I felt like I was playing a game of trivia with myself when I wandered into Spirit Square yesterday to take a look at the freshly painted columns just inside.
Eight Carolina artists were selected from more than 1,200 public nominations to be painted on said columns: Maya Angelou, Romare Bearden, James Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Andy Griffith, Earl Scruggs, Nina Simone and James Taylor.
But before you do, take a look at the columns.
The most interactive: Nina Simone
Matt Moore painted this column of Simone, who was born in Tryon, N.C., in 1933 and was known for her singing and civil rights activism. What’s crazy about this column is the way it requires you to spin around it and double back in order to read the words painted on it. I thought they might be Simone’s song lyrics but they are actually lines of poetry by Carlos Robson.
— CharlotteFive (@CharlotteFive) May 18, 2016
The most representative of sound: Dizzy Gillespie
Owl and Arko painted the column of Gillespie, a jazz trumpeter, bandleader and composer born in Cheraw, S.C., in 1917. You can see paint-dripping swirls of sound spilling out of Gillespie’s trumpet like you could reach out and touch every note.
The most laid-back: Andy Griffith
Griffith, painted by John Burgin, was born in 1926 and based his show, “The Andy Griffith Show,” in his hometown of Mt. Airy, N.C.. On his column, Griffith is just hanging out, playing his guitar, fingers blurring across the frets. You can see lyrics from his show’s theme song, too.
The most pensive: Maya Angelou
Raquel Gaiten painted Angelou, the author, poet and civil rights activist who lived in Winston-Salem for about 30 years. Angelou shares her column with three birds and her own quotations.
The most local: Romare Bearden
Bearden, a painter and writer, was born in Charlotte in 1911. He was painted by John Hairston in soulful bursts of color, surrounded by musicians with a “high on art” vibe. It makes sense: Bearden was “a celebrated humanist, as demonstrated by his lifelong support of young, emerging artists.” He was also the first art director of the newly established Harlem Cultural Council.
The least obvious: Earl Scruggs
I didn’t know who Earls Scruggs was. Painted by Joe Dobson, Scruggs was a famous bluegrass musician from Shelby. That explains the banjo.
The ones worth a longer look: James Taylor and James Brown.
Literally a longer look, because markers on the floor command you to stand back and see both the Jameses from a specific perspective. James Taylor was painted by Matt Hooker across two columns, requiring a certain angle to get the full view.
Singer-songwriter Taylor grew up in Chapel Hill and — you absolutely should know this — he is responsible for the song “Carolina in My Mind.”
Nick Napoletano painted James Brown, who was born in Barnwell, S.C., and is known as the “Godfather of Soul.” Brown stretches across two columns, too.
But I’ll let you find him.
Spirit Square: 345 N. College St.