Carolina Complexions: Celebrating Black artists and creatives in North Carolina

 By Courtney Napier

April 5, 2021

This month we are celebrating a new slate of artists. Several have large and exciting projects underway, like Dare Coulter’s Wilmington monument and John W. Love’s The Cathedral of Messes performance art piece. Others are deeply embedded in their communities and create systemic change and opportunities for their fellow artists and neighbors. One thing is for certain: they are all making an impact on the world as artists and as North Carolinians.

Dare Coulter

Dare Coulter is an accomplished and decorated painter, muralist, illustrator, and sculptor based in Raleigh. The North Carolina State University graduate is most known for her larger-than-life mural, Dare To Dissent, sponsored by the North Carolina ACLU and located in downtown Raleigh. Her warm personality is expressed through the joy and vibrancy of her painting and sculpture, as her works appear to leap from the canvas or pedestal, filled with life, movement, and dimension. She also recently completed her first work of illustration for the book My N.C. from A To Z  by Michelle Lanier, writer and director of N.C. Division of State Historic Sites. Currently, Coulter is busy creating a monument that honors the Black community in the city of Wilmington. The monument will be located on the University of North Carolina-Wilmington campus and the unveiling is slated to happen this spring.

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Samantha Everette

The Shooting Beauty, as she is known on Instagram, is a rising star in Bull City. Photographer, illustrator, designer, and fine artist, Everette got her big break designing for Jessica Simpson’s footwear line. Ten years later, Everette decided to pursue photography full time and has become one of the most sought-after portraitists in the state. Her powerfully feminine and celebratory esthetic has attracted the likes of legendary rapper Rapsody and country music star Rissi Palmer. What makes Everette stand apart from the crowd, however, is her generosity. She regularly shares behind-the-scenes videos of her creative process and tutorials on how photographers can build their own props. And she truly makes every subject look like a movie star in her photos, from new mothers to brides to new graduates. With her fabulous talent mixed with a love for her community, the sky’s the limit for her success.

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John W. Love

“I gleefully go through doors of myself, and I oftentimes have no idea where they are leading.” This quote from his Open Door interview with the McColl Center perfectly encapsulates the wunderkind that is John W. Love. Recognized in the 1990s for his acting roles in the television series, Nash Bridges, and the action-packed thriller film, The Rock, the interdisciplinary artist has gone on to receive countless awards and residencies, including the NC Arts Council Visual Artist Fellowship in 2016 and the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017. He is the artistic equivalent of Willy Wonka–  a builder of beautiful, provocative, mind-bending worlds. In January of last year, Love received the 2020 Creative Capital Award for the development of his performance art piece, The Cathedral of Messes. Ironically, the project is described as a “an installation dedicated to obliterating a virus known as shame.” 

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Candy Carver

Candy Carver is a painter and muralist from Durham. You can find her work throughout the city’s bustling downtown streets, from her “Lift Every Voice and Sing” mural on the Unscripted Hotel or her numerous vibrant portraits of the Black female body. Carver’s aesthetic is psychedelic, drenched in color with strong geometric lines reminiscent of Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Romero Britto. Her work is also strongly rooted in the Black arts tradition of honoring our heroes— especially those who have ascended— with beautiful and creative portraits. Carver was recently selected to paint a street mural for Durham’s Club Crossing intersection project. The mural will feature a glistening pond full of technicolor koi fish. Carver is an exciting talent with a future as rich as her work.

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Dammit Wesley

Dammit Wesley is an artistic provocateur, pushing the boundaries of what can be said by expressing what must be said. The Greenville, South Carolina native now sees himself as an elder in Charlotte’s Black arts community, and co-founded BLKMRKT CLT to create a space to give emerging Black artists something he didn’t have early in his career— a safe space to create and belong. When he’s not gathering creatives and uplifting local arts events, Wesley is painting beautifully moody portraits of Black icons like Grace Jones and Solange, making striking collages, and taking stunning photos of gleaming models. One of his latest projects, the Bootleg Mall Kiosk Collection, is a line of t-shirts that have a comical vintage quality that only a child of the ‘90s can capture. A screened image of VP Kamala Harris’s college portrait in front of handcuffs and a caption that reads “Kamala finna lock his ass up,” forces the audience to confront the complex reality of our current administration. This is Wesley’s MO: forcing us to see this complicated mess we live in for exactly what it is, and choosing to laugh to keep from crying.

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Gemynii

Gemynii is a sound curator and self-taught portraitist currently residing in Durham, North Carolina. Her paintings are full of color, soul and movement, and feel as if she is blurring the lines between the physical and spiritual realms, much like the work of another incredible North Carolina artist, Beverley McIver. Gemynii identifies as a Black queer femme, and her perspective manifests in her work as embracing and accentuating the parts of the body that are most fluid, curved, and malleable– like her stunning portrait of writer Cheyenne Monique Davis. As one of the dopest sound curators in the South, Gemynii’s moody yet celebratory mixes can be found on Mixcloud, and I dare you to try and stay in your seat after the first beat drops.

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Atinuke Diver

Atinuke Diver is a documentarian, writer, and activist based in Raleigh. With a background in law, Diver brings a methodical curiosity to her work that is satisfying to her diverse audience. As the director of 25-year-old community organization, Durham CAN, Diver also has an eye for those narratives and communities who are often missed by mainstream news and arts media. Her past work includes a short film, Quilt Journeys, about a Black quilter’s circle in Durham, and an audio documentary on the work of artist Gemynii–  also featured in this month’s column— entitled Masterpiece. She also wrote a deeply personal and moving essay for Black Oak Society’s BOS Zine Volume One, which featured work inspired by the historically segregated John Chavis Memorial Park in downtown Raleigh. Diver is currently working on a full-length documentary on the fascinating history of craft beer brewing and its roots in African culture. 

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Janelle Dunlap

Janelle Dunlap is a social justice creative, curator, and MFA candidate who shares her time between Charlotte and Prescott College in Chicago. Her paintings, collages, murals, and curated exhibitions are steeped in the Black historical narrative and place making. Dunlap’s RCLM 37 exhibit located at Johnson C. Smith University was created in partnership with the JCSU James B. Duke Library and the Levine Museum of the New South to honor the historically Black West Charlotte neighborhoods that surround the school, which are nearly unrecognizable due to rapid gentrification and rampant displacement. Elements of RCLM 37 include oral histories, murals, and mesmerizing collages printed onto large pieces of plexiglass. Now Dunlap is embarking on a new phase of RCLM 37, this time recovering the outdoors with sculpture, design, and soundscape, and working with some of the biggest stars of North Carolina’s Black arts community, including sculptor Stephen Hayes and designer Quintel Gwinn. The space will also be located on JCSU’s campus, continuing to lift up the history of the great West Charlotte community while nurturing its future.

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Marc Prosper

Marc Prosper is a photographer and artistic director from Charlotte. He has worked on myriad projects, including album covers, music videos, concert photography, and fashion lookbooks. He was also one of the artists featured in the recent LOCAL//STREET Pop Up Exhibition at the Mint Museum Randolph. Prosper’s aesthetic drips with swag and ease. There’s an effortless cool to his photography, his work is the flipside– or the driving purpose behind– our struggle. His work shows us Black joy as resistance. It’s not giddy or blissful, but deliberate and transcendent of surroundings or current battles. From his photography of festivals like Hopscotch to his more intimate portraits, there’s no doubt about Prosper’s talent and deep love for Black people.

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William Paul Thomas

William Paul Thomas is a Durham-based painter whose style is instantly recognizable because his works almost always contain a disembodied head. The blending of realistic portraits, surreal back and foreground imagery, and graphic text in his work creates power statements of place, belonging, and mutuality. What does it mean to be and be together? How do our pasts and present overlap with one another and impact each other’s lives? Thomas draws heavily from his own life for his art, and his vulnerability and humor connects with his audience. The series Cyanosis, a collection of portraits where one half of the picture is blue, was inspired by the deprivation of living far away from his family. His work has been on exhibit across the South and even in the North Carolina Museum of Art. He’s also a talented art curator, and his latest exhibition Opulence, Decadence at the Lump Gallery in Raleigh displayed masterpieces from last month’s featured artist, Clarence Heyward, as well Johannes Barfield, Leticia Clementina, Jim Lee, Kwaku Osei, JP Jermaine Powell, Brittany Santiago, Whitney Stanley, and Ariel Williams.

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