Diverse Artists Elevate Charlotte’s Cultural Scene

By Angela Haigler

Curtis King

Curtis King burst into the national spotlight when he and his family were featured on ABC’s “Extreme Home Makeover” in 2008. The program blessed the family with a beautiful new home that included an art studio for King and an expanded community daycare center for his wife Alisha. At that time the audience caught a glimpse of his bold and colorful artwork in quick snippets on the screen. Fast forward to today and King’s talent is so much more than quick snippets. Audiences in Charlotte and across the region now know who Curtis King is, and his work can be found on murals, in private homes and as featured works in several exhibits.

Originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, King was encouraged to pursue his artistic talents at an early age. He sold his first painting at seven years old and later one of his high school teachers suggested he study art in college. He started out at North Carolina A&T State University and after his “Extreme Home Makeover” debut, King continued his education and then received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in painting. King’s body of work includes drawings, paintings, collages, murals and sculptures. He describes his art as “abstract expressionism and distorted urban contemporary.”

“Probably the most exciting piece I have out right now is the farmer’s market mural in Uptown,” said King, who also goes by Cee Kay in the art world. “That one is about 70 by 30 feet high, my largest one to date. It was incredible to get it done. It took about two months, but we finally got it done. It’s the piece I’m most proud of.” King said the magnitude of the piece meant he had to call in some help to complete it. However, he performed 90 percent of the work, King added.

King said the community inspired him to create the piece. A lover of research, he said he always makes sure he studies the subject of any of his artwork. On the left side of the Uptown mural is Queen Charlotte. Also represented are the blues and hues of the city. Giving back to the community has always been important to King, who teaches art at Oakdale Elementary in Charlotte.

Irisol Gonzalez

Irisol Gonzalez immigrated to the U.S. from Costa Rica with her family when she was 10 years old. The traditions and heirlooms from her upbringing are what she draws on to create art with an impact. An inaugural recipient of the Arts & Science Council’s 2020 Emerging Creator Fellowship, Gonzalez likes to twist and reshape the idea of machismo, the celebration of masculine strength and pride above all else throughout her work.

Her latest work, “Unearthing Jade” is included in the Interventions installation at the Mint Museum’s Randolph location. In “Unearthing Jade,” Gonzalez showcases the beauty of the jade stone and its importance to Costa Rican culture. Jade was often used to craft symbols of masculine strength for body adornment and to accompany the dead to the afterlife when buried.

Throughout the Unearthing Jade”installation, Gonzalez twists the masculine perspective into a more feminine one. What would happen if the ancients had created jade artifacts in the image of the feminine? What if more women had been involved in the production? How was pain expressed in Meso-American culture? What are the similarities and differences seen today? These are the questions Gonzalez explores in this inspiring exhibit.  

“I wanted to highlight what we continue to bring forward and how that looks today. This exploration led me back thousands of years to find different behaviors, traditions and ideas taught in the Aztec and Mayan cultures that we’ve held onto for so long,” Gonzalez said. “I discovered not only a critical understanding of my background and heritage but compassion for how we all perceive things.”

Gonzalez’s work has been exhibited at the Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh and Goodyear Arts in Charlotte. Her educational background includes degrees in psychology and political science from Appalachian State University. She has traveled to Mexico and Central America to study Latin American culture and its roots in the Hispanic identity that currently exists in the U.S. In her work, Gonzalez explores the sentiments and physical experience of being a brown female immigrant functioning in today’s American political atmosphere.

Gonzalez’s exhibit is part of the Interventions series at Mint Museum Randolph, giving local and contemporary artists the opportunity to showcase their contributions alongside permanent collections.

Kehinde Wiley

“Phillip the Fair”by Kehinde Wiley is a new attraction at the Mint Museum Uptown. Wiley gained fame in 2018 after painting President Barack Obama’s official portrait in 2018. In “Phillip the Fair,” Wiley takes an everyday man named Philip and gives him an elaborate rendering complete with the resplendent glamour seen in several of the palatial portraits of King Philp IV of France. Wiley encourages us to rethink our opinions of who should receive “the royal treatment” when it comes to stately artistic depictions.

Wiley, a Los Angeles native, is now based in New York City. He’s known for his “highly naturalistic paintings of Black people modeled after the portraiture of the Old Masters of art. His artistic career began with the desire to transform the perception of Black men as dangerous and grew his concept to include Black women. He received his MFA from Yale in 2001 and has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Berlin and Milan among other cities.

Upcoming at the Mint Museum

Diedrick Brackens latest exhibit, ark of bulrushes presents a new series of large-scale weavings and premieres the artist’s first woven sculptures. The Los Angeles artist’s exhibit runs July 16 to December 11 at Mint Museum Randolph.