One of the groups of artists working on the piers has an unconventional background.
The Fort Hill Bridge in Charleston is getting tattooed.
Well, at least tattoo artists are doing some of the
painting. Rodney Harper, Steven Martin
and Ronald Brown are all tattoo artists with Horror Ink of Spencer in Roane County.
Harper said what they do is art; it’s just that the medium changes from
skin to concrete.
“It’s our chance to show everybody that we are artists,”
Harper said. “As a tattoo artist, we are taken seriously; a lot of times you’re
more pop culture. We deal with design
everyday, that’s what we do – design things to fit. We’re serious artists. We
make a living at it. We just wanted to show people what we can do.”
The studio’s owner, Harper, has a flaming pumpkin patch on his right bicep and
the Horror Ink Studios building on US. 33 in Spencer is adorned with a mural of
a bug-eyed green skull. The content of
their work for Charleston is a bit different
Their design features the
Golden Dome of the State Capitol, the Fort Hill Bridge and a sternwheeler churning its way
up the Kanawha. Martin said the group’s
dynamic is one that produces quality work, no matter the subject matter.
“We’re like a three-headed monster, we all bring different
stuff,” Martin said. “If one ain’t on, the other will make him on. It’s like we’re a band, if you screw up, you
get yelled at then you fix it.”
And Brown said that’s one of the nice things about working on
the mural, there’s a chance to correct a slip up.
“Tattooing on somebody, it’s permanent; you can’t redo it or
take it away or wash it off,” Brown said. “With painting you can actually cover
up your mistakes.”
Starting in the next few weeks, artists from around the state
will begin painting the 10 piers to the north of Kanawha Boulevard – the side away from the river. Lori
Brannon is a neighborhood planner for Charleston and the part of City Council’s
Strong Neighborhoods Task Force.
“It’s going to liven up a space that’s otherwise been dark
and unusable,” Brannon said. “It’s going to do a good job of connecting the
Westside to the downtown in a way that pedestrians will feel comfortable
The project isn’t without challenges. Brannon said the
Division of Highways has been helpful in moving some of the equipment being
used in the resurfacing of the bridge so the artists can do their work.
It’s work that connects to Charleston’s history. The public art chair for FestivALL, Naomi Bays, said the murals will be memory makers.
“It’s nice to be able to go back down to the piers with your
kids or grandkids and say, ‘Hey! Do you remember them painting this? You were
5,’” Bays said. “It’s an educational moment too, saying what is Luna Park and who the founders of Charleston are.
It’s a great lesson.”
The project costs $23,000.
Two thousand for each artist and then $3,000 to cover things like
scaffolding. Brannon said the investment is well worth it.
“FestivALL has been such a great thing for the city” Brannon
said. “The tagline they use is that a city becomes a work of art. We’re doing that now – we’re leaving a
permanent mark on the city.”
Much like his tattoo work, Harper said that permanence makes
the artwork meaningful.
“When we were kids, Charleston was always the big city,” Harper
said. “That’s where they took us for our field trips. We wanted to show what we
thought of Charleston from outside the area. We see it as a whole.”
Harper says he doesn’t care how people brand him, just that
they know he’s an artist.