When I first moved to Salisbury about 11 years ago, I quickly learned that our county and the surrounding areas represent not only a convergence of major interstates, but also a railway junction. Driving throughout Rowan County, you’re likely to cross a railroad every time you venture out of your house. While our railway system is pretty amazing, as an artist I cannot help but be drawn in by the bright neon and abstract shapes of the graffiti splayed across each car.  As we wait for each train car to creep by, my children and I often try to decipher the names hidden within each piece and vote on our favorite. 

What are Tags?

These “names” are known as “tags.” Tagging was one of the earliest forms of graffiti. By definition it is “the use of elaborate typography to encode the painter’s name on the sides of buildings or subway cars.” Both novice painters and street art aficionados have utilized this mobile canvas to share their work with the world like a sort of traveling gallery. Graffiti emerged in the 1960s, as a sort of guerilla artform that was not governed by the media or advertising companies, and in many ways, gave a voice to marginalized urban communities.

Artist, Shane Pierce’s, sunset mural on the side of Yummi Banh Mi. 

While this art form was originally associated with inner-city gang violence, it’s extreme ties to the hip-hop community led to world renowned works from artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Graffiti, which originated in New York City, spread so far and so wide that soon, stencil works were popping up on the streets of Paris. The shift from urban vandalism to priceless fine art happened seemingly overnight, and while those of us who are very familiar with the art world have grown to appreciate the beauty and the evolution of street art, small towns across America are just beginning to dig in their toes.

Street Art in RoCo

Here in Rowan County, we have embraced street art for decades. This is evidenced by the giant advertisements that have outlived the businesses formerly housed in our downtown buildings.  We have become accustomed to seeing the vibrant swooping letters of Cheerwine and Coca-Cola painted across the brick-stone facades, and, over time, they have become a part of our landscape. In recent years, Rowan has begun to embrace street art in a whole new form. Graffiti has now leapt off of the trains passing through town and onto the interior and exterior walls of both businesses and homeowners.

Owl Mural at the former Lost & Found in downtown Salisbury. 

From large “instagramable” art, such as the angel wings painted on the walls of China Grove’s hip new coffee house, The Holy Grind and Salisbury’s Juice Life, to the massive owl that adorns the exterior wall of the former Lost & Found, street art has taken roots here. Lost & Found, which recently relocated to a new address at 105-A North Main, is an awesome shop with a variety of unique oddities that any art lover would certainly enjoy.

Abstract Dissent

Artists like Shane Pierce, known only as Abstract Dissent, have become widely known here in our area. In a few years, he has managed to spread his work throughout our area such as the many works he has displayed in downtown Salisbury’s Graffiti Park to community driven pieces, like the giant Marlin that seems to leap off the wall of the J.F. Hurley YMCA. Today, Abstract Dissent’s works can be found at businesses including The Fish Bowl, The Pedal Factory, and Grievous Gallery. He created the vibrant, Vietnamese sunset piece on the side of Yummi Banh Mi, and the man-eating plant on the side of the small shed in Chestnut Hill’s Community Garden. He even created a mural to bring awareness to a “segregation wall” in Kannapolis and created pieces for Salisbury’s Holiday Parade! 

Abstract Dissent mural.

Abstract Dissent and Their Effect on Salisbury

As recently as this weekend, Abstract Dissent and his crew were spotted working on a massive “Welcome to Salisbury” mural on a large blank wall located on Innes Street, near I-85. Nearby resident, Lisa Shaver, shared her enthusiasm about this new addition to Salisbury. “I think it’s an awesome addition to the ‘gateway,’” she said. “Shane said he wanted to do something tasteful that the community would support. I think he achieved that!”

I later learned that several citizens including local artist and arts advocate Sue McHugh had previously advocated for a mural in this location. “Salisbury was the place where my art took off,” he told me. “I came there to paint at The Art and Graffiti Park and instantly people took notice and started requesting I paint for their businesses.” I was curious as to why Shane would choose Salisbury as his canvas since he is not originally from here. “Salisbury, to me, is a special place where I made all my friends. It reminds me of home in so many ways and all the support from the public makes it even better. I feel an obligation to bring people together in these polarized times,” he explained.

Lisa Shaver at the Graffiti Park in downtown Salisbury.

Street Art is for Everyone

While the works of Shane Pierce dominate the scene, other artists have come forward eager to share their works. Follow the funky Pink Robot located inside Grievous Gallery and you’ll find yourself in the world of artist Shannon Quick. Shannon is most widely known for his robots, skeletons, and alien-like portraits. His works are on display throughout Grievous Gallery. 

Community organized street art like those created through the City of Salisbury’s Blockwork Program and Sue McHugh’s famous sidewalk goldfish have emerged. Deeper into the county, artists and local citizens are collaborating to create their own kind of “street art” like the record-breaking, barn quilt mural being facilitated by West Rowan Farm, Home, and Garden Inc. 

City of Salisbury’s Blockwork Program

I never expected Rowan County to embrace street art in such exciting ways, but I am so happy I get to witness it. The truth is, when you live in a place where art fills nearly every space imaginable, including the streets, well… let’s just say there’s always a reason to smile.