Art in the Neighborhood: East Atlanta draws creative crowd

By Isadora Pennington

Known for its bars and nightlife, East Atlanta is a grungy gem sitting just south of I-20 off of Moreland Avenue. For many years the area has been a haven for musicians, artists and service industry workers. With plenty of restaurants and shops, the village itself is bustling day in and day out. If you look a little closer, you’ll see that the area is also constantly producing new artwork. Murals come and sometimes go, installations pop up in abandoned payphone booths, and many local businesses sell the unique and local artwork that’s displayed on their walls. To get an insight into why the area draws such a creative crowd, I spoke with four prominent local artists who call East Atlanta home.

Rory Hawkins
Rory Hawkins

Rory Hawkins
CATLANTA, facebook.com/catlanta
“I’ve lived within a mile and a half of the village for the last 10 years of my life, in various spots. I attended Georgia State University from 2006 to 2010. My major was studio, so I did a little bit of everything. My dad was an art teacher growing up, so whenever we travelled anywhere we would go to the art museum, and he loved going around and explaining all the pieces and their significance. I was always surrounded by art, and in high school I got more serious with it and decided that was the path I wanted to take. I knew I wanted to do art but I don’t know if I knew that I wanted to be an artist, and my parents were super supportive. In college, I focused a lot on printmaking. I think that has come into a lot of my work. I like to mass produce work and make lots of versions of it, so I think the process of that has influenced me. When I was in college I worked for PAWS Atlanta, and I became a foster for a couple of FIV+ cats, and that’s really where my love for cats came from. I think I’ve made at least a couple thousand cats in hand cut wood and prints, because I was really churning them out at the beginning of the Free Art Friday Atlanta movement. I used to be really secretive about my identity until it got to the point where I would be at these live painting events with a mask on, and I just felt silly, so I decided to let go of the secrecy. The thing about art is that, for the most part, many artists are kind of anonymous to begin with. Unless you are in the gallery and meeting them right next to their piece, most of the time you’re never going to talk to them. Art already has a mystery to it, so there’s no real benefit to going out of my way to keep my identity secret. When people pass by my art on the street, kids are stopping and adults are stopping too. I think it’s important for art to be accessible. Yes, there are things I want to say and do, but I also just want to make people happy. I want to make it fun, and like, hey, art doesn’t have to be intimidating.”

Lauren Michelle
Lauren Michelle

Lauren Michelle
MINT Leap Year Fellow, laurenmichellepeterson.com
“I’m from Chestertown, Maryland originally. I went to undergrad for printmaking at Towson University in Baltimore, and lived there for eight or nine years before moving to Atlanta, and I got my MFA at Georgia State in drawing, painting, and printmaking. I’m teaching now, just got full time, which is very exciting. I should be here for at least the next two years. I’m in the drawing, painting, and printmaking department. I wanted to be an artist from a very young age, and once it came time to go to college I thought it wasn’t practical. I went into school thinking I was going to get a degree in political science, but I decided ultimately, to screw it, I just wanted to do art. What I’m most interested in with printmaking is the press being this mediator, so the way that things change when they go through the process, and I love how process oriented it is. I also love troubleshooting. I think the residual, the leftover, is a lot of where the connection is with my current work. I was a painter and a printmaker when I first came to Georgia State and I kept getting these comments that what was on the floor was more interesting than what was on the canvas, so I started thinking about using used objects instead of new objects, and now I sort of don’t know what to do with new objects most of the time. I like thinking about the language of objects, so while we are using them we are calling them ‘coffee cup,’ ‘shoe,’ ‘table,’ ‘lamp,’ ‘sofa,’ but then once we put them on the curb and in the trash bin, they all become one single object: trash. I’m interested in exactly where that switch happens. Also the process of taking individual things and distilling them down to one single thing, organized by new aesthetic systems, is of interest to me. I like the idea of things stretching, pulling, and me battling with my materials, so when I made this I wanted it to have internal tension and hold itself together.”

Erin Michelle Vaiskauckas
Erin Michelle Vaiskauckas

Erin Michelle Vaiskauckas
Performance Artist, Intstagram @vaiskauckas
“I first came to Georgia when I attended SCAD in Savannah when I was probably 18 or 19. Through SCAD, I had the opportunity to get a Chinese painting scholarship and travel to China with a group and study there. That was wildly informative because I learned so much about calligraphy and water based media, and developed a completely different approach. The following year I was able to do an independent study program in Europe. While I was there, I was there for The Grand Tour, where four major exhibitions and tons of smaller exhibitions happen throughout Europe. It was life-changing. While ( was there, I had created a series of assignments for myself. That’s where my performative installation work started, because I didn’t have much, I had a backpack. I had to find things to use for my art. I have found that, especially in Atlanta, if you give the public an opportunity to interact, they will, and they will often do it better than you would have done it yourself. I have always been an artist; I came out of the womb that way. My earliest memory, maybe ever, was around a year or so old and looking up at the sun coming through the leaves of a tree, and understanding how the negative space and colors worked. I think I’ve always looked at the world as made up of colors and patterns. I have just always created- I don’t ever remember not making things, from rocks and sticks in the driveway, to painting dead bugs, to even the way that I would stack dishes when doing housework. I kind of can’t help myself; I sort of have to keep making things. I love the physicality of oil paints, and all the different textures it can produce. I also love pastel, and I think that learning to color mix with pastel lends itself to working with oils. I don’t paint that often anymore, right now what seems to bring in money is the installation and performance work. I really enjoy it, it’s a lot more readily accessible. People are so primed for the immediate gratification and immersion of interactive art, so I guess my personal work has evolved into my actual body. It started with endurance pieces, and now it has evolved into art as fun. Making art is my favorite game ever. Doing that often teaches me to play at life more aggressively, and more seriously.”

Jonny Warren
Jonny Warren

Jonny Warren
The Double Wolf, thedoublewolf.com
“I was born in Hawaii and lived all over the United States, before my dad retired from the Navy and moved us to Pensacola, Florida where I attended high school and college. I moved up to Atlanta with my then-girlfriend after graduation. It was probably around the time of second grade that I started to practice art regularly and try to get better. I was inspired by cartoons and tried to emulate my favorite comics. When I went to college, I started as a music major, but switched in the first year to art. It kind of opened up a whole new world of art, like contemporary art and other art movements that I didn’t know about until then. The ‘double wolf’ is something that I created in college. My favorite animal is a wolf because of all the symbolism associated with wolves, and then my interest in duality and representing that in art, those influenced the creation of my personal brand. It’s kind of like an ever-evolving symbol for me, and it applies to my work as well. I’m not only a visual artist, but also a web designer, so it’s like two sides to the coin. When I do murals, a lot of it is done with brush after the initial sketching with spray paint. I also do a lot of pen and ink on paper, which is sort of my main medium outside of murals. I mostly work in black and white, a lot of that is influenced by historical etchings. I really like the weight of etchings and strokes, so I try to incorporate that into my own work. I think it adds more strength and meaning to your art when you have a limited palette, and you have to really focus on the visual elements of the art. For me, it’s really all about the detail. I feel like it gives what I’m trying to portray more weight, as opposed to creating something fast. I’m mostly a gallery artist, I’ve only done murals in the past year and a half, but it’s definitely a medium I have grown to love. I take any opportunity I can get to do murals, because I love the community aspect of it. When you do a piece within a community, everyone gets a chance to see it. It’s unpretentious. In my work, a lot of it portrays animals, because there is so much symbolism that can be portrayed within the archetype of that creature. I like to show people a different side of animals that are normally considered to be negative, and portray animals in a new way.”

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