen much success. Now, he’s ready to take the next step and bring artists into the city to brighten the sides of private buildings.
“I feel strongly about getting a really well-known renowned artist to do a mural on Washington Street because with what the 512 Collective has been able to do — it’s been pretty amazing,” Saunders said. “I truly believe that creativity is a language in which people of all races can communicate with each other. I’ve seen it time and time again.”
Saunders said even though Brian Davis’ frog mural on the side of the French Interiors building on Hayden Place was not a part of the mural project, it is still a giant milestone for the city.
“It sparked a lot of buzz because it gives you a tangible thing that people can see we’re moving forward, and you can see we’re stepping out,” he said.
Create Your City’s mural project kicked into gear when Kendall Daub started his mural of a cardinal on a building along W. Kivett Drive. Daub said he plans to have it done by the end of the month, weather-permitting. Winston Whale, an internationally known muralist in Oregon who goes by the name The Lost Cause, will begin his mural in High Point the first week in September.
Saunders said he hopes Daub and Whale will be joined by Patch Whisky, a popular muralist who specializes in designing giant, psychedelic and cartoonesque monsters. Whisky has been known to freehand huge, complex murals in mere hours.
Saunders said he fully appreciates local talent and isn’t trying to undermine what High Point already has by bringing in big-name artists. In fact, he said he believes it will have a beneficial effect.
“I feel that by bringing in these artists with national recognition who have traveled all over the place and really established a name for themselves — not only are they going to attract attention that we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten, but they’re also going to anger the local artists a little bit and shake it up and raise the level,” he said.
Whale said street art is a global movement that has created a way for individuals around the world to connect to communities. At the same time, it gives a local community a deep connection to itself, he said.
With the presence of the global community in the city, High Point’s artists can avoid becoming stagnant and will continue to challenge themselves, Saunders said.
“Otherwise, you’re dying a slow death,” he said. “If you’re not going up, you’re going down.”
Whale said when he comes to High Point in September, he wants to meet the locals and connect with artists while he paints murals that he hopes will have an impact.
“Every city I have visited holds a high level of importance to their murals,” Whale said. “They are like landmarks and are talked about as such. If High Point had more murals, it would bring a buzz and level of excitement that is sustainable and profound.”
Saunders knows it will be an uphill battle. He doesn’t take the challenge lightly and knows from experience and word of mouth that similar revitalizing projects have risen and fallen in the past. None have succeeded.
“But I feel like this time, things have progressed further than ever before,” he said. “I know it’s going to take a crack in a wall. I think it’s close to happening, and when that does happen, I feel that I will be successful.”