Adult Swim, Living Walls collaborate to create Black murals across Atlanta

The art initiative addresses Black representation and features emerging artists William Downs, SOFAHOOD and Jasmine Nicole Williams.

For months now, corporations have wrestled with how to play a part in social change and acknowledge entrenched racism in the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and other killings of Black Americans that have inspired a national reckoning.

But one locally based cable TV company, Adult Swim, has taken an immediate and very public action to advocate for a Black point of view.

Michael Ouweleen, president of Adult Swim, says the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests “absolutely impacted us and our thinking, and continues to.”

The Adult Swim Atlanta Mural Project is a way of creating social change by listening to Black voices, and in this case, including Black artists whose work will be featured in the first iteration of this public art project. The collaboration between 10-year-old public art non-profit Living Walls, founded by arts advocate Monica Campana, and the WarnerMedia animation upstart Adult Swim features three Black Atlanta artists: SOFAHOOD, Jasmine Nicole Williams and William Downs who were commissioned to create murals in the city.

The current Adult Swim Atlanta Mural Project murals can be seen in three locations around Atlanta: Ponce De Leon’s Plaza Theatre, Decatur Square and the Old Fourth Ward. In spring 2021, a new group of three new artists will create murals in the same locations.

Credit: Sharif Hassan Photography

Credit: Sharif Hassan Photography

All three are emerging artists with a shared interest in vibrant, confectionary color and figures that blend realism and an abstraction rooted in gender and racial diversity.

A successful gallery artist represented in Atlanta by Sandler Hudson Gallery, William Downs has created his first solo outdoor mural in Decatur Square. “I did not want any social message in this one. I only wanted to express the feeling of what color does to people” says Downs of a work featuring fantastic alien figures rendered in shades of blue, pink and violet.

Credit: Adult Swim

Credit: Adult Swim

With a similarly intense color palette, the Atlanta artist SOFAHOOD created a mural on Edgewood Avenue featuring a skyline framed against a luscious pink and orange sky and populated by SOFAHOOD’s characteristically diverse figures, many of them friends of the artist.

“I mostly just wanted to take up visual and physical space in Atlanta with Black lesbian and queer individuals to affirm our existence and our power,” says SOFAHOOD, who is also featured in the mural.

Credit: Joey Wathen

Credit: Joey Wathen

University of West Georgia BFA grad Jasmine Nicole Williams says her Plaza Theatre mural was inspired by Civil Rights-era “I Am a Man” signs, though the artist wanted to add her own female-centric spin. “I wanted a Black woman in the center of my work,” Williams says of her mural painted in bubblegum pink, neon yellow and robin’s egg blue divided by thick black borders. It’s inspired, the artist says, by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian’s intense coloration.

Credit: Adult Swim

Credit: Adult Swim

“Our approach to addressing racism and inequality was informed by what’s at the core of Adult Swim,” says Ouweleen, “which is backing talented people and giving them a platform for their work and point of view — whether that be a TV show or this mural project.”

Living Walls lent its technical expertise and assisted in the production of the murals. Adult Swim staff selected “artists whose work excited us and that we feel could speak openly and honestly to Atlanta’s communities,” says Adult Swim senior production manager Bridgette Kimbrough. Though details are still being worked out, the artists will also have their work featured on the network in some form.

“Beyond taking the community into account when conceptualizing their pieces, we gave them no instruction nor restriction on their works,” says Kimbrough. “Artists were free to create whatever they wanted.”

So far, both Campana and Kimbrough say the response to the murals has been positive. “Members of the community were constantly giving accolades to the artist as they painted,” says Kimbrough.

“Murals are one of the most democratic forms of art, as it lives in the public space for everyone to experience,” says Campana. “Murals do not require an entry fee like museums do or live in gallery spaces.”

And for that reason, these monuments to ordinary people are a very visible billboard for groups of people who haven’t always had a forum.

It’s a sentiment expressed in SOFAHOOD’s mural featuring a figure wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the 1960s-era rallying cry “All Power to the People.”

Credit: Adult Swim

Credit: Adult Swim

“‘All power to the people’ should be the goal for any work towards social justice,” says SOFAHOOD.

“It’s a simple line, but it holds power.”


WHERE TO GO

Adult Swim Atlanta Mural Project

SOFAHOOD mural: 439 Edgewood Avenue, Atlanta.

Jasmine Nicole Williams mural: 1049 Ponce De Leon Ave NE, Atlanta.

William Downs mural: 113 E. Court Square, Decatur.

adultswim.com/atlantamuralproject