Our second artist in our Skiptown mural series is Sharon Dowell. Sharon Dowell is a painter with a focus on works on canvas, murals and public art. Intertwining themes course through her paintings; the energy of place, renewal, regeneration, and redemption. She believes that creative place making communicates distinctiveness and generates connections across communities. Thus, it is important for her murals and public art to also serve as a vehicle to give back and shape communities for the better. Headshot photo is courtesy Melissa Key.
How did you get into painting murals?
My first public mural was through an Arts and Science Council Call for Artists in 2008. I found that I loved the experience of translating my work to a larger scale, the opportunity to engage with the community, and to reflect a sense of place. That project spurred me on to pursue more opportunities.
How did you learn to paint?
Ever since the age of three, I knew I wanted to be an artist. I’m grateful that my parents noticed this spark in me and enrolled me in art classes. Painting became my favorite medium at an early age, and I’m so thankful to Mr. Williams, my high school art teacher, for being instrumental in encouraging me to pursue my passion.
What was the process like to become an established muralist?
From a business perspective, when I first began painting murals, I hustled and pursued multiple avenues. I applied for Calls to Artists from cities and arts councils, reached out to potential clients, and used social media to market myself. Old-fashioned word of mouth is still one of the best ways that opportunities come to me. In the meantime, I was pursuing a Masters of Arts Administration at Winthrop, and this program was crucial to my learning arts entrepreneurship skills that translated to my work as an artist and muralist.
Creative-wise, I am so grateful to now be living the dream! I have had the opportunity to paint and go beyond just murals in designing fabricated sculpture, mosaics, metal, etc on some unusual canvases such as a light rail station, underpasses, an airstream trailer, a staircase, etc! It is also especially a treat to work with communities and non-profits to contribute to creative place-making, empowerment, and generating connections across communities.
How would you describe your style?
Intertwining themes course through my paintings, murals and public art; the energy of place, renewal, regeneration, and redemption. With those concepts at the foundation of my work, I incorporate layers, texture and vibrant color palettes, often exploring elements of architecture or nature. The feel is contemporary, with recognizable imagery though not completely abstract.
What's the hardest part of painting for you?
The biggest challenges I face are working around unforeseen changes, such as scattered thunderstorms, grueling heat or chilling wind, or the dance of painting in active construction sites, which often requires working alongside other contractors on sequencing when work can happen.
What has surprised you the most about painting murals?
I have been touched by how impactful public art can be. While painting a mural, I’ve had people walk up in tears, thankful to see art coming to their neighborhood to beautify their community. Murals are a way to create art that is for all to enjoy, and that is important to me. On the flip side, as a female I’ve been a little shocked to have to deal with unnerving comments and catcalling on most projects and witnessing that there is still a large lack of respect for women, a general inability to grasp that we are capable of harnessing our creativity and taking on big and powerful projects.
What brings you joy (art or otherwise)?
The moments of life where I am present. Long and meandering talks over morning coffee with my husband, taking in a work of art or film that makes me cry, late night fire pit conversations with close friends, standing on the edge of an incredible vista while traveling, creating art that brings joy to others, the smell of sage and rosemary…
What's something people don't know about artists/the art community in CLT?
I think the general public may not be aware of the amount of phenomenal artistic talent we have here…in various niches, everything from fine artists and designers making their mark here and beyond, street muralists, incredible musicians, singers and performers, curators, grass roots artists making a big impact on communities, I could go on and on!
What's something people don't know about You?
I tried my hand at roller derby years ago…and broke my tailbone, so now I just stick to plain old roller skating for fun!
What piece are you most proud of?
It’s hard to choose; I’ve been lucky to work in some unique spaces! My projects for the CATS Transit light rail system are pretty exciting. Creating underpass murals under 277 and 11th Street and the 25th St. Station art was such a wonderful experience. It was a great learning curve, working with the Art-in-Transit staff, city planners, engineers, construction workers and subcontractors. It pushed me to consider how viewers would approach from multiple perspectives and what imagery and color could reflect the vibrant nature of the surrounding people and neighborhoods.
If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Creative, driven and loving.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
At the most simple emotional level, I would love for my work to create a sense of joy. The hope is that my projects invite the viewer in to sit a moment and discover something more, conceptually or design-wise. Art can be a powerful vehicle for change, healing, empowerment, and connection, and the desire is that some of my projects achieve this.
How can we support artists in Charlotte?
There are so many great ways to support artists! Purchase their art or go to a concert, poetry reading, or performance. If you are unable, then follow them, refer them, or spread the word about them and celebrate what they are doing. Support local arts entities to increase their impact on our city. Make an effort to raise your awareness about great arts and culture that exists in your own backyard.
What motto guides your life right now?
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” – Mary Oliver
Photos: Julia Fay Photography