To Clay Wooten, Columbia’s public art scene left something to be desired. His creation, Rosewood Art Alley, gives “public art” a new meaning, with the people as both the artists and the audience. In fact, he hopes someone will paint over his work.
By Rebecca Johnson
April 7, 2014
Tucked behind The Cigar Box on Rosewood Drive is the Rosewood Art Alley, a clapboard canvas of eclectic images. A rhinoceros head, a cityscape and a robotic turtle all come together on this flurry of impromptu painting.
Bright blues set off warm oranges and reds, and there’s a yellowish glow about the whole thing, as if the 40-foot collaboration is awash in a spotlight.
The Alley borders the asphalt parking lot between the Fox Field Bar and Grille and a radiator shop. It’s the brainchild of local artist Clay Wooten, who has seen and participated in street art in other cities and says he decided he wanted “a place for people to be able to paint freely over and over again.”
Inspired by Kirkwood, an east Atlanta neighborhood known for its public art, Wooten wanted to bring art to Rosewood, the “neat little community” where he lives.
The Alley is different from other public art, though. Wooten and the other artists, including Michael Krajewski, who has been doing public art for seven years, want people to paint over it.“Go paint over mine,” Krajewski says, “Don’t be afraid to do it. Deface my art!”
Columbia has seen major growth in its street art scene in the past few years, says Lee Snelgrove, executive director of One Columbia for Arts & History. Wooten’s canvas “gives Rosewood a sense of place,” Snelgrove says. “They are revising spaces that may be ignored or neglected.”
One Columbia is a nonprofit organization focused on generating tourism and promoting Columbia’s culture and history. It commissions artists to create City Council-approved works, both temporary and permanent, that are then owned by the city. It funded the Before I Die wall that was at 1600 Main Street last September and October, and has recently invested in the restoration of Columbia City Hall.
Snelgrove says a key mission of One Columbia is to work with artists and encourage their ideas. To him, Rosewood Art Alley “is an ever-changing piece that adds color to the city,” and could be “Rosewood’s calling card.”
Wooten approached fellow local artists and friends Krajewski, Cedric Umoja and Whitney LeJeune to paint the Alley. All had collaborated with one another, but never all together.
During the brainstorming session, Wooten says what started with a few sketches on a sheet of paper turned into an idea for a train design, and they toyed with it until they lit upon the word “turtlem,” which is cut into the red paint on the wall’s right side.: “Turtlem was born a simple word but slowly evolved into an enigma that spawned a generation of copy cats copy cats copy cats copy catz.”
Umoja, a veteran street artist, says he was “stoked” to brighten up Rosewood and show people that art can be interactive. “Art can be relatable to everyone,” Umoja says. “Public art reaches people you wouldn’t normally reach.”
Wooten hopes more people will take up the challenge of painting over the wall with their own work. “Some walls in Atlanta change on a weekly basis,” he says, “subject to change at all times. And that’s the beauty of it.”
But except for a new caricature that Wooten noticed during an interview for this story, the Alley hasn’t been touched since it was begun in October. “I was hoping I would be riding down Rosewood and I would see someone painting,” Wooten says. “I had faith people would be interested.”
LeJeune, who studied fine arts at Savannah College of Art and Design, hopes Columbia’s street art scene, and the city’s art scene as a whole, will continue to expand.
“Between now and when I came back in 2010, the change has been unreal,” LeJeune says. “Street art is always looked at as graffiti, as defacing something, rather than beautifying it.” But street art in cities like Atlanta and Charleston has a following, which is what Wooten says he hopes the Art Alley will attract.
Columbia’s strong and diverse art community is cohesive and instrumental in the city’s rapidly growing awareness of public art, and “partnership in the art community leads to more innovative work,” Snelgrove says.
But the artist most known for public art in Columbia, Blue Sky, is skeptical. The self-professed “great-granddaddy” of public art here, Blue Sky says there really is no public art scene.
“Public art is private art that’s big,” Blue Sky says, “They don’t have to pay money to go in a museum to see it.”
He says that art is not all-inclusive, and that if public art were truly by the public, it would “become a stew.”
Wooten says he did not talk to Blue Sky about the Art Alley, and Blue Sky says he didn’t know about the project. Wooten is now working on plans to expand the Art Alley.
“This is a place for me and other people to paint,” he says.
Hear Clay Wooten explain what he wants for the Art Alley.
Listen to Wooten explain what the Art Alley does for Rosewood.
Selected public art sites in Columbia (click on map)