Art Beats + Lyrics puts community in focus

Craig 'Flux' Singleton and Kevin 'Mr. Soul' Harp on using art to 'change the world'

Craig "Flux" Singleton and Kevin "Mr. Soul" Harp are focused. It's Art Beats + Lyrics time, and as in previous years, they've cut back on contract work and freelance endeavors to focus on their pieces for the event. AB+L, after all, is a haven of sorts for some of Atlanta's oft under-appreciated artists in what's been called the "other-ground" arts scene. It's a time when Atlanta's crop of talent can come together and not only showcase the manifestation of their concerns and visions, but network, vibe, and propel their individual goals and missions forward as a collective, with music and art as foundations that bind them all.

If it's fair to say that Atlanta has an other-ground hip-hop community, it might be just as relevant to acknowledge that it has an other-ground arts scene: those artists who tread the line, not fully "underground" but definitely not "mainstream," but have impacted the arts community that has emerged in the past few years. It's to the point where outsiders dub Atlanta a cultural and arts incubator for talent, but artists in the city don't necessarily bask in the glory and rewards that comes with such recognition.

"Normally the music or the musicians are the center stage, but for AB+L the visual artists are the focus," Harp says. "It's important to be a part of that, especially being based in Atlanta and with so many visual artists having given birth to their careers here."

Since the mid-90s, both Singleton and Harp have been lending their influence and skills to a variety of projects around the city. Singleton, who is also a member of the Atlanta-based hip-hop collective Binkis Recs, works primarily in paint and mixed media and describes his style as a mix of cartoon, abstraction, and slight realism. During the past decade, he's worked on projects for the Boys and Girls Club, Scion, and Boost Mobile. In 2012, Singleton led an intensive project, Beatz & Lyrics to Go, for the A3C Hip Hop Festival. Inspired by radio host Jay Force's independent show of the same name, Beatz & Lyrics involved artists conceptualizing the visual branding for every song and musician on a corresponding mixtape.

Harp, a Cleveland, Ohio, native who relocated to Atlanta 18 years ago, works primarily in digital and acrylic and has spent the bulk of his career merging his passion for music with visual expression. He's provided creative services and consultation to Patchwerk Studios in West Midtown and has created cover art for acts including the late Pimp C of UGK, and custom design work for Beats by Dre.

Both artists look forward to AB+L, mainly because it's a chance to feed off other like-minded artists and combine their love of music with their visual art. It's also a chance to share their current concerns with the community they hope to address directly. Last year, they worked with frequent collaborator Goldi Gold to create a mural, "Heaven Can Wait," which was showcased in the short documentary Heaven Can Wait: The Story Behind the Wall. The mural they're collaborating on this year is particularly important to them, and its subject has been a serious topic of discussion nationwide.

"The concept is basically focusing on parents overseeing or protecting their children, even once they leave ... home and how they deal with sending them out in the world when they're not physically there to protect them," Singleton says, adding that the mural is directly inspired by the deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Jordan Davis.

The piece is full of imagery (in one section the mural showcases children in gas masks) indicative of the protection youth need when entering the world. Neither Singleton nor Harp is unfamiliar with making sociopolitical statements through their individual work. In 2011 Harp, along with City of Ink tattoo shop, hosted a Troy Davis art show, in which they allowed Atlanta children to give their take on the case.

"We take this art really seriously," Harp says. "It has the ability to change the world. It has the ability to expose young talent to entirely different experiences."

Which is why it pains Harp that many of the city's artists, those who are active in the community, have gone overlooked when it comes to broadcasting Atlanta's wealth of growing talent to the rest of the nation, he says. Among his main gripes? Organizations like Living Walls, the art initiative that aims to change perspective about public space via street art. "I don't know what Living Walls is doing," says Harp, who in early September was featured on a panel with fellow AB+L artists/photographers Fabian Williams, Kat Goduco, and Dubelyoo about the plight of freelance artists and their place in Atlanta's creative landscape.

Atlanta is a great place to create, but you have to go outside the city to gain recognition and make money, Harp says. In his mind, Living Walls is one indication of that problem. He says that the murals that cover the walls in many sections of Atlanta's inner-city neighborhoods are not representative of the communities or the people living there, including the artists. It's not exactly a new complaint, and according to LW's Communications Director Jasmine Amussen, it's not accurate. Every year, the organization makes sure that 50 percent of the participating artists are from the Atlanta area, Amussen says. From working with prominent local names such as Michi Meko, HENSE, Sam Parker, and Peter Ferrari to giving Trek Matthews, Mac Stewart, and Faith McClure a chance to paint their first murals, Amussen says, LW is "committed to the city of Atlanta and the local artists who live and work here."

In terms of the LW debate, Harp agrees that it's an example of why Atlanta's less-recognized arts community needs to collaborate more frequently to wield more collective creative power in the city via events like AB+L. Both Harp and Singleton say they are excited about not just their art but their talented peers and the possibilities that lay ahead. Ultimately, it's about gaining and understanding one another's different ways of seeing the world.

"I always try to find the perspective that people miss," Singleton says of his work. "The perspectives that people may overlook but that could potentially lead to a solution. I'm just hoping that it's understood; that you can mull over and ponder it and maybe see if that perspective can work you."

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