Every morning, Anita Darling walks barefoot to her backyard greenhouse in Suwanee. She stands still, feeling the dew under her feet, sips her coffee, and prays—in order to align herself with God and nature before starting to draw. Looking at her intricate ink-and-charcoal images of flowers and seashells, her devotion is clear. It’s something she’s felt since she was as a child.
Growing up, Darling and her family moved around a lot, relocating nearly a dozen times. For her, the one constant was the beauty of nature. She was always artistically inclined but didn’t consider the field as a career until she was in her 30s. “I put being an artist on such a pedestal,” says Darling.
Instead, she attended interior design school, enlisted in the Air Force, and worked as a makeup artist. However, stumbling upon some old photos she’d taken of flowers as a teenager inspired her to take out some charcoal and draw the hibiscus and poppies in her backyard. That spark gave her focus—well, sort of.
In addition to creating art, she is a competitive bodybuilder, caters wine-and-chocolate events, and grows herbs. Having just turned 40, she has no intentions of getting old and boring—a sentiment partly inspired by admiration for her 97-year-old Japanese grandmother. “I want to be old and interesting as heck,” she says.
Nowadays, though, creating artwork is her primary vocation. She has discovered, “Art is the opposite of fear.” Darling mixes her own inks to get the most vibrant colors possible. She regularly shows her work at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville and Tannery Row Artist Colony, where her studio is located. Darling’s interior design connections have led to commissions by boutique hotels and private homeowners around the country.
“I genuinely adore what I do,” says Darling. “I feel like art [is an engine] to uplift and grow people. Bigger than that, people need to stop going to TJ Maxx to find their artwork. Go find your personality, and put that up there on your walls.”
This article appears in our Winter 2020 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.
For almost 30 years, the Alliance Theatre has ushered in the holiday spirit with a production of A Christmas Carol. Based on Charles Dickens’ 19th century classic, the play takes the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge through the Christmases of his past, present, and future in order to teach him an important lesson about compassion and charity.
In a year addled with unprecedented challenges—namely, the Covid-19 pandemic—artistic director Susan Booth says that Dickens’ story stands the test of time and that the company was determined to find a way to lift people’s spirits this holiday season.
And, for many theaters, their annual holiday show funds the rest of the year. At the Alliance, A Christmas Carol accounts for about a third of annual ticket revenue, so in a year where artists and arts organizations have received little-to-no financial relief, the show must go on.
Just as Scrooge revisits his past to move forward, the Alliance chose to take the relic of the drive-in movie theater and adapt it for an outdoor stage show. A Christmas Carol: The Live Radio Play runs through December 24 in a lot next to Georgia State University’s Center Parc Credit Union Stadium (formerly Turner Field). Here are a few ways they’ve gone the extra mile to make the experience special.
Three actors—dozens of voices. Typically, A Christmas Carol has one of the largest casts of the Alliance Theatre season, but for this production, they’ve proven that big things can come in small packages. Atlanta-based actors Jeremy Aggers, Jeanette Illidge and Brad Raymond do a standout job of giving each and every character a distinct voice—something they’ve each learned from their work as audiobook narrators. Director Leora Morris says that the choice to cast three actors to do all of the characters’ voices allows the audience to “delight in the actors’ virtuosity.” She added that at one moment, Aggers plays six different people for six lines in a row.
Do you hear what I hear? The other “character” in the play, so to speak, is the sound design. Percussion artist Stuart Gerber and sound designer Ben Coleman make a dynamic duo for the auditory experience of A Christmas Carol. It is, in effect, a staged reading of an audio play, and they make sure that the audience gets an earful. Gusts of wind, hoofs trotting on cobblestone streets, doors creaking, sleigh bells ringing—it’s all there. Be sure to tune your car radio to 90.5 FM early to hear the Christmas music before the play.
Theater goes best with food, and the set up for A Christmas Carol is perfect to share a meal with the family. Every space to the right of each car is open for sitting outside (with masks on) and watching the show. Many people have brought tables and folding chairs and order from nearby restaurants or made it a potluck during the performances. The Summerhill neighborhood has become a foodie destination in the last couple of years with the additions of Little Bear, Talat Market, Big Softie ice cream, Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Junior’s Pizza, and Wood’s Chapel Barbecue, plus neighborhood staples such as Bullpen Ribhouse, so you can’t go wrong.
The audience is in on the show. When you drive into the parking lot, the greeters hand you a red envelope full of some cute surprises to keep the family engaged throughout the show. There are also moments during the performance where the audience is prompted to flash their lights, honk their horns, and sing along with the music.
Essential workers aren’t forgotten. During each performance, the Alliance has invited a local essential worker to the show and recognizes them during the performance. On the night I attended, they recognized an Atlanta Public Schools cafeteria manager and her family. That heartwarming moment embodies the spirit of Dickens’ novel-turned-play in the best ways.
Lillian Blades’s colorful creations have a way of making you feel like you’re under the sea, rolling in the grass, and viewing a desert sunset all at once. Her abstract, multicanvas, multimedia creations are the focal point of any room they’re in, awash with bright colors and an assortment of picture frames, jewelry, mirrors, and other objects she finds at thrift stores. For the Bahamian artist and SCAD Savannah graduate, who has called Atlanta home since arriving to attend graduate school at Georgia State in 1996, art is a way of connecting to her late parents.
She says she uses PVC pipes in her work as an ode to her father, who was a plumber, and hundreds of colorful buttons, which she calls the “cells” of her work, as an homage to her seamstress mother.
Growing up in the Bahamas, Blades, who was raised by her aunt, found an affinity for art because it was an easy conversation starter for her as a shy child. Her works are also deeply inspired by African, Caribbean, and Black American quilting traditions. Indeed, her works are much like three-dimensional quilts drenched in blue, pink, yellow, green, and red paints that evoke the Bahamian islands.
“I find the asymmetry and that ‘make-do’ quality of quilting very intriguing,” Blades said. “My grammy always said ‘make do, make it work,’ and it always turns out beautifully.”
Blades’s works have been displayed in galleries in the Bahamas, Germany, Trinidad, and the U.S. She has also designed installations for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, East Atlanta Library, and the Publix GreenWise Market in Marietta. Her next solo exhibition will be at Clark Atlanta University.
“Whether it’s fabric, images from magazines, or textures from different materials that I don’t want to discard the memories of . . . I pull everything together in a way that makes sense based on the elements and principles of design.”
This article appears in our Summer 2020 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.
Rachel White discovered Loupe—an art streaming service—at a party in 2015. She was working toward a marketing degree at the University of Georgia and liked the app so much that she applied for an internship with the Atlanta-based company. Today, as chief experience officer, she sees it as a platform that allows beauty for beauty’s sake.
Loupe features work from more than 200 living artists. Users can stream channels curated by theme, color, or artist, and, if they come across something they like, can order original works and prints with just a click.
“There are all of these screens out there and ads coming at you, but they don’t necessarily enhance ambience or decor in a space,” says White. “We have a solution that allows art to be in conversation with technology.”
CEO and founder Dot Bustelo, who formerly worked at Apple, launched Loupe to complement the experience of music streaming. Though streaming has become ubiquitous for performing arts, it largely has been overlooked as a way to discover visual art.
“I want Loupe Art to be for visual art what Spotify is to music,” says Bustelo. “Instead of trying to scramble for followers who will view their work on a cell phone, [artists] can have their art displayed on a 65-inch, 4K screen anywhere in the world.”
Loupe can’t replace the experience of going to a museum or gallery, “in the same way that streaming music doesn’t replace going to see your favorite band in concert,” Bustelo says. Instead, “it’s designed to bring energy, tranquility, and creativity to you while you’re doing a variety of things in your home, similar to having music running in the background.”
Find Loupe streaming at the AC and Moxy hotels in Midtown, or visit loupeart.com for the Savannah College of Art & Design channel, featuring student and alumni art.
Painter Niki Zarrabi is not the first artist to draw inspiration from the femininity, fertility, and mortality of flowers, but her surrealist series on the subject, Femme Petale, feels fresh and modern.
Her paintings have a three-dimensional effect, rendering the flowers with vivid details. The layers and true-to-life delicacy of the blossoms make it seem like the images could crumble in your hands. Vibrant colors ooze from the petals in drips, as if melting back into the earth: a reflection of life, death, reincarnation, and the interconnectedness of all living things. Zarrabi says she has always been fascinated with biology, spirituality, and matriarchy; it’s perhaps no surprise she cites artist Georgia O’Keeffe as a key influence, with her work exploring the role of women as the source of life on earth.
“The colors found in nature are muted, with random, bright bursts, so I mimic that in my paintings,” says Zarrabi, a first-generation Persian American. “There are endless layers and patterns but also a delicacy. The fact that we’re even alive—it’s all so fragile.”
Biology books, house plants, and jars of paint line the shelves in Zarrabi’s sunny Buckhead home studio. She started painting flora with oils and acrylics on wood-grain panels while she was in school at Georgia State University. Since graduating in 2014, the Marietta native has scaled her paintings to include murals. In Atlanta, her work blooms on Fabu Face Spa, the dog park for Portico Apartments in Buckhead, and Fresh Structures flower shop.
“With Atlanta booming, there are more opportunities for artists to get work and show in galleries,” says Zarrabi. “Companies are coming here, and they want murals, so the gap between street art and fine art is closing.”
Zarrabi says that for her, painting flowers is a new take on buying flowers for someone. Lately, she’s been obsessed with peonies and magnolias, but her flower of the moment changes. She just wants people to be immersed when they’re viewing the paintings, just as she is while she’s creating them. nikizarrabi.com
This article appears in our Spring 2020 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.
Tom Key planned to exit on a note of fanfare this spring, ending his 25-year run as artistic director of Theatrical Outfit, one of Atlanta’s oldest professional theater companies.
The 69-year-old writer, director, and actor had timed his departure with the theater’s production of a new adaptation of Cotton Patch Gospel—a rollicking and reverent (but never preachy) musical that reimagines the story of Jesus Christ, in which the son of Mary and Joe Davidson is born in a trailer behind a motor lodge in rural Georgia and lynched 33 years later by the Ku Klux Klan. The production is nearly synonymous with Key, who cowrote the book, starred in its off-Broadway debut in 1981, and staged it a dozen times over the years.
Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has intervened, putting Key’s fitting farewell in peril as Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms prohibited large gatherings in order to stem the spread of the virus.
But Key’s vision for producing theater that enlightens and uplifts eventually will prevail under the direction of his replacement, Matt Torney, a native of Belfast, Ireland, and the former associate artistic director of Studio Theatre in Washington D.C. Torney’s selection by the board of directors received Key’s enthusiastic support.
“Matt was so aligned with [our] mission and so ready and in such a good position to take the baton,” says Key. “He’s also got a skillset and a toolbox that are just the right qualifications.”
Theatrical Outfit achieved many milestones during Key’s tenure. When he began in 1995, the theater had a budget of less than $300,000; today, it’s nearly $2 million. In 2005, the company purchased and renovated the $5.5 million Balzer Theater at Herren’s in downtown Atlanta. And the theater has produced more than a dozen world premieres, including Janece Shaffer’s Brownie Points and adaptations of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces and Ernest J. Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying.
When his job ends in June, Key will return to his origins as a freelance writer, actor, and director. He has at least one job lined up already: This time next year, he’ll get his chance to shine on the Theatrical Outfit stage again when he stars in the Tony Award–winning drama The Humans, which Torney will direct.
In Jericho Brown’s stirring poem “The Virus,” he writes:
I want you
To heed that I’m still here
Just beneath your skin and in
The way anger dwells in a man
Who studies the history of his nation.
If I can’t leave you
Dead, I’ll have
The title and sentiment feel especially poignant as the world faces a pandemic and Georgia is making national headlines for the killing of an unarmed black man, Ahmaud Arbery. This collision of beauty and disaster while grappling with racism is exemplary of the poems in Brown’s book, The Tradition. Released in April 2019, The Tradition is divided into three parts: The first part utilizes Greek mythology to reflect on nature and race; the second part on labor and race; and the third on the entanglement of violence, race, and love. It’s the third book by the Louisiana native, who directs the Creative Writing program at Emory University. The resonance of “The Virus” and other pieces in the book, is just what he intended—a reflection on the ills that have been committed by and against America.
On Monday, Brown was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for The Tradition, and he has been moving nonstop ever since. When we spoke on the phone, he had just woken up from a much-needed nap and was still processing what it meant to see a dream he’s had since he was eight-years-old come true.
You weren’t born Jericho Brown. Why did you decide to change your name? I was born Nelson Demery III, and it was an exciting name to have when I was a kid because it felt kind of grand. As I got older, it was a name that meant that I was walking around in other people’s shoes, and I wanted to walk around in my own shoes, especially after I started getting poems published. I love my dad so much, but we always had this really contentious relationship when I was growing up. I remember looking at a poem the first time it came out and looking at the name Nelson Demery III, and thinking ‘wow, I don’t even get this to be mine.’ I changed my name because I wanted to put my own stamp on my own work.
I used to put mustard on my sandwiches until I was in my 20s because my dad put mustard on his sandwiches, and I don’t even like mustard. One of the things I wanted to do in this book to see how many things we take for granted and act as if are normal and they’re not okay. If you don’t like mustard, you can take it off your sandwich, but there are other things that are much larger and much more serious, that we claim not to like, but they’re still a part of our lives.
What inspired you to write The Tradition? There are three answers to that question. When I first moved into my house, I was working on a flower bed in front of my porch. My neighbors did this thing I had never experienced where they would come and say hi and bring food. I was working on a flower bed, and one of my neighbors rang the doorbell and said she was looking for the man or the woman of the house. I announced that it was me, and I realized that she could imagine me doing the work to take care of these flowers, but couldn’t imagine that they were my flowers.
At the same time, we were seeing these images of unarmed black people being murdered by police for no reason. I was brokenhearted about all of them, but especially Tamir Rice. I don’t know what made me watch that video over and over, but that’s the one that sent me to the page. Everybody in this country knows we have a problem with policing or that relates to race. But that knowledge doesn’t reconcile us to one another.
Another thing I was writing about is assault. I am always writing about Greek myths, [which contain] a lot of rape. The titles are often called “The rape of . . .” or “The assault of . . .” and these stories are handed to us as if it’s the normal trouble. We say someone got raped as if there was no agency. It’s not something that I wanted to write about, but once I got started, I realized that it’s something that needed to be a part of the book.
In the poem “The Tradition,” you compare black men slain by police to perennials. You mentioned Tamir Rice earlier. Does each instance of hearing about black men killed by police feel like the end of a world for you? Some of our earliest images of this have to do with postcards that were made during lynchings. In a more contemporary sense, we have Rodney King’s beating, which black people had to watch on television with a knowledge of just how regularly something like that could happen. It’s not that it feels apocalyptic to me. It puts me in a position where I cringe to think that the apocalyptic world is worse than that.
Tell me what are you working on now? What’s next for you? I’m working on essays about my life, poetry, and about our culture, our society. I have a lot of essays that have been published in different magazines and I’m compiling them into a book that will be part memoir and part criticism.
Who are your favorite poets and writers? Today, I am feeling most inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks, Yusef Komunyakaa, Natasha Trethewey, Tracy K. Smith, Gregory Pardlo, Tyehimba Jess, and Rita Dove. This is the 70th anniversary of Brooks’ win of the Pulitzer Prize, which means it’s the 70th anniversary of the first time a black person won. It’s hard for me to say without getting emotional. I feel like she’s with me and that I’m walking in her footsteps. All the poets I named are all the black poets who’ve ever won the Pulitzer Prize. There are eight of us now in the 103-year history of the prize, and I’m just happy to be part of that number.
It’s 1986, and Paulina is the queen bee at Aburi Girls’ Senior High School in Ghana. She and her clique are abuzz with anticipation for a visit from the Miss Ghana pageant recruiter. Paulina is a shoo-in, and winning will put her one step closer to marrying her athlete boyfriend and moving to America, home of White Castle and Calvin Klein. But her plan is thrown into jeopardy when Ericka, a mixed-race girl, transfers from Ohio.
School Girls, her latest directorial work, is based on an incident that happened in Ghana, where pageant officials selected Yayra Erica Nego—a biracial, American woman who was born and raised in Minnesota—as their representative for the 2011 Miss Universe contest, allegedly believing her lighter complexion would give them a better chance at winning.
DeKalb County native Ellen Ifeoluwa George portrays Paulina, a beautiful dark-skinned girl with a caustic wit, who, beneath that armor, longs for affirmation. In a time when Madonna and Princess Diana are the beauty standards, she sees Ericka’s lighter skin as a threat.
George says that she can relate to Paulina’s struggle with her complexion because she has been teased for her skin tone: In elementary school, she says, she was called racial slurs; one of her first university professors told her she would mostly be hired to play prostitutes and strippers.
Growing up, she participated in a lot of sports, especially cheerleading: “I was one of the darkest girls on the squad.” As a “young and naive” middle-schooler, she would cheer for basketball games but not football, “because it was outside, and I didn’t want to get darker,” she says. “Luckily, I have amazing parents who encouraged me to embrace and love myself.”
Augusta native Isake Akanke, who also worked with Kajese-Bolden in Eclipsed, will play Gifty, one of the girls in Paulina’s pack.
“Beauty comes from within; it’s in how you treat yourself and how you treat others,” says Akanke. “I love when we as women are at our natural, most authentic selves. There’s the glitz and glam but also the gutter that comes with being a woman.”
Kajese-Bolden’s goal is to get the cast talking about those things in the rehearsal room—body image, body shaming, beauty standards—so their performances will inspire the audience to continue those conversations after the curtain closes.
“I hope that it leaves people feeling excited that, even in conflict, there is a kernel of commonality that we can lean on.”
In the years after the Civil War, black Georgians had a champion and protector in Tunis Campbell. He registered voters, formed a militia to defend citizens from the Ku Klux Klan, and started an association of black landowners. Starting January 18, the Atlanta History Center will honor Campbell, one of the first black men elected to the General Assembly, and more of the state’s pre–World War I civil rights advocates as part of the New-York Historical Society’s Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow. With local pieces from the AHC, Clark Atlanta University Art Museum, and Atlanta University Center’s Woodruff Library, the exhibition aims to inspire people to continue to fight for their rights. “The past speaks to the present,” says Calinda Lee, AHC vice president of historical interpretation and community partnerships. “When you understand the history of racialized violence, you can understand why people are still worried and vulnerable today.”
1. In June, the AHC purchased this rare, silk regimental flag of the 127th U.S. Colored Troops for $196,800—the most the center has ever spent on an artifact. The 127th fought for the Union during the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, and was present when Confederate troops surrendered at Appomattox.
2. Lugenia Burns Hope—wife of John Hope, the first black president of Atlanta University—founded the Neighborhood Union, the first social work organization in Atlanta focused on supporting black communities through healthcare, education, and housing. In this photo from the Union’s archives, Hope is seated on the first row, second from the right.
3. In Atlanta, four historically black colleges opened within 16 years of the Civil War’s end. This circa 1886 photo shows students in an Atlanta University carpentry class.
4. In 1899, journalist and activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett published this book detailing the lynchings happening in Georgia. Wells-Barnett also spearheaded the Anti-Lynching Crusade, which would last four decades as Congress refused to pass legislation to stop the crimes.
5. Interracial coalitions of women were key players in the anti-lynching movement. This article, clipped from the Atlanta Constitution in 1931, shows women from a variety of organizations meeting with members of the black-led Neighborhood Union.
Abstract painter and multimedia artist Eric Mack grew up in Charleston, cutting hair in the back of his mother’s beauty salon, and developed a reputation in his community for creating cool designs in people’s hair. This was against the backdrop of hip-hop culture on the rise, so he also made money painting friends’ jeans and selling his drawings of breakdancers at school.
“When I could write my name, I was into art,” says Mack, who attended the Atlanta College of Art and is known for work that feels mathematical and architectural, a composition of blocks and angles. “Dealing with shape, pattern, and form are what I look for in building these pieces. It’s not random.”
Twenty years later, that geometric precision has come to define his work. Mack uses acrylic and spray paint, handmade paper, and cutouts of white copy paper to create pieces that resemble an architect’s blueprints or a city grid. He was largely influenced by a four-year stint in Germany, where he continues to work often. Recently, he designed the cover art for EDM artist Afriqua’s album Colored and completed a mural on South Broad Street for the City of Atlanta.
But lately, nature has taken a bigger hold on his work. His East Lake home, where he paints, is more like a garden with a house than a house with a garden. Here, he grows a variety of plants, including salvias, cacti, morning glories, New Zealand cabbage trees, Thai hibiscus, and princess flowers. The piece de resistance is a Japanese maple tree that he planted to remember the infant son that he and his wife lost two years ago. It was this heartbreak that drew Mack from the studio to the garden to begin with. He found that nature helped him heal, and it’s since found its way onto his canvases.
His lines have softened a bit with the influence of the outdoors. He’s started using coconut fiber instead of found objects for underpainting, the initial layer. He adds texture with red clay and potting soil.
“I want the new work to connect with nature,” says Mack. “You can help nature along, but nature is going to do what nature does. Plants possess divine proportions.”
Since 1961, Atlanta magazine, the city’s premier general interest publication, has served as the authority on Atlanta, providing its readers with a mix of long-form nonfiction, lively lifestyle coverage, in-depth service journalism, and literary essays, columns, and profiles.