The Chatham Arts Council grant helps local artists and art workers get back to work creating art for public spaces
By Chiara Evans | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Britt Flood’s colorful works are meant to inspire love and trust. She focuses on human connection by capturing the spirit of a scene or person rather than precise details.
“My public art is an outlet for the positive, joyous moments that I want to share with people,” Britt says.
She grew up in the area, moving back and forth between Cary and Apex. Britt landed in Pittsboro after completing her bachelor’s degree at Appalachian State. She found a secluded cabin in Chatham’s woods, which provides inspiration for her darker, more intimate paintings on canvas. Britt says living here also inspires her work in terms of color, and she often uses shades of green in her paintings.
Britt’s murals differ from her canvas pieces because they often prompt interactions between her and passersby. Some may stop and admire her gold flowers popping against purple paint while tossing pennies in the painted water fountain at Raleigh’s North Hills shopping center.
“I often joke and like to hand out a paintbrush and see if they want to make a mark on the mural,” Britt says. “I love getting that feedback and interaction with the community specifically through public art.”
One of Britt’s current commissions is from Arts Everywhere and UNC Research for an interior mural at the office of UNC Research at Carolina Square. The mural will depict hands that mirror Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” as well as a double helix and paintbrush strokes to illustrate a connection between the humanities and science. At press time, the work was set to be completed in August. Looking ahead, Britt dreams of placing a mural on a Chatham water tower.
“My main goal in public art is, when people see my work, they literally stop in their tracks, they forget about their day job or the traffic that they’re in, and they just have this moment of wonder or awe,” Britt says. “I just want to give people a little bit of light and love in their day.”
BRIGHT AND BOLD
You’ll find both natural elements and human-made objects – think nails, chains or various metals – infused into Alexander Percy’s three-dimensional pieces. His art ranges from jewelry to multidimensional paintings to sculptures. “The fact that we have 360 degrees to create something beautiful, not just something that you can hang on the wall, is why my paintings have this look with texture,” Alexander says.
The Moncure resident grew up in Puerto Rico, and art gave him a “second chance in life,” he says. “I feel I owe where I’m at in life to the arts, and it’s what I use as a therapy. It gives me this sense of release and satisfaction once I’ve finished a piece.”
Alexander earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and an associate degree in jewelry design and advanced painting at the University of Puerto Rico. He immigrated to New York in 2005 to pursue a career in the arts, and his desire for a fresh perspective brought him to North Carolina in 2016. He says he appreciates our community’s support of artists and values “how they encourage artists to be artists,” while also sharing his gratitude for funds he’s received from the Chatham Arts Council’s Chatham Artist & Arts-Worker Relief Effort during the pandemic.
Alexander’s artwork combines inspiration from his life in Chatham with his Latino background, like his sculptures made from wood he finds at Jordan Lake and the vibrant hues of yellow, red, blue and green in his paintings that are a nod to his Latino roots.
Still, Alexander leaves interpretation of his works in the eye of the beholder. “I like to create this playful game between the viewer and the painting every time they are in front of my artwork,” he says. Alexander’s art and jewelry can be viewed on Instagram at alexanderpercy_art and cataleyajewelrystudio.
Wendy Spitzer’s art exists across a variety of mediums, from documentaries to collages to audio recordings. Her visual art holds an audience’s attention, encouraging them to keep looking at a piece to spot new details. She creates two-dimensional collages by playing with color, shapes and depth. Wendy’s audio projects, accessible on her website, create immersive experiences for participants. One example is “Pieces of Grief” – a combination of music, voicemails and interviews that explore emotions following a loss – which is meant to be heard while walking out in nature, specifically along a path outlined by Wendy at Durant Nature Preserve in Raleigh.
The Canadian-born artist majored in oboe performance at UNC before playing electric bass in local ensembles. She began producing music under the pseudonym Felix Obelix and later pursued visual art, attending graduate school at the University of London where she wrote a master’s thesis on creative collaboration.
“All of my projects start with some kind of a question,” she says. “And the project then usually evolves from answering that question.”
In January, Wendy began taking walks while talking on the phone with several acquaintances. Afterward, she’d illustrate paintings that evoked the emotions and details of the conversation. Wendy finds collaboration yields “more interesting, more universally impactful work because more perspectives are integrated into it.” She considers working with other creatives or peers as a “hallmark” of her practice. Wendy creates the final product, but she considers projects like “Walk, Chat and Response” and “Pieces of Grief” participatory pieces. The individuals with whom she spoke to on the phone helped bring the piece to fruition.
“I’m interested in this third thing that happens when creative people, or really any two collaborators, start working on something together,” Wendy says. “I’m really interested in exploring how that process happens and also how the process of collaboration gets reflected in the final art output.”
TRUTH BE TOLD
Music holds mystery and nuance for Pittsboro-based musician and writer Brenda Linton.
“People hold on to a lot of secrets, both good and bad,” Brenda says. “If an artist is daring enough to write about their own secrets, [they can] help listeners and readers feel hopeful and realize they’re not alone in dealing with the difficult parts of life. We have a hard time talking about those without feelings of shame or regret.”
The singer/writer discovered her passion by listening to folk, classical and big band jazz, but Celtic music draws her attention through the timbre and resonance in a voice. She loves the haunting melodies of the style, especially sung acapella. “[The] Irish [have a] talent or telling stories that make ordinary events seem magical,” says Brenda, who is of mostly German descent.
Brenda released two albums over the course of her career and collaborated with myriad other artists – even performing with a heavy metal band in London. She frequently toys with or questions boundaries, privacy and intimacy within her music and written works, hoping it encourages others to be open in sharing their deepest feelings. Her work is a direct product of her experiences, which she says have been shaped by the Chatham community, where she is the music director for Pittsboro Youth Theater, performs with Chatham Community Players and teaches private music lessons to kids of all ages – her current cohort is aged 8 to 15.
The Washington, North Carolina, native moved to Bynum in 1989 and now lives in Pittsboro where she’s working on her newest project – a personal memoir. Named for her coastal roots as well as some of her more calamitous experiences, “Hurricanes and Other Natural Disasters” is a collection of essays about life lessons – those “aha moments,” as Brenda calls them. The JumpstART grant she received from the Chatham Arts Council allowed Brenda to take time off from other projects in August to focus on her book.
“I’m a proud Chathamite,” she says. “It’s got everything and everybody. We have such a rich heritage and plethora of artists. To live in a small community that has this much art, it’s just extraordinary.”
Brenda is working on putting together a group of musicians to perform as the house band for Chatham Community Players’ “Who’s Happy Now,” a dark comedy set in an East Texas small-town bar set to debut in spring 2022. She’s also organizing a community concert and dance party this fall where she plans to play her music with a band alongside other regional performers to celebrate “the progress we’ve made to date, honor those we have lost and be inspired to work together to finally defeat COVID-19,” she says.
“It’s like coming home after a long journey and being able to see and spend time with the people who enrich your life,” Brenda says. – by Brooke Spach
Chatham Art Council puts the work of the recipients of its JumpstART grant, including the four artists featured here, on display in the Welcome Center as well as other downtown Pittsboro locations as part of Pittsboro First Sunday on Nov. 7 from noon to 4 p.m. Peruse sculptures by JR Butler, Steve Fagan and Alexander Percy, textiles by Tanja Cole and paintings/drawings by Britt Flood, Wendy Spitzer and Julia Kennedy, among others, and literary stylings of Brenda Linton and Dolly Sickles as well as new music from Grand Shores, Breadfoot and the Chatham Rabbits.
In addition to the Nov.7 Chatham Experience event date, JumpstART visual art will be on display from Oct. 30 until Nov. 16.