Guiding Light: Leslie Pearson

artist Leslie Pearson. photo by Shane Booth

The official short bio of Leslie Pearson reads: a multimedia artist who utilizes many fiber based materials, processes and techniques to create sculptures, installations, encaustic paintings, and handmade books in which she explores themes of memory and identity. She pursues art as a studio artist, community arts advocate and educator. She has taught at various colleges and Universities and currently serves on the Board of Trustees at the Arts Council of Fayetteville, and is a member of the Surface Design Association. Pearson exhibits her work nationally and internationally. But that doesn’t scratch the surface of the long and varied path her artwork has taken her on, how she’s become a fixture in Fayetteville, or even touch on Fayetteville Pie Company or her forthcoming establishment, Curate Essentials. Pearson has traveled the world and embodies the idea that you can improve and be improved by your local community.

A portion of installation “Tell Me Your Secrets I’ll Tell You Mine” and her cat, Friday Noir.

What does success mean to you?

When I was younger, I used to dream of being an artist. I thought, “Well, how can I make money as an artist? How would that look as a success?” So I thought I would teach art; that was my limited knowledge of what I could do as a profession in the arts.

I pursued that and then switched from arts education to studio practice because I knew I needed to hone my skills as an artist. Then, I wanted to work at the arts council in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, when I was taking my studio classes. That opened my knowledge of arts administration and being able to work in a gallery space, which led to pursuing a master’s degree in museum studies, in the hopes of working in an established museum. But when I got back to the States, that was when 9/11 happened and people were really holding onto their jobs. I realized, if I want to work in a museum, I need a PhD or I need to at least learn a foreign language, but it was really hard to even get a foot in the door in museums.

So there I was with debt, student loans, things like that. I was having meetings with professionals in the art world; I moved to Kansas City for a little while because I thought I would have a better connections. And I ended up working at Sonic and selling my plasma three times a week. That’s how hard up I was. I worked at a donut shop before Dawn and I was substitute teaching. I was like trying to do whatever I could to earn some money. I met this kid who said, “I’m going to join the army because I’ll use my GI bill. They’ll pay for my education after that.” And it just kind of clicked in my mind; I’d never thought about joining the army. And she said, “well, why don’t you just talk to my recruiter?” one thing led to another, and then I’m in the army as a photo journalist. That was the most creative thing I could think of to do for the army. From there, I started writing articles for the local newspaper in Augusta covering arts and entertainment. I realized after I got out of the army that I could get a master’s degree, which would then allow me to circle back and teach art at the college level.

After arriving back in Fayetteville with her husband, Pearson opened the Fayetteville Pie Company, which she credits to a childhood spent learning from her grandmother how to garden, can food, and bake pies for a crowd. Another childhood dream was to open a studio/coffeeshop-type place with her sister, who now also resides in Fayetteville and works closely with Pearson. They are currently renovating a Haymount building to achieve this dream.

To go from being artist-, writer-, teacher-brain to business owner was a big change for me. Through that, I’ve really learned a lot about running a business, which is now helping me as I’m developing Curate Essentials, which I think brings me full circle because with it, I’m able to take everything I learned from the pie shop and develop this store. All that I learned about teaching: I’m going to be able to teach workshops here. Everything I need in terms of travel to exhibit my work, this place is going to allow me the flexibility of that. I’m going to be able to use part of this space as a studio space to continue making work. I’m going to be able to show work. I’m going to be able to bring visiting artists. And so I’m going to be able to cultivate all of that interest in teaching and being with other artists.

So to answer your original question when I was younger, I used to think that being a famous artist was being someone featured in an art book. For me now, it’s just being able to constantly live in my natural, creative, passionate self, but also earn a living doing that because what I’m doing has a monetary value as well.

detail from “Canoe”, a commissioned piece co-created with Australian artist Kerrie Bedson, 2018

What changes in your audience do you seek to make with your art?

I am interested in autobiographical work and the idea of family and being in a community. At first it was very literal: my thesis work was called “Vignettes of a Family”, and I broke down each person who had a big impact on my life and started exploring their story. Then branching out to think about the people who had touched my life in some way, even if it was indirectly. Because embroidery pieces are extremely time-consuming, I’m still working on a series called “Trace Evidence”, which is a fingerprint embroidered over, in an abstract way, old family photos. I love to learn. I’m a lifelong learner. So I was taking some classes on forensic science at Methodist University, where we were learning about fingerprints, how to take fingerprints and about trace evidence and how every single person has trace evidence that they leave. There’s a part of you that you leave at a scene and you also pick up things and you take them with you. So you always are touching your environment and being touched by it. I was thinking about life and how we touch other people’s lives and how one person can be influenced by this person. And they’re influencing you as well.

Pearson’s visual work is complex, usually made up of smaller pieces that represent community, and they are enhanced with text of some kind, giving more depth and intricacy to draw in the viewer.

They just, they like it for the simple shapes, the forms, the colors, and possibly the materials. And then when asked deeper questions, I have answers for them, because people approach artwork differently: everybody who approaches art comes with their own perceived notion, their own background and how they think about things. But I think that idea of family is a very universal thing.

Now how I’m going to use that to change the world in some way. As an artist, I absorb all of my surroundings, all of my interactions with people, everything that comes my way. And then I translate that into my work as a way to get it out and then invite people to just experience it. They have been able to connect with it and maybe see their situation a little bit differently.

always learning something new

How have you constructed the bridges of your artistic career?

There’s a great book called Hinds Feet on High Places that always made me think when I’m going through hard times, God’s got a plan. This little character, she’s trusting that she’s going to the high places and to get there, she thinks she’s going to go straight up, but she has to be led down lower and lower into valleys and in dark times, she realizes that she’s learning to trust more in her guide and in herself and the pain that she goes through makes her stronger. So she actually is able to live in the place where she’s meant to be on the mountain top. There’s been times in my life where I’m just like, ah, I just really want to get to this place where I have this huge exhibit and but I’m still here with these little small exhibits and stuff like that. Well, now I understand that when I do get an opportunity to have a big exhibit, I needed to show in those smaller places. I needed to define my work. I needed to grow as an artist. I needed to know those things. I needed to go through grad school to learn more technique and how to be a professional. I needed to teach at a community college before I could teach at a university. So it has been very, very, very small steps along the way.

One of my biggest problems is I never have enough time to actually get to all the things I have or want to do. I keep a journal with sketches; sometimes, I’ll say, okay, I’m going to do a little sample piece, which I’ll set in my studio. It will remind me, even if it’s a year or two later: Oh yeah, that’s what I was going to do with that.

from Pearson’s latest show “eco prints”, 2021

Who do you consider your artistic cohort?

Firstly, my sister, Leigh, who is my studio assistant. She has been a big help to me. My husband, Justin, who never complains about the ongoing projects I’m involved in. My friends Jennifer and Ellen, who are always game to do something creative and both challenge me to be the best version of myself. Everyone who works at the Pie Shop: they work so hard and are so creative. I wouldn’t be able to do it without them. And all of my Facebook friends who are always encouraging me. I also look to the other women business owners in Fayetteville who are in the trenches every day making their own dreams come true.

For me, also, is going to places and doing workshops. For instance, I’m going to be teaching at Arrowmont in Gatlinburg, Tennessee soon. I’ll be surrounded by other artists who are teaching classes, and also exhibiting their work, and all the students. Those are the times when I get pushed; there’s a synergy that happens. So I rely on those times.

I have another friend, MJ, she’s about 80 years old and she’s my best bestie: she’s an artist. When I’m around her, we just push each other and we’re constantly being creative and things like that. I always say, I want to be like her when I grow up. We used to be together at Acme Art Studios in Wilmington. There were 22 working artists there. That was such a highlight of my life to be there every day with people who were working as practicing artists for their living and teaching and doing commissioned work and things like that. That was a really sharpening time for me.

The Many Forms of Sculpture and Learning of Damien Mathis

Damien Mathis

Painter and sculptor Damien Mathis is a Fayetteville native and resident, and an avid Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club member. A Marine Corps Combat veteran, Mathis served two tours in Afghanistan with 1/6 Bravo Infantry Battalion before earning a Bachelor’s in Visual Arts from HBCU Fayetteville State University. Mathis recalls drawing as a child even before he learned to write, but only began painting eight years ago, in his early twenties. His art has since been collected and exhibited throughout the U.S., including the Arts Council of Fayetteville, the Harlem Fine Arts Show, Fayetteville State University, A&T, and various communities along the coast.

3 Things you can’t live without & why: The 3 things I can’t live without is ambition, blessings, and lessons. You need all of them to become individually great. They will balance you.

Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: Shane Wilson is a good friend who taught me the meaning of a giving friend. He has a welcoming heart open to the world around him. Other artists are Professor Dwight Smith and Professor Soni Martin of Fayetteville State University: they taught me the freedom of the mind with all materials and to always trust the process.

What is one of your current artistic experiments? My current artistic experiments are learning how to mold and shape fiberglass and different resins with different materials.

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? Self management and preventive procrastination changed in my practice in 2020.

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I mostly do my creating in various places–maybe in my studio or in the woods somewhere–where everything feels natural. It just at that moment has to have a calming environment as the foundation to start the process.

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? Usually the next idea just comes from everyday thought in life… sometimes it’s from boredom. I guess it’s just supposed to be created into what it shall be.

Advice to newer artists in your genre. You don’t know everything. You barely even know yourself. Never stop trying to learn or pick someone’s ear. Never know where your interest may take you!!! Creating comes in many forms.

 

Illuminating Friends and Feelings: Dark Pop Singer Keyse

photo credit Matthew Wonderly

KEYSE is a Dark Pop/Alternative Rock project based out of Fayetteville, North Carolina. Madeline Keyse, the sole writer and vocalist, is a former opera singer turned modern pop act. Pre-pandemic, she shared the stage with artists such as Lacey Sturm (ex Flyleaf), Tilian Pearson (Dance Gavin Dance), and Landon Tewers (The Plot In You).
MERCH: https://keyse.bigcartel.com

Surround yourself with people who inspire you to create.

Madeline Keyse

3 Things you can’t live without & why: First, I absolutely cannot live without a keyboard (more specifically my ROLI Seaboard Controller). It is an integral part in my creative process with songwriting; I’d be pretty lost without it. Going hand-in-hand with that, the next item would be my iPad Air 2. I store all my lyrics, voice memos, song ideas, and write out full demos that I bring to the studio on it, so it is a necessity. Lastly, I couldn’t confidently perform live without my Telefunken M80 microphone. It makes my voice sound great, and it’s also neon yellow. You can’t miss it on stage, and it’s a great conversation piece.


Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: As cliché as it sounds, it’s definitely going to be my bandmate and partner Grant Garner. He is best known around town for being the vocalist of The Sherman Neckties, and has performed with his band for various city events, such as Hay Street Live, Downtown Summer Nights, Zombie Walk, and the Dogwood Festival. He not only plays guitar for my live performances, but he handles everything regarding my live performance altogether, and to be quite frank, KEYSE gigs wouldn’t even exist without him. He is inspiring to me for a multitude of reasons from personal to professional, but the most admirable thing about Grant is his need to grow as a musician. He spends hours learning about the industry, new musical equipment, experimenting with audio production, and passes whatever he learns onto anyone willing to listen. He is the most passionate musician I’ve ever met, and our relationship has pushed me to pursue my career in music to the best of my ability.

photo credit Matthew Wonderly


What is one of your current artistic experiments? In March of 2020, I started working with Landon Tewers as the new producer for KEYSE. He produced, mixed, and mastered my most recent single “Are You High Enough To Hold Me?” and we have created a whole new sound for the project. Since then, I have been traveling back and forth between Fayetteville and Detroit, working on the new material. I have been pretty quiet about what the future holds for KEYSE, but what I can say is the new songs are an entirely different body of work from my previous releases. There are some really incredible things that we are working towards, but that’s about all I can say at the moment. The future looks bright.


What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? In 2019, I was gigging about once or twice a week, sometimes three. And I absolutely loved every second of it. So you can imagine that with the entertainment industry shutdown, it has definitely taken a toll on me. Going from having your entourage of friends supporting you at every show to almost complete isolation will do a number on you. But I had to learn to adapt. I went from consistent live performances to recording new songs every opportunity I could get. As of right now, I’m sitting on about 7 or 8 unreleased singles. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to prepare myself for steady releases once I am able to, but I am more than ready to return to gigging, post-pandemic of course!


Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I don’t have band practice anymore, considering that live music doesn’t really exist currently. But my songwriting work space is pretty minimal. It consists of my ROLI Seaboard and my iPad. I will typically come up with a basic chord progression and write the topline of the song over that. Once I get the basic structure, I will take the demo to Grant, my partner, and he will help me re-record a higher quality demo on his workstation. There he can add guitar, bass, sample drums, and a better vocal take to further demonstrate the idea so we can bring it to the studio.

photo credit Matthew Wonderly

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? The majority of my songs are based off real life. Recurring topics in my songs are typically grief, loss, and heartache. But my music is not limited to that spectrum of feeling. More recently, I have been inspired by things as simple as a line in a movie or a character in a book. This past year has been emotionally exhausting for everyone, and I know I don’t want to think on or write about the hardships I’ve faced until I’m truly past it and am reflecting. Until then, using songwriting in a fictional sense has been, and will continue to be my favorite form of escapism.


Advice to newer artists in your genre. Set a couple attainable goals every year, and focus on making them happen. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone when creating. Surround yourself with people who constantly inspire you to create. Make sure your circle of people are dependable, trustworthy, and encouraging. Pay attention to who stays inside for your set at a show, and who hangs out in the parking lot the whole time. Most importantly, be kind to your fellow artists!

Catching up with Shane Wilson: New Stories, New Songs

Writer Shane Wilson. Photo Credit Michelle Winfrey

Shane Wilson is a storyteller. No matter the medium, the emphasis of his work is on the magical act of the story, and how the stories we tell immortalize us and give voice to the abstractions of human experience. His first two contemporary fantasy novels and a stage play, set in his World of Muses universe, are currently available. Shane also plays guitar and writes songs with his acoustic Americana/ folk band, Sequoia Rising. He writes songs as he writes stories–with an emphasis on the magic of human experience. Sequoia Rising’s debut album, Of All the Things I’ve Ever Said, I Mean This the Most, is available on all music streaming platforms. Additionally, Shane’s novels are A Year Since the Rain (Snow Leopard Publishing, 2016) and The Smoke in His Eyes (GenZ Publishing, 2018). Shane’s short story, “The Boy Who Kissed the Rain” was the 2017 Rilla Askew Short Fiction Prize winner and was nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize. Shane is currently at work on a new novel.

3 Things you can’t live without & why: I want so badly to say “a stiff cocktail” or “whiskey” or even “coffee,” but I’m afraid of what that might make me sound like, so I’ll go with something that plays music, something to write with, and a guitar. That might sound redundant, but I’ll explain. Something that plays music can be a stereo or a record player–something with speakers or headphones. I draw so much inspiration from music that the thought of life without music feels like a life not quite worth living. I’m listening to a ton of new and interesting stuff while I’m brainstorming new music, so I would hate to be without. Something to write with can be a pen and paper or a computer or a typewriter, but I need some place to scribble the ideas down that will become the next thing–song or book or play or, hell, film or musical. And I’ve listed a guitar because I need a way to make the music that I’m writing in my journal or on my computer. Also, if something happens to the thing that plays music, I can play a few things myself.

Local artist you admire: You know, I know this is probably the answer you get all the time, but it’s hard to talk about the arts in Fayetteville without showing love to Neil Ray. We’ve worked on projects together, which are experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything. He means so much to the Fayetteville area at large, but he also means a ton to so many of us, individually. This community is full of artists I admire — El’Ja Bowens, Lisette Rodriguez, Doug Burton, Michael Daughtry, Damien Mathis. Artists who are carving their own paths and celebrating original art are my people. This is just a smattering of those names who celebrate originality and the pursuit of genuine artistic expression.

What is one of your current artistic experiments? I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the new Sequoia Rising album, Of All the Things I’ve Ever Said, I Mean This the Most. This was the project that I poured myself into when the world shut down last spring, and it’s finally come to fruition: I’m incredibly proud. It’s a collaboration with Michelle Winfrey and Jerry Smith. It’s the first full length album I’ve written and produced, and to have that record out in the world for people to interact with is a joy.

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? I think that living through a year that featured isolation in such heavy doses made me look for ways to mix it up, so to speak. I’ve started looking for more experimental sounds for my music and wilder plots for my stories. I think it started as a way to mentally escape the tedium of the day-to-day in COVID-induced isolation. I think I’ll definitely keep exploring these new avenues of creative expression. I’m hearing a lot of wild songs in my head. I just need to keep learning so I can record them. And the novel I wrote during lockdown? Whoa. It’s definitely a lockdown novel, but it’s also a ton of fun.

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. At home, I work in my office surrounded by books and music and instruments or outside on the balcony. I still have music with me, though, no matter where I am. I also usually have some caffeine or whiskey. I also think it’s important to have a physical boundary that can create physical space for creation. Of course, you also need to live with people who respect that process. I’m lucky enough to have that.

As much as I am able to get done at home, I still find time to isolate for a couple of weeks a year in the mountains. The western North Carolina mountains are a magical place for me. Spending time there has changed my art and my process in ways that I’m not sure I can articulate. So, I’ll use time away at a retreat or residency to create momentum in a new project so that when I’m back at home, I can ride the wave for a while.

Shane Wilson and Jerry Smith. Photo Credit Michelle Winfrey

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? Oh sheesh. I wish I knew! Life would be so much easier if I knew where to look for that stuff. Seriously, though, I’ve spent so much time thinking about creativity and where inspiration comes from. I don’t know. It’s no wonder the Greeks created a mythos for the phenomenon. The thought that I can just set out and find the next “thing” is so strange to me. I think it just happens–like in a lightning strike that I don’t perceive.

Advice to newer artists in your genre. You can’t wait for anyone to take a chance on you if you aren’t willing to take a chance on yourself. Any artistic pursuit begins with the work. We all want to see our painting on the wall of a gallery, see our book in a library, or hear our song on Spotify, but none of that happens if you don’t pick up the brush, put your pen to the page, or pick up the instrument. Art is a pursuit, and if you aren’t chasing, then you aren’t going to get anywhere. The work of the artist is important, soul-cleansing, humanity-defining work. But it’s work. You have to resign yourself to the pursuit of the work and learn the steps by which you achieve what you want to achieve. We don’t do the work to be famous, though. That way lies only madness. An artist does the work because they don’t know how to not do the work. As Rainer Maria Rilke told the young poet who wrote him for advice, if you can imagine a life wherein you are not writing, then you should not write. In short, artists cannot imagine a life without their art, and if you can, then you should find something else to do with your time.

Guiding Light: Dwight Smith

Smith with portrait done by Angela Stout, 2019.

Sometimes you meet someone in one context and then rediscover them in a different one and it’s almost as if the Heaven’s part and light shines down on them. I met Dwight Smith through his impeccable volunteer work with the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, which goes to show how deeply he cares about his chosen community of Fayetteville, since his hometown is Detroit. But in researching and talking with him about his painting, teaching at Fayetteville State University, and curation for Ellington-White Contemporary Art Gallery, it became much clearer why Smith is such a Guiding Light for his students, his audience, and all of us lucky enough to be blessed by his art and his wisdom.


What does success mean to you? “I’m the kind of person that always makes a plan. I always tell my students that you’ll never be successful if you don’t have a plan and then you implement those plans. And once complete that plan, that’s success. Then I make another plan for myself. I think that in making those plans, I’m moderately successful because I simply have enjoyed all the things that have happened to me in this creative journey.” Smith has traveled the world thanks to his art–trips to France, Senegal, Surinam, and China are especially memorable–and been able to meet and work with many of the artists he admires.

“I think I have a relatively successful career in life and I think it will just get even better. You never, never stop. You just keep working. You keep planning, you keep setting goals and you keep implementing and trying to make things happen that you want to see happen. Sometimes you have to do it for yourself. And sometimes there are other people who will see that you’re moving in a positive direction and they will help you do the kinds of things that you want to do.”

How have you constructed the bridges of your career? A successful career in Detroit, a myriad of solo or group shows, a well-respected gallery, an assistant professor-ship, even being a guest at a White House reception to honor ten Black American Art Masters: are some of the high points of Smith’s career. He jokes, “I never thought that my artworks would be in some of the collections that they’re in, so I’m very humbled about that, and I’m just very surprised. I’ll be honest: I’m surprised. Wait, how did I get here?”

“When you make a plan, you have to also say, okay, what do I need to accomplish to get to this goal, achieve the success. Sometimes those successes come to you because you’ve already done the preparation and you can then handle whatever comes. I belong to an organization called the National Conference of Artists, which is a national African-American art organization that I’m trying to get a chapter started here in North Carolina, and working with them and doing conferences and projects and planning, I have met so many artists, the people that I read about in books: David Driscoll, Elizabeth Catlett, Richmond Barthe, Samella Lewis, all these artists that we all look up to, I’ve met them all, sat down and had conversations with them. So it’s being prepared and being the kind of person that you understand your craft or learning about your craft, developing your craft, and you’re open to experiencing and receiving the information from those artists you look up to.”

Homage to Al Loving“, watercolor collage

Who is in your artistic cohort?
Smith looked up to and learned from several mentors, other artists who “when they see you in a crowd, they point to you and say, hey, how are you doing, what’s going on and catching up. Sometimes you may not see them for a year, and then you’ve not lost the beat when you see them again.” Black art history legend Shirley Woodson Reid who was just named the 2021 Kresge Eminent Artist. Jon Onye Lockard, who Smith said was “the kind of mentor that would tell you “That’s really good. Or Dwight don’t tell that to anybody else anymore.” Jon was very special to me.” Willis Bing Davis in Dayton, Ohio. Dr. David Driscoll, who passed away in 2020. Then there are artists he still wants to meet, like Mark Bradford, “who is just phenomenal in his abstraction and the work that he’s doing. So I have those people that I really like and have those people that I’d like to meet. Hopefully the universe will take me in that direction.”

Smith curated an exhibition currently at the Arts Council and at Ellington-White Contemporary Art Gallery called Roots of Change, featuring 60 works by twenty-nine artists from a group he’s a member of called the National Alliance of Artists from HBCUs. “My ability to be able to create this exhibition with all of those wonderful artists is about being involved in these organizations. Becoming an associate professor at Fayetteville State University opened up avenues to these other historically black colleges and universities to continue to build my career and to help them build their careers. I am the kind of person where I will build you up while I’m building me up too. I never liked to do anything by myself. I like to take a group.”

My Soul Captures the Night Light and ignites the trail”, mixed media on canvas

What change do you seek to make with your art, and how has that changed over time, if it has? “Well, when I started out, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I just had the desire to make art. While I was at Wayne State University, it was steeped in German Abstract Expressionism, very popular at that time period. I really liked the abstract, because that’s a broad term that allows me to do a lot of different things, spread my wings a lot of different ways and use a lot of different materials.” Besides painting, Smith does drawings, collage, and has even worked in bronze casting. “Over the years, my work has developed into being work that deals with families, celebrations of artists, the whole sense of being a black male in America, a black artist in America.”

As a teacher, both at University and in summer camps and classes, Smith carries specific principles he imparts to his students. “Your voice is what’s important. You need to be the new voice that we hear, that has something to say. You have the artist statements that you will write and those will evolve over time because your work will evolve over time. You may stay in the same lane, but the work becomes mature because you’ve worked out a lot of the technical aspects in it, the ideology, all the information that goes with it. So, I’m always evaluating my work and trying to improve my work and see what’s missing in my work, what holes do I need to fill to keep me being excited about making art. Although there are times that as an artist, that sometime you just have to make art, your brain will go: If I don’t get into the studio, I’m going to explode. You have to get to that studio and you have to work. It’s just who you are.”

Tony Murnahan Cultivates Creativity to Calm

all photos courtesy of Tony Murnahan

Fayetteville based multi-media talent, Tony Murnahan, has been honing his skills in still and moving images since 2006.  He has worked with many local recording artists and models to create award-winning music videos and short films. He also co-produced “Pieces of Talent”, an independent feature horror film, that won multiple awards on the film circuit including “Best independent horror film – 2014”.

Tony is also a gifted musician himself and has nationally toured with bands showcasing his musical talents on guitar, bass, and drums.  In his spare time away from his visual media work, he enjoys creating soundscapes with his handpan. Tony is a critically acclaimed recording artist on acoustic baritone fingerstyle guitar.

3 Things you can’t live without & why:

My photography equipment – My creative eye never rests. I am always studying lighting and looking for different ways in which to capture images. I enjoy the entire creative process from start to finish. 

My musical instruments – Creating music keeps my blood pressure low and relieves any stress that accumulates throughout my day. I would be miserable without them. I continually play music throughout my day, especially when I feel like I need a little decompression.

My ping pong paddle – When I was 16 years young, I was really into skateboarding. One day that year, it was raining and my friends and I could not go out skating. So, my friends invited me to play ping-pong. We visited the U.S.O. in Jacksonville, NC and there I met a Marine by the name of Joe Billups. Billups was a master table tennis player. He told me I had lots of natural ability, and suggested I continue playing regularly to develop my skills. So, for the next few years, I trained with him several hours a day after school. Today, I am a (USATT – USA Table Tennis) certified state coach and I continue to play for fun and exercise. I’ve competed in over 100 tournaments and have earned dozens of trophies over the years. I challenge anyone in Cumberland County to a game. You can meet me at the Cape Fear Table Tennis Club (http://capefearttc.net)

Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: I really admire Raul Rubiera. He is such a loveable guy and a fantastic photographer of course. He has this great way of making you feel like family. His family is very talented and creative and this area is fortunate to have them here.

What is one of your current artistic experiments? Currently, I am cultivating soundscapes from my handpan. I feel like the handpan is my soul instrument, and every time I play I feel a little piece of my soul is repaired. I really wish I would have started playing handpan a decade ago. I have the Covid pandemic to thank for learning handpan. I figured I needed to learn something new if I was going to be spending so much time at home.

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? You know… I do not think much changed about my practice in 2020 aside from avoiding large gatherings. My photo & video endeavors pretty much continued on as normal thankfully. Musically I have been rolling solo for the last few years so nothing much changed there either. I have not been performing live because I mainly focus on recording and creating videos for my social media pages.

Where do you practice your art? Describe your workspace. I practice my music in the peace and quiet of my uncluttered home. I practice my photography & videography everywhere. I’m inspired by life, and by the people and things around me.

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? I gave up hunting for my next subject or idea. I usually come up with ideas when I am not absorbed in work or practice. I have found it is more effective and efficient for me to just stay aware throughout my day. There is so much around us to feed off of, and if you stay observant and perceptive ideas will find you.

Advice to newer artists in your genre: My advice to newer artists is to keep your mind open. Spend lots of time with the people you trust and with the people who inspire you. Make your own rules and experiment with different ways when it comes to your art.

Guiding Light: Neil Donnell Ray

At Paddy’s Pub, 2017. photo credit: Tony Murnahan

In planning for 2021, I had an idea to (for now metaphorically) sit at the knee of our local artistic wise ones and learn from their processes and experiences. They are truly Guiding Lights for our community.

You can’t be in the Fayetteville art scene for very long and not hear the name “Neil Ray.” I wasn’t in town two weeks before witnessing his brilliance at Java Expressions, the open mic night he created and has hosted for 22 years at The Coffee Scene on Morganton Road. He serves as MC, recites poetry both pre-written and improvised, and jumps on the cajon to accompany many of the singer-songwriters. Somehow, he both exudes warmth to his audience and artists and is the epitome of cool at the exact same time.

What does success look like for you? “Accomplishing a particular purpose,” he said, which in Ray’s case is not only pursuing his art of poetry and music, but also encouraging the artists around him to “see they’re stars in their own right.” He’s candid about the ups and downs he’s witnessed or experienced, which builds trust with his audiences and artists.

What change do you seek to make with your art? “I want to inspire others in the community.” Ray shares a story about a young person who attended a Java Expressions one night, then came back the next week and braved the mic to share a poem that started as a suicide note but then wound up being a life-saving piece of art. There is literal truth in his catchphrase: “If no one else will listen–the page will.”

How have you constructed the bridges of your practice? “I find every day life inspirational: the people and the action around me.” Ray became smitten with writing poetry in elementary school. He wrote while serving in the military, created custom pieces while working as a flower salesman, helped students as a teaching artist, and all the while works to make a community more inclusive using his art. “Practicing gives you a better understanding of your craft.” Getting up on stage or getting away to an artists’ retreat to write and record music both contribute to Ray’s continued longevity and growth.

Who is in your artistic cohort? “I look at [my community] like a buffet: my eyes get wide and I take all I can now.” Ray is not one to shy away from naming names. He pulls dozens of people into his art network: from early mentors Lt. Colonel Bill Bailey and poet Glen Carter to musicians Erik Smallwood (with whom he toured all over the Southeastern USA) and Puncho Forrest to next generation hyphenates like poet/performer/coach El’Ja Bowens, author/musician/teacher Shane Wilson, and poet/coach/designer Yolanda “Yogii with 2 iis” Barnes. He talks about theaters, poetry groups, the Writers Ink Guild, drum circles, jazz bands, Southeastern Regional NC Poetry Festival, and more.

It is one thing to watch Ray give away more ideas and inspiration than he keeps, encouraging poets, songwriters, musicians, and authors to work through creative concepts and build new shows, albums, books, or organizations. But the real blessing is to watch the love come pouring back. Over and over I’ve watched and listened to artists give credit, give adoration, even give money to help cover medical costs after Ray had a stroke in 2019. Ray’s generosity in both word and deed is truly an act of wisdom. May we all continue to be blessed by this elder.

Photographer Shane Booth on Stories of Self and Place

Photographer Shane Booth, with Helen.

Shane Booth grew up in central Nebraska where he would spend hours looking at family photos with his grandmother, sparking his love for photography. He graduated with a BA in art from Nebraska Wesleyan University and an MFA in photography from the Savanna College of Art and Design. Currently he is a Full Professor of photography at Fayetteville State University. His diverse body of work has taken him all over the world where he has taught workshops and exhibited work in Sweden, Africa, Taiwan, and most recently Russia. He received a grant to work with HIV positive orphans in Ethiopia with Artists for Charity, and was awarded a another grant by the US Embassy in Moscow to work with the LGBTQ and HIV positive people in Russia. He has many honors including being nominated for Sweden’s favorite TV star by QX magazine for his stint on the wildly popular reality tv show Allt for Sverige, tackling the subject of being HIV positive. It was his time on this show that took him back to his roots and he began photographing Nebraska and its people. He also photographed Laura Bush for The National Willa Cather Foundation. His camera of choice is an antique studio camera from 1867 which he found in a junk shop in Alma NE that he has converted to shoot 8×10 film.  

3 Things you can’t live without & why: I cannot live without Coffee (Starbucks is the best).  I learned to drink it in Sweden and have been addicted ever since! Pandemic Taylor Swift ( her last two albums were brilliant). I have literally listened to nothing but those two albums for 6 months now. And of course my camera. Or actually any type of camera will do. I love making images!!

Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: Hmmmm, that’s a hard one but I am gonna have to say Sara Meyers Sourcier! I would love to have the ability to paint like she does! Oh the stories I could tell if I had that ability!!

What is one of your current artistic experiments? I am currently working with Cyanotypes combining my love for graphic arts and ancient photography techniques. I love combining new technology with antique processes. I combine digital photography and graphics with the cyanotype process.

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? During the pandemic I have had the motto “just make it”. All of my work is deeply personal and with so much time, I have had the opportunity to flush out some of the ideas that live in my head. Some have been successful and others not so much. Being your authentic self is so important when making art. So much soul searching happened during the pandemic and my photography has been a great way to express that. I will definitely continue to work with this freedom!

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. As a photographer I practice my art wherever my subject is. This is consistently Nebraska and my home in Benson NC.

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? My voice comes from my life experiences  and my Nebraska upbringing. My artwork often revolves around pastoral scenes that have deeper meanings. The Landscapes are self-portraits, and the portraits tell stories. My love of the Nebraska author Willa Cather is also a great influence on my work. Her ability to connect the reader to the subject is something I aspire to do with my photography.

Advice to newer artists in your genre. My advice to artists is always be your authentic self! It is so important to make work about what you know.

The calendar changes. Our purpose doesn’t.

Sticky note with "I made this" written on it.
the ultimate creative statement

I spent the first week of January trying to clear off my desk of the tower of notes, mail, calendars, lists, and receipts which had accumulated over the last two weeks of the year. There was also a constant nudge in the back of my mind: “What about Color of Fayetteville? What’s next there?”

Artist friend, if you, too, have been trying to clear out the old so you can make a little space to think about your next project, know I am right there beside you. Yes, this time of year is traditionally full of running and relaxing, doing and reflecting, gathering your abundance and then wondering how to get rid of clutter to make time and space for what can be deemed really important. These weeks feel like a dichotomy of purpose.

Our purpose here to to share the stories of our local artists in Fayetteville and the rest of Cumberland County. That sharing can take many forms. I’m proud of the many artist Q&As we published in 2020 and I’m looking forward to tweaking the Qs and getting more As from a new crop of up-and-coming artists in 2021.

Sharing stories can also be inspirational, and I will be introducing a monthly series of interviews with more established artists (I hesitate to say “successful” because that word means something different to everyone).

I’m also looking to dive into local history, share new short fiction, and publish photos by our incredible photography community.

I’d love to hear from you! Are you an artist with work to share? Do you know a Wise Elder we can interview? Do you have a story bursting out of you in word, song, or picture? Leave a comment below so you can be a part of this.

Here’s to a new year and new art.