Whether you’re driving under the Matheson Avenue bridge, grabbing a cup of coffee and a pastry from Amelie’s or stopping by the venerable Jack Beagle’s for a drink, the murals by local artist Will Puckett are a familiar site for Charlotte locals. With his newest project underway at Neighborhood Theater, his work is turning more heads than ever.
Thankfully Will came down out of the mid-July heat from his lift-bucket to a booth at Smelly Cat to sit down with and talk with me about his history as a Charlotte public artist, his new work at Neighborhood Theatre, and the rapidly changing Charlotte arts culture.
Charlotte Agenda: So why don’t you introduce yourself for those Agenda readers that don’t know you!
Will Puckett: I’m Will Puckett. I live here in NoDa. I’m a muralist – I’ve painted several pieces here in the neighborhood and I’m currently working on the Neighborhood Theatre.
I’m a husband, a dad, an artist, I guess. I’m an Art Historian and always a 49er. I’ve been working professionally as a muralist for about 10 years – I did the wall at Jack Beagles, Matheson Bridge, really all over town.
I’ve been doing a lot of work over the past two years or so with Pabst Blue Ribbon in their mural program. They got a really great mural program where they keep guys like me and a couple others in business. There’s not a lot of funding for the arts often times and they’ve done a great job in that regard.
Recent piece, I never posted. Thanks for the love and the support @pabstdudebroribbon , @johnnyjvee , and #chopshop. And thank you Jaques Derrida. A photo posted by William Puckett (@mr_puckett) on
CA: I heard they’re doing that pop-up here this Wednesday!
WP: Yeah! Absolutely, I’ll actually be showing at the next [ArtHole] opening on the 25th. PBR is great I’ve done murals in the Outer Banks for them – here locally I did one at the Blind Pig, one at Chop Shop, one at Abari, that new videogame bar opening down the way – the Ms. Pacman.
CA: You did the Ms. Pacman?! So what you’re saying is if it’s on a wall in Charlotte, it’s probably you.
WP: Well, it’s probably like a one in three chance. I’ve actually covered well around 30,000 square feet of public space.
CA: Wow, that’s a large number. What initially drew you to murals?
WP: A few things, one I’ve never been particularly fond of galleries. I’m a country kid and, you know, they always seem a little uppity. I mean their good places, important places, but I knew a lot of people felt the way I do about galleries also and one of the neat things about these murals – especially some of the early stuff I’ve done is 99% of the people that walk past at any given point would never go into a gallery or museum and now they’re addressing art. With some of my older pieces they’re addressing art history – that’s always been a neat turn on for me.
Second, just from an economic standpoint – I could always get work. The Matheson Bridge was a yearlong job and I got paid for a year’s work. While [Neighborhood Theater] isn’t a yearlong job I can price it out in a way that I am comfortable with. Sort of a blue collar approach to being a fine artist – charged by the hour essentially as a contractor I guess – I just happen to work with pictures and paint.
CA: Can you give me an idea of what the creative process is like for painting a mural? Like for Jack Beagles for instance?
WP: Sure! Yeah, I actually did that for free! It hadn’t opened yet, I knew Chris the owner pretty well, he’d bought a piece of mine – or traded really – for shutters on my house, he owns a blind and shutter business as well. Anyway, it was a prime spot and I knew it would be a great billboard for me. Literally as I was painting it, the Mint Museum called the Salvador Deli next door to find out who I was and they hired me for something else too.
CA: Well that’s how I found out about you!
WP: Exactly, It’s been remarkable. All that being said, the idea of it was… I have always been a huge fan of Diego Rivera, and one of my favorite pieces of his is Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park, which is just sort of a scene in a park setting but with great perspective – gives you good idea of what would or wouldn’t be going on there. I wanted to do something like that for NoDa and capture what was happening now, or at the time 2010.
So initially it was just going to be a gathering of people, but I ended up putting out a call to the neighborhood through the neighborhood association. I asked for volunteers – who’d like to see their likeness put up, and what I had intended to be about 150 people ended up being 274 real folks from the neighborhood and every single one of them – resident, business owners, community staples – are all on there.
A photo posted by courtsals (@courtsals) on
CA: That’s incredible! I’ll have to go back and see if I can recognize individuals.
WP: I used to be able to tell people the name of every single person — I have it all documented somewhere. It really turned out incredible. It made me a lot of friends, but getting people involved with the production of the art — letting them have a stake — or a claim, to fall back on the 49ers; it really got people excited.
It raised a lot of interest in Charlotte public art, and it’s been a huge catalyst for me doing a lot of the work that I have here. And it’s given me the opportunity to work with the community to change Charlotte public spaces –which is another big draw to murals for me – changing the public space.
CA: How long have you been working on the Theatre? I heard the commissioning process was pretty interesting for this – you ended up lobbing a bunch of ideas at them?
WP: It’s been a while now, obviously it’s a very visible spot. I probably did 20 or 30 drawing, mock-up type things. Some more similar to what I’m doing now, others much different. The first cliché sort of easy one was this stage theme. It was nice. I liked it for what it was but the project organizer wasn’t feeling it, neither of us were particularly happy with it. Several other ideas were thrown around from like a cowboy motif to Buck Rogers space 60’s theme – which I was actually really excited about.
CA: That would have been sweet! No offense, the work that you’ve done now is breathtaking – but hearing that. Wow, that would have been pretty special.
WP: Well it would have taken a long time, and completely different budget. And you know there were things we both liked and disliked.
CA: So how long did the commissioning take?
WP: About six months. We had talked about it a few years ago and we were just waiting for the right time.
CA: Now you’ve settled on this animal – tribal type aesthetic?
WP: Well my honors thesis at UNCC was on the idea of precedent and influence and how the past is represented in the present. So bearing that in mind I wanted to look at consistencies that have been presented visually throughout human history – here the idea of animals – power animals especially the Bull has been represented in so much from cave-paintings to Goya – it’s a prominent symbol in American visual culture, and in all cultures really.
Really we’ve kind of just been repeating ourselves throughout the history of our visual culture, we’re just kind of changing things a little bit and so to with this neighborhood – we do have some history, we do have some culture we are trying to hold onto but its changing so fast it’s almost like a bull that’s sort of running through this little community. It’s very subtle but it’s very indicative of the change we are living through right now here in NoDa.
Connect with Will